The Focus on Adele’s Weight — Proof Our Society Still Hasn’t Learned

I opened up CNN today and this is what I saw as one of the top headlines:

Adele’s weight is national news. The story did not focus on who she is or her accomplishments but her weight. I would expect this from a tabloid, but the fact that CNN chooses to feature the image and articles surrounding it as one of their top stories shows us exactly where the mindset of its editors is.

And it’s not pretty.

The story has prime real estate — displayed prominently between major stories about COVID-19. And why? Does it matter that Adele looks different due to her weight loss? Absolutely not. And they wouldn’t have made such a big deal if she had gained 100 pounds over the last few months (as they shouldn’t).

Clearly this is still a priority for news outlets and shows women that it doesn’t matter the work accomplishments, family accomplishments, or pain of everyday women. No, what matters is being thin and beautiful.

Why I’m on This Soapbox Today

My frustration with CNN was amplified this morning as I sat with my 5 year-old niece to do her reading for school. They were books assigned and provided by her public school in Connecticut. Two of the books used the word “fat” repeatedly and shamed a pig for eating too much.

While this may have been acceptable when I was a child, it was undoubtedly harmful and remains detrimental to children. We opted not to read the book and reached out to the principal to ask that the books are not recommended reading in the future.

At only 5, my niece already worries about being different or made fun of for looking different than other children. And this is a kid who, by traditional U.S. standards, is beautiful. Imagine kids that don’t fit into that box. From a young age, they’re reading that it’s acceptable to judge someone’s food choices and make fun of their size. I watched my sister and cousin go through that pain their whole lives, and it has needlessly ruined their self-esteem. What if a child has a parent who has weight issues? The book is literally showing children how to be cruel to someone for something that frequently isn’t in a person’s control and doesn’t hurt anyone.

Two Age Groups. Same Message.

My niece and I are 30 years apart, but we are influenced in similar ways by the media. We’re being shown daily and sometimes by the minute, that beauty is what trumps all. That’s what gains positive attention, and not living up to these standards warrants ridicule.

The book my niece was assigned made me cry. Is this what we’re teaching the next generation? The same things I see? Adele didn’t release a new song or donate money to healthcare workers, or anything that’s truly newsworthy.

And yet here we are. We haven’t learned a damn thing, and my niece is going to grow up thinking that being thin is more important than her integrity or wit.

We Need New Editors and Publishers

Everything in media goes back to a central problem — we have outdated publishers, editors and strategists in charge. There must be fundamental shifts in the way news sites determine what constitutes as news. And publishers should be held to higher standards when providing recommended literature for young children. The books my niece were assigned didn’t have any educational value and did more harm than good.

Editors and publishers should ask themselves: What value is this content bringing to the audience? Which audiences are we resonating with or reaching out to? What impact are we looking for and will this impact be harmful?

The question to ask as well is: WHY?! There needs to be a strong rationale for even discussing someone’s weight, whether it’s in books or on the news. If the focus of the story is just to discuss someone’s physical appearance, I argue that no, that’s not news. And covering it in any way, shape or form only contributes to the problem that many newsrooms claim they’re trying to prevent.

I guarantee you this isn’t as much of an issue in diverse newsrooms. I’m still waiting for an outlet like CNN or NBC News or ABC to commit to not covering someone’s weight changes moving forward to stop the stigma around size. It contributes to unhealthy eating habits and our society’s obsession with beauty over brains.

Let’s do better for the next generation.

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Kristen Parisi

Award-Winning Writer, Disability Specialist & Media Expert. I write about entertainment, politics, travel and some oversharing. KristenParisi.net