man v internet

Have you heard about the Adam Richman instagram debacle? My understanding from the various media sources including a report from the blogger who first responded to Adam, is that Richman, the formerly chubby host of Man v. Food, posted a proud selfie of himself after losing somewhere between 50 and 70 pounds (accounts vary).

Nothing wrong with that. Except that he used the hashtag “thinspiration.”

image made from thinspo images I found online
image made from thinspo images I found online

My first attempt at writing about this had me summarizing what happened based on the media reports. I figure you are capable of following the links, including the links within the articles if you need to, without my spending paragraphs summarizing everything. I have two…. issues.

It’s possible he didn’t know what thinspiration meant. A lot of what happened has been taken down so what is left is sadly out of context but at least some accounts say he didn’t know what it meant.

It’s certainly not a new term. I ran across pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia “thinspiration” websites back around 2001. I had a Geocities website and I was link hoping and wham. Suddenly I found myself on a page with photos of skeletally thin, emaciated little girls with commentary about how this one was too fat and this other was thinspiration. Girls posting pictures of themselves pointing out tiny little thighs and calling themselves and each other fat. It was shocking. And scary. And because I came from that world, kind of enticing.

I spent years eating less than 300 calories per day and exercising like mad countered by periods of binging and purging. I lost some weight but never that much and there is still a part of me, deep inside, that thinks 70 pounds would be the ideal weight for me. There’s a part that remains jealous of those skeletal little girls, even though the adult part knows how horrible that disease is. So yes, thinspiration is a trigger word for me.

It’s not just the scary-thin photos that get tagged with thinspiration, it’s the normal sized and fat photos that get tagged as ugly and disgusting that hurt me. Do I already feel ugly and disgusting? Yes I do. Do I fear the thinspiration folks because I know that they’re looking at me as ugly and disgusting? Yes.

And no, I don’t entirely believe Richman didn’t know what the word meant. It’s possible, I don’t know. But thinspiration has recently been in the news because many of the big social media sites are banning thinspiration blogs and sites. It’s been talked about the past few years with regard to the overly-thin runway models. But it’s possible and I’m really trying hard not to judge him.

It sounds, from some of his responses and apologies, that he has body image issues. Good for him for losing some weight and being healthier. Perhaps he is overly sensitive to comments he might see as being weight-centric. But his responses were way over the top. What’s sad is that none of his responses or apologies really show that he gets that he hurt people. He says it. He’s incredibly sorry now – now that his new show has been delayed indefinitely. It does not feel genuine. I’m not sure at this point that it could feel genuine, no matter what he says or really feels. That’s not entirely his fault. Those trigger words are not easily taken back. And that’s probably at least a little unfair.

He commented somewhere that in the real world, people have a fight and they apologize and it’s over – and on the internet that’s not possible. “It becomes a blog.” I’m not sure in the real world that this fight would have worked that way. If I were his real life friend and he called me the vile names he called this person online – and if he told me to slit my wrists and that no one would miss me?? Well, I might accept his apology and try to stay his friend but I would never, never trust him again. If I was his real life friend watching this fight happen online, I would find myself wondering what he really thought about me – since I agree that the thinspiration hashtag was inappropriate. Do you think he would listen to a real life friend?

I don’t know. The whole thing makes me sad. Sad both for him, who may have destroyed his career (and I used to enjoy his shows) and sad for all of us, fat, thin or somewhere in between, who are still judging our worth based on how we look.

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6 thoughts on “man v internet”

  1. This sounds so very nasty. I had no idea what the thinspiration tag meant, but I don’t follow media much or instagram or twitter at all; I would think that a public figure like him would know what it meant. This country is super fixated on appearance (and wealth); when I show French films to my students, they are shocked at the famous actors/actresses in other countries who have (according to them), crooked teeth, bad eyebrows, big noses, are overweight, etc. Here all of that would have been “fixed” or the person wouldn’t have become popular. It makes me sick how much our culture glorifies the exterior, while ignoring the substance of the person.

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    1. The biggest difference I see between U.S. and British, Australian and Canadian television is that U.S. actors all have to be pretty. I know less about actors from other countries but I remember being surprised the first time I saw Gérard Depardieu. We have some “character” actors that are less than perfect but everyone else has to look great. I wonder if that attitude is spreading to other countries like McDonalds.

      And even if he didn’t know what it meant, once it was pointed out to him he didn’t need to respond with such hatred and vitriol.

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  2. This is so interesting Zazzy. I’m familiar with the person and his TV show, and the fact that he stopped doing it, but this whole thing passed me by, so I’m off to follow some of your links and see what I can find out about it. I don’t think I knew about Thinspiration, but now it seems obvious to me, so maybe I did and forgot. That top right hand image in your collage is particularly disturbing, isn’t it. Interesting what you say about the difference between US and other countries’ celebrities. I know the British are often mocked for having bad teeth (some of us have good teeth 🙂 ) but your news presenters in particular just seem so much more polished than ours, like they’ve taken more care, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re thinner, just better groomed somehow. I’ve heard that Jennifer Aniston got the Rachel part only when she lost 9lb (9lb!) and became thin as opposed to slender. Already I’m contradicting myself and talking about three different things! This is a huge subject; I’m off to see what I can find. Thanks for writing about it. So interesting.

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    1. Hi Polly. 🙂 I’ve never seen British newspeople, but I often feel ours aren’t as smart as they are pretty. I remember when Christine Craft was fired in Kansas City for being too old and not pretty enough. I always liked her. Two different juries awarded her $500k and it got overturned twice. I don’t think she ever got anything from the discrimination lawsuits.

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      1. We had something like that over here with this: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jan/11/countryfile-miriam-oreilly-tribunal. I think maybe our lady fared better than yours. Had a look into the Adam Richman thing – I’m so surprised he thought he could get away with that. He would have retained more credibility and dignity if he’d been less nasty. No need for that, but then we are all human and have our breaking point. His was just a little low that day. Maybe he was embarrassed to have been caught out not knowing what the term meant. Still no need to speak that way, even if he didn’t want to apologise. Very interesting!

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        1. I think credibility is my problem with him now. I try to remind myself that everyone has a bad day and everyone says something stupid now and then. It was just so over the top! I kind of wonder whether he felt like they were raining on his parade.

          Still, I doubt I’d watch any new show from him. It’s silly, maybe. I don’t know him and I really don’t have anything invested in who or what he is. But I guess you come to feel as if you know someone you enjoy on TV (or hulu as the case may be). He showed such an ugly side to himself that he has lost that credibility and dignity for me.

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