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TV 101: Carson Kressley's new show (or "No, actually, you DON'T look good naked")

by Jay Black, posted Jan 3rd 2008 2:20PM
Is I write the introductions to my articles after I write the articles themselves. This is because I find the introductions the hardest part and, remembering the advice I got from the introduction to the S.A.T.s, when I run into a problem I can't easily solve, it's a good idea for me to go to the next question and return later.

This introduction, however, was easy to write. That's because my wife wrote it for me. She read the column and then turned to me and said, "Wow, you're gonna get crucified for this." I asked her, "Worse than my Simpsons essay?" She said, "The reaction to this will make the Simpsons essay look like a fawning Office review. I agree with it, and I'm sure a lot of other people will as well, but the ones that don't... Wow, they are just gonna hate you!" So, uh, thanks honey. Now, on to the crucifying...

Before we get to the (ahem) meat of this matter, let me get a few disclaimers out of the way. I am not remotely in shape. I'm 6'3" and 235 pounds. None of that, other than the minimum necessary to survive, is muscle. On top of that, I'm hairy. Not like Alec Baldwin or David Hasslehoff manly hairy, but like Chuy, The Wolf Boy hairy. As I say in my comedy act, I'm so droopy and hairy, when I take my shirt off my chest looks like a werewolf frowning.

I come from a family of large-sized people. My grandmother was Lithuanian. Judging from the way she treated both my father and me, it seems that the words for "love" and "pork" are the same in Lithuanian. Seriously, when my brother and I would spend the night at her house, we'd be greeted the next morning with a pound of bacon for us to split. It's my theory that the Lithuanians spent so long under the thumb of Soviet oppression because they were too busy digesting to offer resistance.

Assuming things are the same for me as they were for my father, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, if I don't get control of my propensity for late-night eating (I make the bad Mogwais look positively Gizmo by comparison), I'm headed for a middle-age burdened under the weight of Type II diabetes. My original plan of eating whatever I want and hoping for a cure for the disease seems to be backfiring. It doesn't seem to matter how many fat kids show up on Maury, scientists are no closer to a cure.

I'm saying all this so you know that what I'm about to do isn't coming from the popular kids' table. I don't sit around polishing my genetically perfect abs and wondering why fat people just can't get it together. I'm not a beautiful person looking down at all the Morlocks, I'm a Morlock looking down at all the Morlocks.

Here's what I want to say to Lifetime and Carson Kressley: you can't teach people look good naked. They either do or they don't.

If you haven't seen the ads for Lifetime's new show (How to Look Good Naked, With Carson Kressley), essentially it's this: Carson Kressley, the blond guy from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, helps women with their esteem issues. The show takes the unfair stereotype that overweight women with self-esteem problems tend to gravitate towards gay men and, uh, solidifies it into a new reality genre.

Even though the show hasn't premiered yet (you can catch the first episode Friday, January 4th at 9:00 PM, EST.) it's already getting rave reviews from ordinary people on the Lifetime website. Just like it did for me, the premise of the show alone is enough to move people to write:

I wish I had Carson with me to make me feel brave and love my body.

I'm sitting here in a pool of tears! I wish that was ME on TV with Carson.

All women big and small will be able to relate to this show.

I am 28, 5'2" and weigh 175... I am a full-figured woman and every day I tell myself how beautiful I am. All women are beautiful!

Women should commit to this show instead of the latest diet fad.

The romantic in me reads these comments and says, you go girl! No one defines you but you!

The part of me who reads the Life and Health section of USA Today, however, begs to differ.

For instance, the 28 year old woman who tells herself every day that she's beautiful? Well, she should also tell herself every day that she's obese, because she is. Her body mass indicator (BMI) is 32, which puts her well into the obese category. So, along with her brightly positive self-esteem, she can look forward to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, gout, and a whole array of breathing problems! Yay!

The comment that worries me the most is the last one, that women should commit to this show instead of the latest diet fad. Yeah, because what a severely overweight person needs is a gay man to tell her she's beautiful, not, uh, you know, diet and exercise. If only we all had our own, personal gay man!

Why does TV constantly need to tell me that I should love myself no matter what? If I have a problem, shouldn't I try to fix the problem, rather than pretending I don't have one?

I'm going to assume that a lot of you have reached this part in the article and are already angry at me. It's okay. As Dr. Maguire once told Will Hunting (link NSFW): it's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's. Not. Your. Fault.

It's not your fault because you've been brainwashed repeatedly by feel-good modern TV that people should have high self-esteem no matter what. On Lifetime, for instance, the only person who receives any kind of criticism at all is Tori Spelling's boyfriend from Mother May I Sleep with Danger?

But before you go crazy writing to me that I'm obviously a self-hating fat person with severe women issues, consider this: what if the show promoted other kinds of unhealthy lifestyles? Would you consider it a life-affirming nod to the way we should all feel about ourselves? Or would you call it irresponsible? To illustrate, I've put together a few pitches:

1) How to Drive without a Seatbelt, With Carson Kressley. Each week, Carson finds a new candidate for a mental makeover! Meet Sarah. She grew up poor in rural Arkansas. The only car their family had was a pre-Nader pick-up truck that didn't have seatbelts. When she moved to the big city, she thought that her life was looking up. That's until she started going on dates and not fastening her seatbelt. "The men were so judgmental", a crying Sarah tells Carson. "Didn't they know about my childhood!" Carson then surprises her with a facial and the two of them travel to the Australian outback, where few of the jeeps have seatbelts. "Finally," Sarah sighs at the end of the episode, "a place where I can just be me!"

2) How to Not Wash Your Hands after Using a Public Restroom, With Carson Kressley. Meet Tommy. He grew up in a Christian Scientist household that didn't believe in the germ theory of medicine. Because of that, he never picked up the habit of washing his hands after using a public restroom. "I just figure I'll pray the germs away," Tommy tells an understanding Carson. "But, gosh, when women find out that I just number-twoed and didn't bother to wash my hands, they don't want me to touch them! It's like I'm a monster!" Carson then teaches Tommy that true basic personal hygiene comes from inside.

3) How to Allow Lead Based Products to Ship to America, With Carson Kressley. Look out, China, you're about to get a lesson in Carsonology!

Being fat isn't a moral failing, but it is a failing. It's just like not fastening your seatbelt or not washing your hands. It's just like being disorganized or chronically late. It's okay to say it. TV constantly bombards us with care packages when what we need is, in the words of Tracey Jordan, truth bombs.

Is it irresponsible to tell people it's okay to be fat? Probably not. I mean, it keeps the comfort-foods industry humming along. But I do think the sum-total of all this self-esteem hooey is taking its toll. Remember when this country went to the moon? Now we get excited when someone picks the right case on Deal or No Deal. I don't think we got dumber in one generation, we just lowered the bar as to what an accomplishment is.

So, here's my advice: if you're an overweight person (like me) and you've got a real hankering for a reality show, don't watch How to Look Good Naked, watch The Biggest Loser. The latter is premised on the idea that self-esteem comes from hard work and accomplishment. The former thinks it comes from a magic gay man.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to show this article to my good friend George Takei, so he can tell me it's good (even if it's not).

(By the way, I know that I tend to put a lot of links in my articles and it's easy to ignore them. I have to say, though, if you're going to click on one link in this article, make it the George Takei link. For those of us that love George on the The Howard Stern Show, it's another home run from our favorite announcer.)

What do you think?
Jay's right! Self-esteem is good, but only when it comes from accomplishments. This show itself isn't dangerous, but it's reflective of a dangerous trend in American thinking.290 (56.9%)
Jay is wrong. Being fat isn't a fault! It's something that should be celebrated. You go Carson!86 (16.9%)
What do I care? I'm skinny. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go look at myself in a mirror.37 (7.3%)
In my heart, I know Jay is right. But I'm still angry because of all the truth bombs he just dropped.31 (6.1%)
Jay was right. That George Takei link was hilarious.66 (12.9%)

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Incidentally, the 'it's easy to tell you're a guy' comment wasn't intended as an insult. Just saying that because I agree with you that you've gotten some un-called for insults from commenters.

After my long, long comment I realised I hadn't responded to the part of your post that made me want to comment in the first place. It was the idea that "she should be telling herself every day that she's obese".

No, she shouldn't. She's already doing that. AND IT ISN'T HELPING. I mean seriously, were you under the impression that she somehow didn't know and needed someone to point it out? In fact, the problem here isn't that she doesn't see it. The problem is that her obesity is ALL she sees.

There's an underlying theme running through your post that it's wrong for an obese person to accept themselves as they are. But accepting yourself as you are is all about recognising your own worth and loving yourself unconditionally - not loving yourself once you reach your goal weight, but right here, right now. Doing that requires you to stop defining yourself by your weight and step back and look at all aspects of your self.

It's the same with beauty. You can't find beauty in yourself while you're still defining yourself wholly on the basis of one flaw. To find beauty you have to change that perception and look at the whole person - one with flaws AND strengths. Once you do that, the obesity becomes a problem instead of an identity. And problems can be dealt with.

February 04 2008 at 9:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jay I really think you've missed the point of the show. I haven't seen Carson's version, but I have watched all of the British version that it's based on. The concept is not that an unhealthly body is good, or should be accepted without any evaluation or improvement. The show is about (1) correcting misconceptions that women have about their bodies and (2) showing them tips on how to improve their appearance without extreme solutions like plastic surgery.

Some activities on the show illustrated how our perception of our own body tends to be unrealistically negative. For example, it's amazing how many times women were stunned to realise that a woman they didn't consider overweight or unattractive was actually bigger than them.

Changing our perceptions of ourselves alone has physical benefits. Confident women stand taller and good posture can vastly improve your appearance. These women are more likely to focus on their good points instead of their flaws, so instead of dressing to, for example, hide their butt, they will focus on accentuating their small waist or excellent cleavage, and make the most of their most beautiful features. Women who hate their body image don't think they HAVE any good points to accentuate - and this is often completely untrue.

Then there are beauty tips from the basics like getting enough water and healthy foods, through to the happily superficial stuff, like how a properly applied fake tan can make you look five years younger and five pounds lighter. There are so many simple ways to be more beautiful naked: removing body hair, exfoliating, moisturising your body (not just your face). Women who feel unattractive often don't do these simple things because they just want to hide their body away under baggy clothes and never think about it. And it's not just overweight women who do this. Women can feel this way because they are getting older, or don't like their bodyshape (in spite of being a healthy weight), or have a few stretch marks left over from having kids.

It's easy to tell that you're a guy, because you equate telling a woman to accept herself as she is to telling her that she doesn't need to bother to be healthy or take care of herself. You really have no idea how empowering accepting yourself is for a woman. Women who do not value themselves do NOT try to improve. They give up. Women who understand that weight, or age, or boob size do not determine their value - THOSE are the women who know they are worth the effort to eat right, or get to the gym, or dress well, etc.

I have watched in amazement as women who look flat and boring and depressed suddenly blossomed on the screen into smiling, playful, glowing women, all because once they were able to accept themselves and their body image, they were able to move on and also see what was beautiful about them. After that they had the power to face the actual flaws or bad habits they had and not run away from them.

I have no idea how Carson will handle this task. Gok, the UK host, is fantastic - also gay, but his humour isn't as cutting as I've seen Carson's be. We'll see how it goes. As for you - stop being such a cynic! You might discover some hidden beauty of your own. :)

February 04 2008 at 8:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


You're seeing this issue through a guy's eyes. The fat issue and the self esteem issue? They aren't the same.

Right now I weigh too much but I was just as body loathing and as self loathing when I was thirteen years old, five foot eight and a super unhealthy 100 pounds and still saw FAT in the mirror. I couldn't have had any fat then but I SAW it anyway.

The women on the show know they weigh too much but have you ever watched the show? Carson is pretty ingenious and lines up a group of women to show the weekly center of attention that she has way overemphasized her body image which is not the same at all as her weight. These women may mostly weight too much but the reality of how overweight they are VS the reality are seriously out of line.

Men don't hate their bodies, women do. Trust me. I'm a woman and the size I am at any given point really doesn't make me hate my body any more or any less. I STILL don't see myself realistically.

You need a basic education in Women 101 maybe you should write Carson and ask him for some help. He's not the worst person on the planet, you know.

February 02 2008 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just watched a couple of episodes, and the two women featured were not obese at all, nor were they in danger of future health problems.

Their problems were that they had an exaggerated view of how much they weighed and looked. One woman, a mother of three, didn't like her post-childbirth thighs. The second woman hated her nose and her behind. Both looked lovely as they are and indeed had terrible self-esteem and a misperception of their own bodies, much like a person on the road to anorexia sees a distorted image in the mirror.

During both these shows Carson used a couple of methods to show these women that they were not seeing themselves as they truly were. He got opinions from others (the ladies remained incognito, faceless) and also had them place themselves in a line with other women they felt they were "heavier" than. In each case the women were proven wrong about their actual appearance.

This show doesn't seem to be about Carson Kressley telling women it's OK to be fat and unhealthy. It seems to be about his telling women to just look in the mirror and accept some normal meat on their bones, or an imperfect yet perfect-for-them nose or the odd not "Cosmopolitan" something.

I very much doubt that Carson Kressley would be the first to spoon-feed someone chicken fat and say, "It's OK...you'll look great in the mortuary. Fries with that?"

January 25 2008 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lord, aside from your annoyingly self-referential writing style (Hint: using first-person isn't a license to torture your readers. We don't find you nearly as fascinating as you find yourself), you have zero insight into the psychology of obesity. "It's just like being disorganized or chronically late." Uh, no it isn't.
Overeating often involves a complex web of motivations: self-comfort, self-loathing, self-numbing, etc.
Self-acceptance doesn't mean embracing the fat; it means embracing yourself, fat and all. Once you do that, you're less likely to comfort, punish or numb yourself with food, thus ending the unhealthy cycle.
Kressley understands this; too bad he didn't spell it out for the clueless.

January 24 2008 at 4:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lemonleen's comment
Jay Black

After reading the last few weeks of comments (I get a few trickling in every other day), I have to say that the community of people who disagree with me make some very compelling points. The post was intended as a screed against our nation's tendency to over-protect self-esteem and it came off as a misguided attack on obese people. When I get back home, I plan on spending some time with this show and writing something a bit more balanced.

That said, I'd like to ask you why you feel the need to be insulting to me, when the implication of your argument was that reducing a person's self-esteem was not an effective behavior modification method? You say that I'm "annoying", imply that I'm blindly self-centered, and end by calling me "clueless", all while maintaining a tone of self-righteous ridicule. I'm fine with all of this - my own argument is that blunt truths are a far better means of communication than sugar-coated niceties -- but it certainly seems to undermine your criticism of me, don't you think? Effectively, what you said was, "No, you idiot, calling someone names is NOT a good way to get them to change!"

Is it that the sunshine method only works for obesity? That it should only be applied to people you like? That once someone oversteps whatever arbitrary bounds you have for them, they're open season?

I'm curious because it would seem that for someone who is attacking me, you're actually agreeing with me. That sometimes, when a person is trapped in a rut of bad behavior (in this case, self-indulgent writing about a subject the author apparently knows very little about), a good kick in the buttocks is exactly what they need to get them moving in a different direction.

Perhaps not, but worth thinking about.

Thanks too, to everyone who took the time to explain their points of view to me. I feel like even though the original post came from a negative point of view, I managed to gain a very positive amount of insight.

January 24 2008 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was just wondering, however, Jay, if you've actually *seen* the show? You constantly refer to the obesity element and how detrimental to one's health the impending issues are. But not all of the women being profiled are obese! A mother/daughter team was profiled because neither one of them had good body image, which in this case could translate to "self-esteem", probably from the mother's own childhood, as she admitted to being the problem for her daughter's issues, and BOTH women were probably 5' 7" and weighed no more than 125 pounds.

Yes, we know the following myths ad nauseum:

You overeat you get fat. (I struggle with 25 pounds due to Lupus medication and not because I can't keep my hand out of the cookie jar, but THAT is the analogy by which I'm judged--not medication.)
You get fat you get sick. (Not true for everyone.)
Too many people in the world are lazy and fat.
There is far too little education on healthy eating.
All ya have to do is diet to be gorgeous, thin and successful.
Land at your BMI and win the Golden BMI award--I think for the 2007 ceremony it was a chocolate fat cell deep-fried in broccoli.

But guess what? The first lady, and I believe she was being honest, said she's spent probably close to thousands of dollars on diets. And diets do NOT work. Healthy eating is a better bet for health, but sometimes a body mass will level out at what it's MEANT to be, as you should well know, you self-professed Chewbacca. (Insert tongue in cheek.) And who in the WORLD taught you that beauty and obesity were mutually exclusive?? Okay, so the 28-year old chick hit a nerve with you with her affirmations. Did she ALSO say she never acknowledged her faults in that same mirror? Dood, you're doing what you know writers should never do--just make up crap without evidentiary support so both sides of the story can be fairly evaluated.

You said:
Why does TV constantly need to tell me that I should love myself no matter what?

Why the heck NOT? You are TOTALLY missing the point of this show. It has nothing to do with BMI or stroking out or self-delusion (Which, frankly, is the most commonplace and ordinary conclusions.) and it has EVERYTHING to do with women like me who were told from the day they were born that all the other little girls were much prettier than me. It has everything to do with me, long before I realised that at a size 12 I was being mocked by college classmates for not being their perfect size 6 and realising that, "MY God, my parents were right--there IS something wrong with me," and then finding myself an adult in a very harsh world that tolerates none of it; it has everything to do with my oldest and dearest girlfriend who was thin as a rail as a 6-year old, but each time her father mocked and belittled her for being fat, she eventually began to believe it and now at the age of 39, cannot, try as she might, get that rotten human being's comments out of her head and has lived her full adult life severely obese (You tell someone something long enough and they WILL believe it.); it has everything to do with the fact that human nature is geared toward believing the negative and the fact that we're not fed positive in very many areas of our lives; it has everything to do with the fact that it takes 21 positive comments just to override *1* negative, and with the media constantly shooting size Zero supermodels--who only comprise 2% of the female population--at us, that unless we stop jockeying for position and start helping each other, that age 80 we're all either going to end up gumming rubber crack suckers to stay sane or we're not going to make it at all. (I heard a DJ on my car radio last week say that in the article he'd been handed, out of 10 girls age 6-8, 8 of them said they were convinced they were ugly. HOW LAMENTABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It made him take notice as he was raising two small girls and realised he wasn't doing anything to cultivate a healthy self-image for these kids.

And don't EVEN get me started on the cultural biases that exist. I'm Native American and Caucasian and live in the deep south, and have found that at a nice, respectable-looking size 14 (And no, thankyouverymuch, I don't wish to live my life as a walking bookmark.), I could get any date I wanted in Europe, but not here where men are constantly force-fed the ridiculous ideology that bringing home a size-zero trophy wife will guarantee their personal success, happiness, AND an endless erection. According to those standards, I take home 2nd place every time.

You have the audacity to ask why TV should tell you to love yourself? Because NO ONE ELSE IS EVER GOING TO DO IT, and we spend more time in front of that thing than men do on the toilet! ;p

One of my dearest friends who hit 698 at his highest weight can relay the EXACT moment he began overeating. It wa

January 22 2008 at 4:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jenelle Markell

I think there is something to the "we shouldn't be promoting obesity" take. There is a lot of truth in that. But, I don't think the show is promoting "go ahead, have another twinkie." What the show is promoting, or at least what I take away from it is, that yes, someone might be overweight but still has worth.

However, before the process of losing weight can even begin, women need to feel like there is something underneath all of it that is even worth revealing. Until you feel worthy enough to do something for yourself, nothing is going to change. Often, an outward change needs to begin with one that is inward. If these women do not accept how they look right now, and learn to make the best of what they look like right now, they have no reason to believe they will ever look any better, so why bother?

I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to show someone all the good within the not-so-good. I don't have children, but I think that if that were my daughter on the show and she hated herself so much it would break my heart. There is enough hatred in this world- is it so harmful to reprogram ourselves to see things in a more positive light?

January 21 2008 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As an overweight person, don't you already know that you are overweight? I certainly don't need anyone to tell me I am obese, in danger of various diseases, etc. I KNOW that- I get THAT info from all angles. I've heard it so much that I developed low self esteem, low confidence, chronic timidity and other social issues that have not made my life as pleasant as it could have been.

So what's wrong with a fat woman being told she's beautiful? It doesn't change her size but if it helps to lift her mood and make her feel better about herself rather than wanting to punish herself everyday, then by all means tell her she is beautiful. And at the same time, you can support her efforts to get healthy.

The point Carson is making is that OBESITY and UGLINESS should not be equated. I agree. OBESITY and HEALTH should be equated. You can be overweight and beautiful, and many women are. They are just never told that. Let's tell them that more often.

January 17 2008 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Watched the new episode.
It actually had a woman on there who had gained 50 pounds due to hyperthyroidism (from chemo she had for hodgkins lymphoma).

So tell me.
What's her excuse?

My sister happens to have hyperthyroidism (graves disease) and is also terribly overweight. I have also been a witness to her working out every day and eating healthy. When your thyroid comes into play, you can diet all you want... it doesn't really help.

And I've also seen skinny women on the show.
Like I said earlier; Carson is working on body image issues. He's not giving a cure all, or giving an excuse.

January 14 2008 at 9:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just don't understand why people feel the need to make everyone "DIET"....I understand about exercising...but dieting isn't always the answer either. Changing your eating habits...yes. But being a full-figured woman myself....no one knows (unless you go through it) what it's like to accept yourself and your body for the time being that you are "overweight". Yes...I could lose weight and I am planning to do so. I have already lost 40 pounds from what I was. But I'm not "rushing" to lose more weight just because our society feels that being "thin" is alot healther and better. I have been to the doctor's. The ONLY thing wrong with me is that I'm overweight. I do NOT have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or anything else related to being FAT. I'm one of the lucky ones (knock on wood). But I am so freaking tired of hearing society say that you HAVE to lose weight to look good! I've heard it for well over 30 years and I'm tired of it. I think that Carson's show gives these people more self esteem...if you have more self esteem then you have more motivation...if you have more motivation...you may tend to want to lose those "extra pounds" then but still look good. I don't believe that every freaking woman or man should be a size 10 (for women) or 30 (for men) There is nothing wrong with being full-figured as long as you are healthy about it. Maybe it's time that the skinny a$$ twigs put some meat on their bones!

January 14 2008 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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