Recently, I decided to watch the film Shallow Hal, which I had never seen before. I had several reasons why I did not want to see it when it first came out a decade ago: 1) I don't like the sensibilities of the Farrelly brothers (they specialize in crude humour); 2) I don't like Jack Black at all (he's never been funny in my opinion and I don't understand his appeal); and 3) this film seems especially crude regarding "weight issues" even as it tries to pretend that it's deep.
Since moving to Portland in 2006, I have somehow fallen into some kind of unbreakable pattern. There have been six women in these years who have expressed a romantic interest in me, yet every single one of them is obese. I'm not attracted to obesity at all. There is nothing that is physically attractive about obesity, and I apologize if this offends anyone, but it's my honest truth. The human body was not designed to be obese. This is symptomatic of our culture, with promotes lazy convenience with fast food restaurants, drive-thru so you don't even have to exit your car (not that this is entirely a bad thing), prepared frozen foods, and something else that seems to have a devastating effect: our growth-hormone injected cattle, which gets passed on into our bodies when we eat such treated beef.
As I read through the personal ads on Craigslist, I find an incredible amount of ladies who use the term "BBW" (for "big, beautiful woman"). Big girls need love too. A friend of mine thinks I'm being "shallow" because I won't date a woman who is larger than me (I'm 5'7" and 168 pounds, which is 18 pounds above my ideal weight, so it has forced me to consider a diet plan as well as get serious about a fitness regimen). Yet my friend is physically fit and so is his girlfriend. He has never dated an obese woman himself and his girlfriend has never dated an obese man before. It irks me when I am honest about my not being attracted to obese women and my friend won't admit the same, making me out to be a shallow cad.
This is not to say that obese women are bad or unworthy of love or not worth knowing. It's simply saying that we need to be honest about ourselves and understand how attraction works. Why are people accepting of homosexuality? Most people understand when a gay man says that he is not attracted to women, even though he may believe such a woman is physically attractive. Just that he is not attracted to her for whatever reasons that go to the root of his DNA. If this is acceptable, why is it not acceptable for a man to say that he is not physically attracted to an obese woman? Throughout human history, obesity was not a major problem for most people. It's only recently become an epidemic, where large percentage of the American population is now considered to be obese or overweight. As one who has been bone skinny for most of my life, I know too well the personal rejection for being "too skinny" for some women. Attraction is a necessary part of a romantic relationship. We can't force people to be attracted to body types that they aren't attracted to, no matter how wonderful the person might be. Is it shallow?
Look at the pictures below of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who stars in Shallow Hal. On the left is her natural self. On the right is her with latex makeup and a fat suit on. Ask yourself why she is attractive in one picture but not the other one.
In the movie, Hal plays a supposedly shallow guy who only dates beautiful women, even though he's just average looking himself. One neighbour in his apartment that he has his eye on won't even date him because she thinks he's shallow. She's beautiful, so obviously, she would have her pick among men. If she only dates handsome men, what does that make her? Deep? Hardly! Superficiality goes both ways. It's not just a label you can stick on men who aren't attracted to obese or BBW women.
Hal's world changes when he's stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins (I never understood the appeal of this guy). Robbins puts some kind of spell on Hal, which makes him see a person's "inner beauty" in everyone he meets. When he encounters Gwyneth Paltrow for the first time, he sees a thin, beautiful knock-out. Everyone else sees a 350-pound woman who breaks chairs in restaurants (a running gag that I did not find funny at all) and has an appetite that could feed a family. In fact, in one scene, Gwyneth takes a third of an entire cake to eat on her way out of the office. I'm sure it's meant to be funny, but I did not find it funny at all. For one thing, eating massive quantities of food is what contributes to obesity. That such a character has no self-control over her eating habits would make her personality as unattractive as her physical body. And let's be clear here, our personal habits regarding diet and exercise is part of our entire mind / body personality that contributes or detracts from our overall attractiveness to other people.
In the movie, Hal's lack of repulsion to his new-found love interest wins her heart, even though she does not know that he can't see her physical reality, even when they sleep together. Oh, and the sight gag about the massive underwear that baffles Hal was another unfunny joke. I'm sure it got laughs among low-IQ audiences in theaters, though. Hal's best friend keeps trying to get him to break off his interest in Gwyneth Paltrow's character (I can't remember her character's name, so I'll just refer to her as Gwyneth). I thought this was dumb, though. If a friend of mine dated an obese woman, I would actually be impressed and I wouldn't try to convince him to dump her. However, none of my friends are married to or are dating an obese woman. I'm skinnier than all of my friends, so it makes me wonder why I seem to have this ability to attract only obese women into my life. Where is the moderation?
Hal's best friend is so confused about the change in his friend's attitude that he goes directly to Tony Robbins and demands that the spell be broken. He's given a phrase to say to Hal that will break the spell. When he does so, Hal happens to be at a restaurant on a date with his woman, who managed to break an entire bench. He takes the call in the lobby and when he returns to the dining area, he's baffled why there is an obese woman at his table stealing bites from his plate (like I said above, the woman has no self-control regarding food consumption, which should make her even more unattractive). Meanwhile, his beautiful neighbour has seen him with the obese woman and has become attracted to Hal, even though Hal is no longer interested in her. They go on a date to a restaurant and Hal decides to pursue Gwyneth instead because he likes her personality and sense of humour (I did not see any evidence that she had a sense of humour, though). However, when Hal passes the obese woman in the hallway, he doesn't recognize her, even as he goes to make a call to her saying that he wants to be with her. Naturally, Gwyneth is heartbroken and confused about Hal's strange behaviour (disappearing from the restaurant, avoiding her calls, not recognizing her in the hallway).
The strangest part of the film, though, is that Gwyneth was a Peace Corps volunteer who decides to go off on another Peace Corps adventure in some developing country somewhere. Realistically speaking, though, I doubt that the Peace Corps would select someone who weighed 350 pounds to serve in a developing nation. There are serious food crises in the world and the way this woman consumes food would be considered insulting in many countries in the world where starvation is a serious threat to people's well being. Based on her daily caloric intake, it is doubtful that she would be able to maintain such a diet in a developing country. Plus, the Peace Corps considers its volunteers to be ambassadors of the United States. What impression would a 350 pound American woman make to a country where people spend a large amount of their money on food and have to share their modest amounts of food with the entire family?
My mom is from Thailand and she told me stories about how people in the village where she grew up would have to eat insects in order to keep from starving to death. The main staple of their diet was rice and little else. Insects provided some protein and were plentiful, but people were skinny (unfortunately, I inherited my skinny genes from my mother's side of the family). In another example, some church members who started a non-profit organization for orphans in Tanzania told us about how they were welcomed in an African village with a feast that included a goat being killed. The villagers rarely ate meat and only killed the goat for their foreign guests.
The point is, Americans seem clueless about how our food consumption habits are not reflective of the reality that most of the world lives by. We have abundance and convenience and we get to indulge our every desire without consideration for how our choices impact the environment, other people, or our own bodies. The idea that the Peace Corps would send a 350 pound woman to a developing country completely destroyed any credibility the movie hoped to have. I just didn't buy that, even though the premise was absurd to begin with.
The Farrelly brothers tried to make their film have a positive message about being able to see a person's inner beauty, but they failed. It appeared more as an excuse to make a bunch of fat jokes under the guise of trying to seem deep, but in the end, it was a pretty shallow movie. If I had written the script, the shallowness would be more on appearances, not necessarily obesity, but on our culture's materialism and overall narcissism. It's strange that the filmmakers tried to present an obese Gwyneth as having an inner beauty based strictly on her personality, even as they kept showing her unhealthy eating habits. Why was that not addressed at all? What is attractive about a woman stealing food off her date's plate when he's away from the table? What is attractive about a woman who eats a third of a cake on her way out of the office? She doesn't need a man, she needs a farm!
I can't say that I'm surprised that I did not like the film. It's par for the course with the Farrelly brothers, who gave the world Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary. They are just a bunch of crude 15 year olds in the body of men who should know better. The film was unfunny, unrealistic, and in the end, pretty shallow. They did not convince me that not being attracted to obese women is shallow. They only reminded me what is unattractive about obesity. In a world that will face a food crisis within a couple decades, our consumption habits are no laughing matter. Obesity is an epidemic that needs to be addressed in an honest way and telling obese people that their way of consuming food is "okay" is not helping the crisis. Honesty is unflattering, but it is necessary. We can't make important changes until we become honest with ourselves. Part of that honesty is recognizing that most people are not physically attracted to obesity and instead of calling someone shallow because they aren't attracted, why not get serious about one's health and diet, and actually make the kind of positive changes that are good for your body? As one lady I know who lost 90 pounds so far, she said that she feels more energy now and has more self-confidence. I've only known her as being obese and was stunned by how much better she looked with less pounds on her. If she can do it, anyone can. It takes discipline but the results will be well worth it.