TLC’s ‘Hot and Heavy’ show about ‘mixed-weight’ couples could hurt and stigmatize fat people, experts say

On December 10, TLC shared the trailer for its upcoming show “Hot and Heavy” that follows “mixed-weight couples,” meaning one partner is heavier than the other. The release sparked criticism right away, in part because in each case, the woman is the heavier partner, suggesting women’s bodies affect their relationships more than other non-physical aspects of a partnership. What’s more, “it’s positioning fat as a flaw,” Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and author of “Body Kindness,” told Insider. Andrew Walen, a psychotherapist and founder of The Body Image Center in Baltimore, Maryland, told Insider the show will likely further stigmatize fat people.

The backlash was immediate, with social media users discussing the problematic messaging the show could send viewers . “Hot and Heavy” airs on January 7 at 10 p.m. central time. So far, it appears that the heavier partner in every couple the show features is a woman, and that each woman’s fatness is portrayed as a flaw the couple had to overcome to be in their prospective relationships. These depictions only stigmatize fat people, especially fat women, and open the door for hurtful rhetoric that only contributes to body image problems , Andrew Walen, a psychotherapist and founder of The Body Image Center in Baltimore, Maryland, told Insider.

The show’s framing could lead to more fat-shaming

The trailer also shows the women’s partners, who are all slim men, saying things like “there are more inches to love” or “I wouldn’t mind if she was a little bit bigger,” which suggest the show is hyper-focused on how the women’s bodies impact their relationships while ignoring other non-physical relationship problems the couples may encounter.

“It’s positioning fat as a flaw,” Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian and author of “Body Kindness,” told Insider. “This is a show saying, ‘Despite the person’s fatness, I’m willing to be with them,’ but I want to live in a world where fat people are respected equally and I want to watch TV that doesn’t center size as a difference.”

The way “Hot and Heavy” chooses to focus on these couples and their appearance-based differences could also make viewers believe it’s OK to shame or critique others or themselves because of their weights.

And fat-shaming can lead to “more disordered eating for the rest of their lives,” as well as “demotivating them further to make a change,” registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, who specializes in eating disorder recovery, previously told Insider.

Until the show airs, though, it’s impossible to know exactly how these couples are portrayed. Walen said if it focuses more on relationship problems and successes and less on physical weight differences by including couples of various shapes and sizes, it could be a helpful portrayal of relationships.  But if the series focuses solely on fat women and the partners who choose to be with them, the show will do nothing but hurt and stigmatize other fat people, as well as the women who are on “Hot and Heavy.”

“I don’t hold out any real hope this will be of benefit to anyone, especially not those who participate in it,” Walen said.

Read the article on Insider here.