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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A&E's New Show "Heavy" Doesn't Take Fat People Lightly

Over the past month or so, I’ve been seeing commercials and promo spots for a new show called “Heavy” on the A&E network. Right off the bat, I knew it was something I had to see – firstly, because I’m a fat person, and secondly, because I could sense a serious tone to the show. It was fairly evident that it wouldn’t be a salacious, exploitative show like “The Biggest Loser”, which pits fat people against each other in a competition to see who is going to lose the most weight, and motivates them with perks like vacations and other choice “rewards”.

I am happy to say that my instincts were right. “Heavy” does take fat people seriously, and it portrays them with dignity and sensitivity. Each episode features two people who are severely overweight and desperately want to lose it – not for perks like spa vacations, but for their health and well-being. The first episode featured Tom, a sweet, kind 638-pound man, and Jodi, a 376-pound wife and mother of two.

Their sincere desperation was poignant for the simple fact that their weight had progressed to a life and death matter. Jodi had suffered a “mini stroke”, and Tom’s weight was obviously dangerous. They were both sent to a health spa for 30 days, where they received daily support and encouragement from personal trainers. (I was pleased to see how decently and respectfully they were treated by the trainers; they didn’t resort to degrading or demeaning tactics.) Tom could barely walk to the gym; Jodi strained and cried through most of her exercises. But neither of them gave up. By the end of the show, Tom had lost over 150 pounds and Jodi had lost 75. Although their results were triumphant, it was also clear that their journey was not over; that they both still had a lot of work to do, and emotional issues to address that had been problems for decades.

It made my heart glad to see a show that dealt with fat people not only as human beings, but as heroes. I’m sure there will be a certain portion of the audience who will consider it merely a freak show and tune in to gawk and laugh at the people featured, and I have to admit, even for me, a large woman myself, it is difficult not to gape and gawk at the sight of fat rolls that extend halfway to the floor. Most of us are not overweight to that extent, although we’ve all increasingly become aware of a certain segment of fat people who are that size, and live their lives as shut-ins. They have just lived with their problem longer, and felt more powerless to deal with it, perhaps, than we have. However, I’m sure the vast majority of people out there will be more amazed and admiring of the people who are so determined and motivated to change their lives that they will risk exposing themselves like that in order to get help.

Fat people are not mindless, brainless food factories. Those of us with lifelong weight issues know that it is far more complex than just the physical food/in exercise/out equation. Many of us are dealing with emotional factors and habits that we learned way, way back in our lives and became an ingrained part of our psyches. Losing weight is just not as simple as most people (particularly thin ones) make it out to be. We all know that we would be better off if our bodies were smaller and lighter; however, knowing something intellectually is far different than putting it into practice. “Heavy” shows the reality of this constant battle, and shows it with a sensitivity and respect that I found extremely inspiring.

This is compelling, moving TV. I will definitely be tuned in every week. Check it out if you haven’t already.  

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