Opinion: The beef with ‘Fat Actress’

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Online Poster

By Alan Xiang

In an upcoming TV “hybrid comedy/reality series” called Fat Actress, Kirstie Alley will star as herself: a fat actress struggling to find work in Hollywood. The show hopes to lampoon the entertainment industry’s obvious discrimination against fat actresses.

The “fat community” reaction to the premise has been divided. Some have criticized Alley for making obesity, an often serious and embarrassing affliction, a comedic, public target. Meanwhile, a few obesity organizations – and even Anna Nicole Smith – already have given their support.

While the goal of the show appears honorable, Alley’s character probably won’t come off as sympathetic because, judging by how Showtime is promoting the show and from Alley’s interviews, her problems appear to be self-inflicted.

On the Fat Actress Web site, there’s a quote by Robert Greenblatt of Showtime Networks explaining how the show began: “Kirstie Alley came to see us – with 24 dozen Krispy Kremes in hand – and said she was so tired of seeing unflatteringly fat pictures of herself on the cover of The Star that it was time for her to send up her own image as well as Hollywood’s obsession with weight and beauty.” In the pilot promo, Alley devours an enormous bowl of buttery pasta and asks for a Diet Coke.

According to the American Obesity Association, obesity causes at least 300,000 excess deaths a year in the United States. At the same time, obesity doesn’t receive much attention from the government, the health-care profession or the insurance industry because of the widespread, but misguided, belief that obesity is only a symptom of personal behavior.

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    Alley, unfortunately, seems to be one of those people who just let themselves go.

    “I had a great time getting fat,” she said in an interview with People magazine. “I think the biggest problem is I stopped working out.”

    Reinforcing the idea that obesity is only a lifestyle choice or a character flaw is a disfavor to people with weight problems, because it makes them deserving targets of ridicule.

    “I don’t think fat is pretty. If I saw some big fat leopard walking through the jungle, I’d start laughing,” Alley said.

    Alley’s struggle to find employment also would be more sympathetic if she weren’t in an industry where looks bring in profits. To quote the politically incorrect but correct Prince Charles, “People think they can all be pop stars, high-court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability … This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centered system which admits no failure.”

    Western society indoctrinates the belief that our potential is limitless. Any other attitude is self-defeating, but sometimes people take the message too far. Some believe they deserve success without sacrifice. In Alley’s case, she could’ve had less “fun” getting fat. She also would have a more legitimate complaint if her weight kept her out of a job in some other industry. Instead, Fat Actress asks us to sympathize with someone who becomes “unqualified” by choice. It asks us to believe Hollywood has a moral obligation to employ whoever wants a job.

    To Alley’s credit, the former Cheers star was once a comedic talent. It’s also nice that she’s found a way to make her weight a big asset. The pessimist in me predicts that people will tune in for the schadenfreude. The optimist hopes Fat Actress will make viewers laugh for the right reasons.

    Alan Xiang is a sophomore in engineering. His column runs alternate Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].