A Huge Conversation: Media Literacy Talking Points (Pt 2)

June 27, 2010 In Part Two of this HUGE conversation (premiering tomorrow on ABC Family, my Part One is here) we’ll try to unpack some of the core questions that SHOULD be top of mind to embrace the media literacy side of the body image, obesity, nutrition and kids’ health dialog.

I’ll start with the universal disclaimer that I am NOT a medico, eating disorder pro or body image specialist of any sort, just a media mama passionista eager to use the power of media for positive change, in any way, shape or form we can ‘get there.’

Aussie body image author Lisa Cox wrote this note in her promo for her new book “Does My Bum Look Big in This Ad?”

“Poor media literacy amongst youth has been shown to distort body image and potentially lead to a number of serious physical and mental health concerns, including depression, bullying, eating disorders, self-harm and substance abuse…”

While I agree media literacy helps lift the veil of commercial messaging, it’s no panacea for the onslaught of 24/7 appearance-based focus in our distorted cultural fixation. I try to be circumspect about the whole issue and have even asked, “Are we making matters worse with all the body image chatter?”

Frankly, I feel ‘out of my league’ when I read articles like this one from a high school teen (guest posting on our resident expert Dr. Robyn Silverman’s blog) who asks:

“Are Schools Empowering Students or Helping Them Have Eating Disorders?” Yipes!

I try to cover all sides of a reasoned and meaningful dialog, but the thought of contributing to the problem by phraseology that ‘triggers’ behavior quite honestly makes me nervous as all get out.

After all, I’ve been trying to tackle How to counter-market Thinspiration for quite awhile, and though we’ve had much success with our hands-on kids’ game, ‘Dare to Compare: Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition’ to educate and innovate through media literacy, it’s this ‘heck if you do heck if you don’t’ reasoning slides me into a head fog of analysis paralysis for fear of a misstep!

Thank gawd I’m not one of ’em on the “Huge” front lines…Clearly I’m taking a pre-premiere ‘wait and see’ approach to the show, but as a sidebar to the HUGE conversation, I’m going to reiterate why it’s so important to have the right expertise on a show.

Jess Weiner has been tasked with creating the HUGE conversation starter (initial talking points/study guide below) and there’s no doubt in my mind her skill sets are needed FAR beyond a primer paper to muse upon.

When it comes to outreach working with teen/tween girls particularly, I’m clearly on ‘Team Jess’ and it’s no wonder she’s the Global Ambassador for Dove’s Self Esteem Fund. Watching her work, this Actionist (R) can field a prickly question and reroute a conversation with finesse.

I’m a tough sell and it wasn’t until I actually SAW her work with tween girls in action that I really became convinced Jess Weiner was ‘for real’ instead of just ‘for hire.’

She slogged through an uphill battle to impart knowledge, leadership and action steps into a tired tribe of tweens shifting in their seats by day’s end, and my esteem for her solidified with her uncanny ability to flip the conversation back to where it SHOULD be, away from external values and TOWARD internal ones.

So there’s my media literacy disclosure…I’m expecting her to be as raw and real about Huge, knowing she’s in equally dicey and conflicted media environs…Here’s her own prelim post about the show, which is industry-savvy, thought-provoking and wise…much like the lady herself.

Regardless of where this show ends up, “Team Jess” is here to stay.

Here are a few starter questions to toss around pre and post show for those watching tomorrow!

HUGE Conversation Starter

by Jess Weiner

These questions are intended to help create a conversation amongst viewers of HUGE. There are no right or wrong answers. Just some things to think about…

1.    What was your initial reaction to the title of this series? What did you think it meant? Did your opinion change after seeing the show?

2.    How did you feel seeing overweight people have the lead roles on a TV show? Why do you think we don’t see many overweight people in leading roles on TV? Do you think this show can change the way we look at people of different sizes?

3.    Each character has their own relationship and struggle with their body image and weight. Which character do you relate with the most so far? What has your own experience with body image felt like?

4.    The issue of weight can bring up many feelings, why do you think it is such an emotional topic to address?

5.    The character, Will, seems pretty angry at times. What do you think she is angry about? Where do you think her anger is directed (society, her parents, her peers, the camp, etc)?

6.    What do you think it might feel like to be an overweight teenager? What obstacles or challenges do you think they might face on a daily basis? What stereotypes do you think people have about someone who is overweight?

7.    What does being ‘healthy’ mean to you? Do you think that health is only defined by what you weigh? What other attributes make a person ‘healthy’?

8.    Do you think girls and women face a lot of pressure about their weight? Where do you think that pressure comes from? Is it the same or worse for boys?

9.    The character, Amber, says, “I’m good at dieting, I’ve been doing it all my life”. What do you think she meant by that? What other areas do you wish girls were recognized for, outside of their weight or appearance (for instance: grades, sports, etc.)

10.    Everyone at Camp Victory has at one point been labeled the ‘fat’ kid. What other labels do teens experience? Have you ever been labeled? If so, how did that make you feel?

11.    Most of the characters are encouraged to keep journals. Why do you think writing down your feelings could be helpful in expressing them? Have you ever kept a journal? Has it been helpful?

12.    All of these characters are living HUGE lives: they are taking risks, challenging stereotypes and learning more about the people they really are. Are you living a HUGE life? What can you do to make your life more HUGE?

13.    The character, Caitlin, leaves camp because she is struggling with bulimia, which requires medi¬cal and psychological treatment. Do you know anyone who has struggled with an eating disor¬der before? What can you do if you think your friend might have an eating disorder?  For more information go to: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-resources/family-and-friends.php

14.    ABC Family believes that healthy living means living life to the fullest! What could you do today to begin living a healthier, fuller life?

Jess Weiner is an author, self-esteem expert and lives a HUGE life by helping girls around the world feel more confident

As far as my own media literacy questions, I’ll be asking some basics, like:

Who is the storyteller/who is in charge?

What is left out?

What do you know, NOT know? I’ll primarily be hunting down body image media literacy springboards for conversations from NAMLE (Nat’l Assoc for Media Literacy Education) favorite teaching tools on body image from Frank Baker at Media Literacy Clearinghouse and resources at Common Sense Media.

As much as I’d like to STRONGLY encourage the HUGE producers to review the impact of health storylines via Norman Lear’s Hollywood Health & Society to explore how the show could play a pivotal role in positive cues for mental/physical health…

…I DO realize it’s NOT their “job” to play in my sandbox of do-gooderville…But it IS their job to ‘do no harm.’

I’ll be asking what message the show sends amidst the national (global!) obesity discourse, querying health care pros and teens of all sizes and shapes to weigh in with their feedback as the summer goes forth, and obviously, talking to our own RD/nutrition correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield (when she returns from Alaska!)

I’ve already run the Part One post by our partners/allies at HealthGamers to see where they land…

(Playnormous (Archimage) are the award-winning gamers behind Escape from Diab and authors of one of the first novels on Apple’s iPad, Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space targeting childhood obesity prevention.) Response? When asked about ABC Family’s Huge, MPH Melanie Lazarus said,

“I think you’re spot on when you said: “ABC Family’s HUGE should speak to the emotional cues and behavioral triggers in ALL of us, not by any one age demographic, size/shape, or gender.” and “Why embed health info? Because it works.”

I feel very, very strongly that at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about shape but about health. Huge difference…no pun intended. I hope they don’t miss a great opportunity here…”

Yep, the conversation is heatin’ up…

As I said before, Hollywood and Health make strange bedfellows but potentially rewarding ones…Kids’ Prime Time TV Health Cues Are Ingested For Better or For Worse, so let’s make it ‘for the better’ from the get-go.

We need to ensure mass media takes a ‘handle with care’ approach to this HUGE media monster of a dialog, with accountability and responsibility. This is much more than entertainment. This is potentially Huge.

Emily-Anne Rigal, 16, aka “Schmiddlebopper” on YouTube:

This video of Emily serves as a plucky reminder of exactly who can be helped or hurt by media’s might. I adore this amazing young woman; not just her bold beauty and unabashed style, but her zest for life that I wish I could bottle as a teen elixir. She’s “livin’ huge” as the show might say…



  1. It’s great to see real beauty = open heart, humor, authenticity. Thanks for being a leader in changing the paradigm!

  2. Well, Eileen, if anyone is conversation shifting it is YOU… so we’re tackling it together, n’est ce pas? Onward!! 🙂

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