That’s Not What I Mean By Diversity

Diversity: The state of being diverse; variety.

Two pieces of media are currently being hailed (or hated, depending on your perspective) as being unusually diverse. And they totally are – in terms of race and ethnicity. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. But this isn’t a blog about race or ethnicity, or gender, or age. It’s a blog about fat. So you can already guess where I’m going with this.

First up is this Coca-Cola video. It’s not the “controversial” one you saw during The Super Bowl (if you could stand to watch the game, that is), but a behind-the-scenes look at the making of that commercial. Take a look:

I have to admit, I was moved when I watched this. I am all about the melting-pot diversity of America. After all, I wouldn’t be here if my ancestors hadn’t immigrated from Europe (or if the Native Americans hadn’t already been here). But I am unable to look at any piece of advertising or media without a critical eye when it comes to fat issues, so what struck me was – as usual – the lack of body diversity in the ad.

Coca-Cola wants us to know that it’s our diversity, our variety, that makes America, America. Right? Okay, so let’s look at two statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 35.9% (2009-2010)
  • Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are overweight, including obesity: 69.2% (2009-2010)

Almost 70% of this country is considered “overweight” or “obese,” (according to the BS BMI, but I digress), so… where are we in this awesome video about diversity? Are we only allowed to be proud of our differences as long as our bodies are all close to the same size?

I also really enjoy the irony of how people accuse fatties of being the ones ruining this great nation with all their soda guzzling (and fast food scarfing), but those same fatties are never, ever portrayed in ads for these products.

Now, another thing that’s being hailed in an “it’s about time!” fashion is the cover of the annual Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. Here it is:


A record number of people of color are represented on the cover this year. Which is great! I’m not knocking this at all. To see how unusual this is, check out this Buzzfeed article that includes photos of past covers. Here’s one from from four years ago:


You know what I see in all these photos, right? Thin. Nothing but thin. Of course I’m not surprised – Hollywood is totally the worst when it comes to body diversity and (for most of us) unrealistic expectations, especially for women. But to see the same small bodies year after year after year on these covers really drove the point home in a pouty, sexy, beach-wave-hair way.

So, why does this matter?

It matters because there are fat children growing up in this country who are reminded at every turn that they should be ashamed of their bodies. They are told by their doctors, teachers, friends, even their mothers and fathers that they are not good enough, that they are disgusting, unacceptable, failures. That their different bodies are not the kind of diversity we mean when we say diversity is good.

It matters because many people believe that shame is motivating. That if we just bully, mock, and tease fatties enough, they will finally straighten up and get skinny. Never mind that we can’t figure out a way to make fat people thin permanently – we (and our children) should still try. We should always, always try, even if we’re tired, if our bodies are starving and exhausted. And there are plenty of people who will step up to shame us if we ever stop trying.

If fat children never see fat people in a positive light in the media, if they never see talented and successful and amazing people who also happen to be fat, then… then I guess the idea is that they will hate themselves thin even faster? If you never see anyone who looks like you on the cover of a magazine, headlining a movie, or in a video illustrating the beauty of America, then… you’ll work even harder to look like the people who do, no matter the cost to your mental and physical health? If nothing else, that kind of thinking sure lines the pockets of the diet industry!

What do you think of the Coca-Cola ad? What do you think of the Vanity Fair cover? Share your thoughts in the comments!