Why “This is Us” is Us

We live in a world where is it is not unusual for the darkness of weight bias, weight stigma and fat shaming to cast its dreary shadow over our lives.

This is an unfortunate truth that those of us that have been affected by obesity face.

When it comes to characters in movies and television that are affected by obesity, their struggle with weight is often the punchline of a joke. It is something that is made light of and is often guilty of perpetuating stereotypes that people who suffer from obesity eat too much, exercise too little and lack the general willpower to make healthier life choices.

And let’s be honest – it’s not just offensive. For many, it touches even a more sensitive place in our hearts. It hurts.

It triggers emotions in us that are uncomfortable. It reminds us of times in our lives when we were the target of fat-shaming, bullying or ridicule. It reminds us that we are a population affected by a disease we wear on the outside and is therefore visible to all. What follows are the judgments about this disease – how if we really “wanted” to lose weight we could and that we are simply lazy and lack willpower. Society has decided the external diagnosis tells the entire story of a person’s obesity journey rather than considering the reality that obesity is a complex, complicated and personal disease and one size does not fit all.

However, every once in a while someone comes along that shines a light into the darkness.

If you ask me, that is exactly what Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan have done with their characters Kate and Toby in the new NBC Primetime Drama Series “This Is Us”.

With each episode I have watched, I have found myself breathing a sigh of relief. It is quite honestly the first time I have ever truly experienced a television series where I feel like there are accurate portrayals of characters that suffer from obesity and a true representation of what battling the disease of obesity is like.

The writers, producers, directors and actors of this series have done an amazing job of illustrating some of the trials, struggles and situations that those of us who suffer from obesity face in the world.

From sensitive topics such as food addictions, self-destructive behaviors, fear of social acceptance, dating, relationships with family members, dieting, exercise and all of the emotions involved with these topics, each time I watch this show I find myself staring at the television thinking, “Wow, they actually get it.”

I’m forty years old and this is the first time I have ever experienced characters on television that I have identified with in regards to my own experience with obesity.

The show’s portrayal of Kate’s desire to lose weight has astounded me at every turn. Scenes where she leaves herself notes in the refrigerator, purposely destroys food so she won’t take it out of the trash later, attends a 12-step group for the first time, takes her earrings off before weighing herself leaves me thinking, “this is so accurate, this is so truthful, this is so real.”

Toby’s character is just as raw, honest and real as Kate’s and I constantly find myself looking over at my male counterpart who has also battled this disease, wondering if he finds himself looking at Toby’s character in the same regard and with the same admiration that I look at Kate’s.

Their characters and portrayals are funny without being cruel or malicious. Their experiences are realistic. They have moments that you want to weep with them, they have moments you want to laugh with them, and they have moments that you want to strangle someone that they have interacted with.

But most importantly, they have moments that you sit there just enjoying the fact that they are being portrayed as real people – people who go to parties, go out drinking, watch football games, tell stories about their parents, have sex, go to the gym, make mistakes, and try to grow and better their lives and their relationships.

After recently reading Chrissy Metz’s interview with People magazine, it’s no wonder I feel the way I do. I think her character gives us one of the first on television we can truly resonate with. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this is so apparent is because of how much she herself recognizes an echo within her and her character.

In her interview, she touches on being a young child that suffered from obesity, being bullied and being made to feel ashamed of her body. She speaks of a mother trying to help her figure it out and being enrolled in weight-loss programs at age eleven. She talks about the emotional struggle of not wanting to eat, and the backlash of binging that occurs when you’re then so hungry you’re starving. She shares many experiences of her own life I think would make many of us nod our head and go “Yeah, me too.”

“This Is Us” is quickly becoming a Tuesday night tradition in our house. As a passionate member of the OAC, I highly applaud NBC, the writers, directors, producers and cast of “This Is Us” for giving us the first show that actually leaves us sitting on the couch feeling good about the portrayal of those affected by obesity.

As a professional weight-loss coach and fitness instructor, I have had the opportunity to discuss this show with many of my clients. As someone who is dating a man who has also battled obesity I’ve had the chance to talk about the show with him on an almost weekly basis as we watch it. As a member of the OAC’s Weight Bias Committee I have had the privilege of discussing this show with my fellow committee members. In all of those conversations the same overall sentiment is echoed. “This Is Us” is a positive show with a truthful, honest, heartwarming and phenomenal portrayal of those affected by obesity.

Moreover, the show is aptly named. Because if you ask me, the most amazing thing about “This Is Us” is that it is actually so positive and inclusive that I’d go as far as to say “This Is Us” IS US – and coming from me, that is saying a lot.

About the Author:
Pandora Williams is a Weight Loss Coach/Fitness Instructor. As a long time OAC member, Pandora serves on the Weight Bias Committee and is also involved in other OAC programs, such as the OAC’s National Convention.

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