Two Stories

Every Picture Tells a Story

Strong4Life AdEvery picture tells a story and most often, that story is more powerful than words. Unfortunately, many of the images attached to obesity evoke hostility toward people with obesity. In research from 2014, Paula Brochu and colleagues from Yale found that “simply eliminating stigmatizing media portrayals of obesity may help reduce bias.”

Likewise, Nova Hinman and colleagues from Bowling Green State University have just published data on the power that stereotypical images of people with obesity have to evoke bias against them. Images depicting people with obesity snacking or watching TV — which are most common in media portrayals of obesity — caused increased bias. Images of people with obesity engaged in physical activity or preparing vegetables caused reduced bias.

Thus, through pictures, news and health media routinely express hateful sentiments toward people with obesity that they avoid expressing through words.

Grace - MirrorYou might note that pictures leading into posts here at ConscienHealth are seldom very literal illustrations of the subject at hand. The link is often oblique — a bit of a tease. The first criterion is that the images be visually interesting. We hope never to contribute to the idea that obesity itself is a visual phenomenon.

The picture at left, for example, illustrated a story that touched on themes of how people see themselves. The cute and playful girl in the picture has nothing to do with obesity. She is simply exploring her own appearance in a mirror.

Proving that everyone sees the world through different eyes, someone told us that the picture was offensive. Oh dear. Did we do that?

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” — Mark Twain

Click here for the study by Brochu et al and here for the study by Hinman et al.

Two Stories, photograph © George Lindley / flickr

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2 Responses to “Every Picture Tells a Story”

  1. January 01, 2015 at 4:18 pm, Anna J. said:

    The picture of the girl became about obesity as soon as you used it to illustrate a story about some people with obesity not even perceiving that they are in fact obese. You can choose not to acknowledge the infantilizing nature of this choice of picture, but it remains patronizing and sends the message that like children, people with obesity need to be counseled about fiction vs reality.

    • January 01, 2015 at 5:20 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Anna, for sharing your view again. I understand what you are saying, but I do not agree with it. I don’t believe and did not say that “people with obesity need to be counseled about fiction versus reality.”

      I think you are substituting the word “fiction” for the word “perception.” Perception is not fiction. It is very real and it deserves respect.

      You are free to see what you wish in this picture. I simply see healthy, normal young girl exploring her own image in a mirror.

      In your comment, you refer to people who “are in fact obese.” “Obese” is a word that is always offensive to me, because it suggests that a person’s metabolic disease status is their identity. Just as people with disabilities should not be marginalized and labeled as “disabled,” people with obesity should not be labeled as “obese.”