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Fat: Reality TV's True "F Word"

A major storyline on this season of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" is about weight. Shannon, one of the Housewives, claims to have gained 40 pounds since last year due to stress. Namely, stress that another Housewife has given her after allegations of spousal abuse and infidelity.

Her friends (colleagues? co-stars) aren't helpful. One fakes concern about Shannon's overall health, then mocks her anxiety when placing a dinner order; another taunts her over the weight gain at a restaurant where they get thrown out for fighting. I'm not even getting into the personal trainer, who keeps asking about her husband's reaction to her weight gain,

In the Bravo universe (or, to be fair, the reality show universe) weight is used a last-resort insult. In the teaser for "Shahs of Sunset," GG (the pretty, thin woman who is going through some sort of crisis) is grasping at straws when she insults MJ (the pretty, plus size woman who's going through some sort of crisis) by calling "fat." Couple this with the Shannon conflict on "RHOC," and it seems that a plus-size Bravolebrity (their phrase, not mine) is subject to ridicule.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one who picked up on this. Yesterday, Jezebel published a think piece about weight issues on reality shows. In the reality world, morally corrupt women are OK, as long as they are thin. Being fat is, and will always be, unacceptable.

While the situations may be planned, most of the dialogue on reality shows like "RHOC" and "Shahs of Sunset" isn't. When the word "fat" is said as an insult on TV, it is only an extension of what is still happening in society, where a world leader judges women's appearances and a body-positive blogger is attacked online for posing in a bathing suit.

If Shannon or MJ were one of our friends, we'd suggest dumping the toxic friends, laying low, and practicing self-care. But they signed contracts to be part of a reality TV program. The source of pain are her co-stars, and it's a story arc. Does healing make for good TV? Probably not: We tune in to watch conflict. But does hurling the word "fat" around make for good TV? I guess so. Viewership for both shows are strong. However, TV shows always plan for shakeups when ratings decline. The next time someone uses the word "fat" as a slur on a reality TV show, it's time to change the channel for good. The message won't be received if we keep the TV on out of apathy.


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