On my way to some cat meme therapy this afternoon I almost missed the Dr. Oz headline on MSN's front page. For a split second as I was leaving the page I saw his I'm-in-trouble face (see above) alongside the words "diet" and "senate hearing." I clicked the back button with an enthusiastic curiosity typically reserved for closeups of dessert.
Oz testified during a Senate hearing this week convened to discuss his role in promoting diet products. Oz is a well known and vociferous advocate of weight loss and often promotes products that claim to cause weight loss on his show. Well, he finally got read by the Senate:
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.
Keep it real, Claire.
I find Oz' choice to make weight loss his primary platform problematic, if not unethical. With growing panic around body size in the US it's easy to exploit people who watch the show seeking guidance from a medical expert. Whether Dr. Oz is directly profiting from the sale of these products or not is not particularly relevant. He is responsible for promoting weight loss above any number of arguably more accurate health indicators.
When you teach people to unequivocally equate weight loss with health - which is an inaccurate measure of health - you create a market for "miracle products" that either have no effect, have no sustainable effect and/or have harmful effects.
Considering the state of access to healthcare in the United States until very recently, the reality is that Americans at times look to television for medical advice. And they trust people who are or pose as medical doctors. The War on Obesity has created a platform for people like Dr. Oz to exacerbate the anxiety that people feel about their body size. This anxiety leads to vulnerability that can be exploited by companies peddling diet products.
The dieting industry survives because of our culture's obsession with the notion of an ideal body. Unfortunately, ideal and thin are seen as synonymous. For as long as this is true, people like Dr. Oz will come and go but health related media will remain potential diet pill pulpits.
Read the ABC News article on the Senate hearing.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.