Let’s start with a confession: until a few years ago, I showed Supersize Me in my health classes. I have a “student” version of the DVD, and I would show it in a Health and Nutrition elective class I taught.
In my defense, I was finding myself more and more uncomfortable with the messaging implicit in the film. But I admit, hearing it all laid out here by the hilarious folks at Maintenance Phase, I think has really put an end to showing it at school.
When I showed Supersize Me in class, it was always part of a bigger unit on healthy eating when eating out. I would work with students to create healthier menus from some of their favorite restaurants–it was a big project where they’d first analyze their typical meal, and they would propose how to make it healthier. It was fun and engaging. Often students were totally blown away by how much sodium a meal had, or how a Big Mac really wasn’t as terrible for them as they feared it was.
However, it was common for students, not all of them but some, to gravitate towards “water and salad” as their newer, healthier meal, and it always made me uncomfortable. I taught the class in a mostly “additive” way–what can you switch to add more nutrients/protein/etc. rather than what can you take away. But a week or two of this wasn’t enough to counteract the narrative in so many of our minds: being healthy means cutting “unhealthy” foods out of our diets.
Likewise, Supersize Me’s supposed anticorporate message, ostensibly aiming to hold corporations responsible for the lack of health of their consumers gets lost in the blame-the-fat-person imagery and medical messaging of the film. Mike and Aubrey do a great job of breaking this down, showing the overt fat-phobia, teaching people that people who are fat are gross, irresponsible and trapped. I love that Aubrey points out that the film doesn’t take even a moment to acknowledge the role of poverty and for the most part doesn’t include the voices of fat people.
I am grateful for this conversation. I am happy to continue to learn and take responsibility for the messaging I promote in my classroom. It is lifelong work, and I will always find new ways to improve and to promote a kinder, fairer world.