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What’s the story?

July 15, 2010

At CNN, a not-unpredictable headline: Boy, 10, loses 11 pounds on month-long mission This month-long mission, you ask? He calls it “Portion Size Me,” after the documentary Supersize Me, which he says inspired him to eat a greater variety of nutritious food and to exercise more. He’s even cooking meals for his family. According to his mom,

The challenge wasn’t about pounds, but making better lifestyle choices, she added. Marshall also wants to become more active and has told his mother he wants to start playing football this year.

So, of course, I don’t really care for the phrase “better lifestyle choices” in general, but I think what Marshall is doing here is pretty neat. He said, Hey, here’s a thing I want to do with my body. I will need to move my body and nourish my body in a lot of new ways if I want to try this new thing, so let’s give it a go! He’s cooking vegetables, people, and he’s liking it.

So why don’t we ever get a headline that says, “Boy, 10, tries new foods and new ways of moving on month-long mission”? Yeah, Marshall’s mom gave the reporter the number, the big 1-1, which is supposed to validate what he is doing. And maybe she is just participating in a narrative about “lifestyle choices” that uses “get healthy” to stand in synonymously for “lose weight.” But it’s telling, isn’t it, that it’s inconceivable to highlight this kid’s enjoyment of cooking and his goal to play football without ceremoniously foregrounding the fact that he has lost 11 pounds in one month. It’s almost like all our energy related to our bodies is supposed to be focused on getting thin or staying thin, and not on eating and doing things that make us feel good. How about that?

So, good on you, Marshall. I hope you keep digging grilled sweet potatoes, corn, portabellos and turkey burgers, and I hope football turns out to be awesome. If one day it turns out you hate sweet potatoes (it’s okay, dude, I’m not wild about them either), or that football isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I hope you discover whole new foods and activities that get you excited. But mostly, I hope that by the time you’re an adult, which really isn’t so far away, we’ll have made “Boy, 10, discovers a love of cooking, wants to play football” a totally reasonable headline for a human interest story like yours.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2010 8:57 AM

    To be honest, I didn’t take this story in nearly as positive a light as you did. Of course, if he enjoys football, cooking, and whatever else he’s doing, and not taking it to an extreme, that’s a good thing. I wish him well.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I think CNN reported this to create a bandwagon effect. Look! Here is yet another person, a child no less, who is committing himself to a lifestyle of diet and exercise purity. And it worked! If a child can do it, why can’t you? You suggested that they make it about overall health rather than weight loss, but that doesn’t matter to me personally. I’m not at all conviced that homecooked, unprocessed foods are better than others foods or that anything other than a minimum of semi-regular exercise has health benefits. Physical fitness and conditions like high cholesterol are mostly hereditary, so why oh why are we constantly inundated with ways to improve our fitness, our lipid profiles, etc whehn they don’t make any substantial difference in people’s well-being? All it really does is stigmatize those genetically impure people who have the gall to live the wrong lifestyles. It may not be the intention, but it’s true.

    More importantly, even if physical fitness could be ensured and conditions like diabetes prevented by living the right lifestyle, why do I care? I could understand a medium *devoted* to health and fitness giving general advice about the subject and maybe a few success stories for more personal advice and emotional effect. However the idea of a major news channel trotting out healthy living “success” stories, in an age where the government and largely society is falling all over themselves to shame or outright force us to live in a sociall acceptable way leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    People make alterations to their lives and way of thinking every day, on all sorts of issues. Why is this news? If they really want a human interest story, I wish these people would provide balance, like “Varsity Athlete Paints a New Picture.” It could be about an athlete that decided to design sets for the drama club. I feel like they focus on these stories in particular because they highlight our obsession with “health.”

    • Jill permalink
      July 18, 2010 3:49 PM

      I think your assessment of the aims of CNN in posting this article are spot on. However, my point wasn’t that I wished for the article to focus more on all-around health, because I think you hit the nail on the head about how nebulous and confused the concept of “health” is. I just wished it would have focused more on how this kid has found new things that he enjoys, new foods and activities, and because he enjoys them, whether they are “healthy” or not is irrelevant.

      This article highlights for me that nothing can just be fun or feel good when it comes to the body–it has to fit into this healthy-unhealthy binary. Like running? Well good, because it will make you thinner. Like juice? Well it better be made from 100% organic fruit or you’ll just give yourself cancer. There’s no space for a narrative about how sometimes, people like what they eat! And like how they exercise! And I want to see stories like those. I want people to question why they eat things that don’t taste good to them, or why they do things with their bodies that hurt (in a bad way) just because they think they need to tone their butt.

      This is probably impossible given how pervasive this insistence is that everything is either “good for you” or “bad for you.” I get that this story only makes news because it feeds into the narrative we already have. But is it totally unfathomable to have a reality show about personal goals you want to achieve? I want to run a mile, because those endorphins really get me going. I want to learn to cook three dishes with asparagus, because I love it steamed and I bet it would be awesome with hollandaise sauce. I’ve never tried yoga, maybe I would like it. I’m really tired all the time; I’ll carve out an hour every day for some extra relaxation. Maybe it is unthinkable. I guess I just wish it weren’t.

      • Antonia permalink
        July 25, 2010 2:11 PM

        So this isn’t super relevant, but I just wanted to tell you that steamed asparagus is *GREAT* with hollandaise sauce!

  2. Jill permalink
    July 25, 2010 4:50 PM

    Hollandaise sauce is always relevant.

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