DARE TO ASK: Overweight? It can make you invisible
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
My weight has yo-yo'd most of my life. When I'm heavier, men seem to have
more of a negative reaction. Is this because of the media presentation of what
the ideal woman should look like?
Susan, 45, Flint, Mich.
The response I get from people has much more to do with my feelings about
myself and my self-presentation than my weight. When I feel sexy and good,
whether I'm Twiggy or Zaftig makes no difference.
Omphale, 29, female, Minneapolis
If the media would just portray an average woman who is not a Paris Hilton
lookalike, maybe everyone would see how beautiful women can be with a little
meat on their bones.
Kim M., 21, Swartz Creek, Mich.
Why is the media blamed? Has it ever occurred to people that the media
portrays the ideal woman that way because that's the ideal woman?
Rajah, 22, male, Watertown, Wis.
I generally avoid overweight women as partners. I do not want to be with a
woman who isn't healthy or possibly has a ton of self-esteem issues. It's crazy
that women blame Paris Hilton and men for not accepting them. If you're too
heavy, go to the gym and eat better.
John, 22, Springville, N.Y.
What's crazy is how much positive reinforcement people get for losing weight.
I dropped about 10 pounds one time because of a health problem and got so many
positive comments I was left thinking, "Just how bad did I look before?" and
"For Pete's sake, I've been sick and people are applauding me for looking so
Sharon, 25, Fairfax, Va.
Julie Ridl, founder of "The Skinny Daily Post" at skinnydaily.com, uses a
blog and syndicated column to chronicle her experiences before and after
shedding 100 pounds. She says people weren't really negative when she was large.
"I could literally be in a room without being in the room. There's a lack of
eye contact, no conversations on the elevator. Now I step on the elevator and
there's immediate conversation. In meetings I don't have to fight to be heard."
She says the media do help create stigmas and stereotypes.
"In news reports about how America is getting 'fat,' they'll show images of
obese people with their heads 'cut off,' or shoving burgers in their mouths.
There are more creative ways of talking about weight."
Meanwhile, a study published in 2003 in the American Journal of Public Health
found that in prime-time TV, overweight female characters were "less likely to
be considered attractive or interact with romantic partners," while overweight
males were less likely "to talk about dating and more likely to be shown
"It's not just romance issues these stereotypes create," Ridl says. "Try
buying a car or house as a fat person. I hear overweight people all the time who
experience prejudice. It's heartbreaking."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.