I have a confession. I love ― I mean unhealthily, obsessively love ― Supersize vs Superskinny. It’s so wrong and yet it feels so right: the diet porn freak-show format, the garish shirts, the unfathomable food tube, the prosthetic limb-beige underwear. It gets me going. But despite, no, because, of the Tuesday night thrill I get from watching cosmetically challenged people prodding each other in unflattering light, I’m going to have to consign it to my personal Room 101. It’s this morbid car-crash fascination that is, perhaps, the crux of the problem.
In previous generations, taboo and repression surrounding sex and the human form led to an underground outpouring of deviance. But now we’re inundated with images of flesh, out in the open, selling us breakfast cereal and satisfaction, we run from any body that deviates from shop mannequin uniformity. Food has become our sex. Whilst TV guides brim with programmes about cooking and eating, we’re shouted at from every side about the dangers of doing it wrong. We’re fed the cautionary tale of Super Slim Me; told with a stern headshake the Truth About Size Zero; we tuck Generation XXL into bed at night with a televisual snack of Half-Ton Man, whisper bedtime stories of Fat Families and redemptive sagas of Biggest Losers. Because, as the wisdom of “Dr” Gillian McKeith (trained within the hallowed walls of the non-accredited online distance-learning College of Holistic Nutrition of America) tells us, food is not just what’s on your plate. You are what you eat. And what you’re eating is rubbish.
I saw one diet programme in which the unfortunate fatty had her favourite takeaway blended into smoothie form. She was then instructed to keep the glass in a cupboard to, and I quote, ‘smell it every day as it went off’. Is it just me or is there something a bit…S&M about this kind of ritualised humiliation? Like a puppy having its nose rubbed in its own mess, this poor woman trudged daily to the cupboard to waft the faecal fumes of decaying curry as she dutifully vox pop-ed: ‘It’s really made me think about what I eat’. Has it, though? I don’t think it’s out of line to venture that I can’t think of a single meal ― however healthy, balanced or vegan― that wouldn’t become a little off putting after a while, when stuck in a blender and then left to rot. What are we actually learning from this pseudo-scientific BS? That when one person lives off 10, 000 calories of deep-fried animal product a day, and another 3 smarties, 40 fags and a litre of tea, the healthy and sensible solution as prescribed by Dr. Floppy Hair is to swap their diets until they both learn the error of their ways? I’m no scientist but I think I’m missing the moral here. If there’s even pretence at one, it has no more depth than a Victorian freak show.
In this climate of relentless, pornographic scrutiny of body and diet, Supersize seems to both contribute to our neurotic over-analysing (eating disorder charity Beat has lampooned the programme for being ‘triggering’ to eating disorder sufferers, which I can well imagine), and at the same time act as a reassurance that we’re alright really, cos we’re neither 25 st, nor five. But whether it’s an actively harmful symptom of our collective body image meltdown, or a vapid and meaningless filler show, my love for the show has become as bittersweet as 23 stone Sandra’s nineteenth doughnut. I’ve begun to resent its pious missionary standpoint, its pretence at do-gooding. As a deluge of diet programmes play Samaritan, holding the hand of the dietary lost sheep as they guide them back to ‘healthy’, maybe what we really need is a healthy detox from thinking, talking, obsessing, fixating upon our bodies, and other people’s. (And if we do, maybe the realisation that a Big Mac is not a mid-morning snack will come with it).