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Picture Perfect At Every Size

This week, while I am attending Obesity 2011, the 29th Scientific Meeting of The Obesity Society here in Orlando, back home, the Canadian Obesity Network is busy conducting a photo shoot with the goal to create a library of images of people with obesity that can be used by the media and others reporting on this issue.

As readers will recall, I have previously commented on the fact that ‘obese people have heads too‘ – a fact that could easily be missed given the usual depiction of headless fat people in the media. Together with the usual images of these anonymous torsos sitting on couches and eating chips, this typical depiction of obesity not only serves to reinforce the stereotypical image of the gluttonous and slothful obese person but is in fact simply wrong in that it does not show the true face of obesity (no pun intended).

As outlined in the “Guidelines for the Portrayal of Obese Persons in the Media” developed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and The Obesity Society (TOS):

When selecting an image, video, or photograph of an obese person, consider the following questions:

1. Does the image imply or reinforce negative stereotypes?

2. Does the image portray an obese person in a respectful manner? Is the individual’s dignity maintained?

3. What are the alternatives? Can another photo or image convey the same message and eliminate possible bias?

4. What is the news value of the particular image?

5. Who might be offended, and why?

6. Is there any missing information from the photograph?

7. What are the possible consequences of publishing the image?

Media aside, I think these guidelines should be considered by anyone given a talk on obesity that involves the use of media (slides, videos, etc.).

Unfortunately, as I know all too well, it is not easy to find such images.

This is why, the Canadian Obesity Network has invited volunteers to be photographed in pictures that will be offered to the media and anyone else for non-commercial use in reports, talks, presentations, and publications on obesity. This royalty free library will soon be available through the Canadian Obesity Network.

For more details and examples of some of the shots, head over to a post by DR EyeCandy, who co-ordinate this shoot for the Network.

Thanks to everyone involved – it looks like you had a great time for a great cause.

Orlando, Florida


  1. Here’s a suggestion to raise health care workers sensitivity to how easily one can create feelings of disgust against any group of people. A short video could send 2 important messages – one about judgements arising from focusing on one physical aspect of a person and one about safeguarding public health

    You could borrow some football/cheerleading uniforms, dress up a variety of health care workers and then make a video showing only their hips, abdomens and thighs while talking about what can be grown in petri dishes from swabs taken from uniforms after a day of patient contact in a hospital. Then show a couple of emergency medical personnel in scrubs walking directly to a grocery store from the hospital and handling the fruits and vegetables parents might buy for their kids.

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  2. When a young, attractive girl says “I have a face”, she is saying “Stop looking at my sexy bits for a minute because I need to engage your brain”. By showing breasts, abdomens and and buttocks, the message is that the obese have neither sexy bits nor a brain”. Then there’s a message that obese people are diseased in body, mind and/or spirit and that it’s at epidemic proportions. Epidemics are linked in people’s minds with stuff you can avoid by keeping one’s distance from the afflicted. Finally they go for the kill by saying the obese are going to bankrupt the health care system and destroy our positioning as a great nation. Fat cells are fat cells – not a weapon of total global annihilation that will explode if an obese person boards an airplane.

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  3. Such a great project and the models for this photo shoot were brave to do it. The photos give an accurate and beautiful portrayal of these people as individuals – here you can see represented not just the parts and measures of what society deems distasteful of obesity as a disease, but the person, by looking in their eyes.

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