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The Whale and Obesity Representation in Media
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This month's newsletter is written by guest author Marjanna Smith. Ms. Smith is an MPH student of Epidemiology at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She has thoroughly enjoyed her time as a research assistant with STOP Obesity Alliance and would like to thank Dr. Bill Dietz and Ms. Christine Gallagher for their guidance throughout her experience.
The recently premiered film The Whale*, starring Brendan Fraser and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is as complex and nuanced as the discussions the film has sparked. The movie centers on Charlie, an English teacher living with severe obesity, as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. The movie tackles a variety of emotionally laden topics, including depression, grief, and the struggle to reconcile one’s homosexuality with their religion. But the most unique element of the story is its representation of a person living with obesity. Historically, the portrayal of obesity in the media has been overwhelmingly negative. In mainstream media, we rarely see individuals living with obesity – and on the rare occasions that we do see them, they are being exploited for either dramatic or comedic purposes. Whether it is a reality show focusing on the struggles of individuals living with obesity, or a movie that features an actor wearing a fat suit who engages in slapstick humor and is ridiculed for their size, such media clearly reflect and have contributed to the stigmatization of obesity.
The Whale’s representation of obesity is exemplary for several reasons. Most importantly, the film’s creators put time and care into ensuring that Charlie’s story was portrayed with dignity and respect. Producers of the film reached out to members of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) to ask for their thoughts on the title and content of the film during its production. Jason Krynicki, a Bariatric Support Leader and member of the OAC, had the opportunity to meet with lead actor Brendan Fraser and to share his story of living with obesity. Fraser was receptive to his story and expressed a sense of honor at the opportunity to portray such a story on screen. The producers even incorporated Krynicki’s experience with overeating and binging by adding a scene to the movie to portray this experience. Krynicki believes that the movie will encourage conversations about obesity as a disease that needs to be treated and taken seriously by healthcare providers, the portrayal of individuals living with obesity by the media, and the importance of treating individuals living with obesity with humility. For Krynicki, the most important message from the movie is that when it comes to individuals who are living with obesity, “We’re human beings, and we should be treated just like anybody else.” 
As with any media that portrays an underrepresented group, The Whale has garnered mixed reviews. While some viewers feel hopeful that the film will help humanize individuals living with obesity, others are less optimistic. In various film reviews and opinion pieces, journalists are calling the film fatphobic, inhumane, and voyeuristic. They take issue with the casting of an actor without the experience of living with obesity and the use of prosthetics to portray obesity. Representation in the media is a complicated issue for every marginalized group, and ultimately, a single movie is not going to solve everything. But we can hope that with each new portrayal of people living with obesity, the stories will be handled intentionally and tactfully, and will contribute to a greater breadth of diverse representation that reflects the individuality of the human experience.
*Please note that The Whale may be challenging for many who live with severe obesity or suffer from binge eating disorder to view. Please take this trigger warning seriously.

We would like to acknowledge Jason Krynicki for his contribution to this month’s newsletter.


Marjanna Smith

Marjanna Smith, BS

GW Milken Institute School of Public Health MPH Candidate
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health '21 
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Upcoming Events

Feb 17-18: Obesity Medicine Association Virtual Course
Feb 27-Mar 3: Obesity Care Week 2023

The Gaining Health Podcast Episode
Grant and Research Awards with ASN
NUTRITION 2023 Announcement
Catching Up with the "Advocacy Power Couple"
The Redstone Center Senior Center Administrator Cristy Gallagher and Obesity Action Coalition Policy Consultant Chris Gallagher recently joined The Gaining Health Podcast for an episode dedicated to the evolving landscape of obesity advocacy in the United States. The Gallaghers discussed everything from how advocacy in this space has changed over time, to STOP's latest research on state employee health plans, to the development of new medications, and even how the "Advocacy Power Couple'' –a title coined by host Karli Burridge– first met while playing softball on the National Mall. Listen to the full episode on Apple PodcastBuzzsprout, and Spotify.

February Fundamentals of Obesity Treatment Virtual Course (9.5 CME/CE)

Join the Obesity Medicine Association February 17-18 for a 1.5-day virtual course offering introductory education about the evidence-based approaches for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating obesity. The course also includes interactive case work to build your skills in developing obesity treatment plans using interventions in all four treatment pillars: nutrition, physical activity, behavior and pharmacotherapy.

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Save the Date for Obesity Care Week 2023! 
The STOP Obesity Alliance is a proud supporter of Obesity Care Week 2023 (OCW2023), and we need your help to make this the most impactful week of obesity awareness and action yet! OCW2023 is our chance to change the way we care for – and about – obesity. Obesity Care Week is an annual public awareness event supported by over 110 health organizations and leaders in 70 countries around the world. OCW Champions and Partners stand together to acknowledge obesity as a complex, chronic, recurring disease. These supporters will provide tools and resources throughout the week for patients, healthcare providers, decision makers, and the public, and help advocate for a better world for people living with obesity. Join us in supporting OCW2023 by:
  • Saving the date! OCW2023 will be held February 27th – March 3rd
  • Becoming an OCW Champion Organization! Champions help support OCW by amplifying its message leading up to and during the week. Please see the Champion Prospectus for additional information.
  • Following Obesity Care Week on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
To learn more about Obesity Care Week visit, or email Chrystal Jones (
Grant and Award Opportunities with ASN 
25,000 Grant Opportunity: Adversarial Collaboration

The Adversarial Collaboration Proposal program provides a unique opportunity for two scientists with opposing view to prepare a research plan to advance the science on a controversial topic related to nutrition or obesity.  In addition to a $25,000 planning grant, the winning team will receive travel for two to NUTRITION 2023 (July 22-25, Boston) and will be invited to present. The deadline to submit research proposals is February 17, 2023.

Learn more here.

American Society for Nutrition Seeks Nominations/Submissions for the 2023 George Bray Outstanding Scientific Achievements Award in Obesity Research
  • The George Bray Outstanding Scientific Achievements Award in Obesity Research will be presented to a physician, clinician or investigator who has made a significant lifetime contribution to the field of obesity research. This award is designed to recognize an individual whose lifetime body of work includes meaningful contributions and/or demonstration of highly original, sustained, and reproducible scholarship that has made major contributions to the understanding of the causes, treatment and/or prevention of obesity. The recipient of this award will present an award lecture at NUTRITION 2023 (July 22-25, Boston). Deadline for nominations:  January 9, 2023. Learn more here.
  • George Bray Obesity Research Student Awards recognizes the two students with the highest-scoring abstracts in a topical area related to the causes, treatment or prevention of obesity presenting outstanding research during NUTRITION 2023. Deadline for abstract submissions: March 1, 2023. Learn more here.
NUTRITION 2023 Returns to Boston in July of 2023
The premier event for the latest in nutrition research will bring the nutrition community together again July 22 – 25, 2023 in Boston, MA.
  • Abstract submission opens December 5th and closes March 1, 2023
  • Submit an award nomination by January 9, 2023
  • Tell us what you want to see at NUTRITION 2023!
Learn more and submit your ideas here.
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