Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Doctor, Doctor

Reading this article gave me a warm smug feeling. I've been a hater of "Dr" Gillian McKeith for some time now.

For those overseas readers unfamiliar with her work she shows up at the house of some poor overweight person who eats a lot of junk food and "cures" them. Her main tactics are shock and disgust. And rather phonily constructed shock and disgust too. So for instance she shows people a giant bath tub containing the equivalent amount of fat they eat in a year and then makes them get into the tub. I've never understood why people don't come back with the obvious retort - but Gillian of course it's disgusting - it's a years-worth of fat, not a meals-worth. Her other speciality is taking stool samples and telling people how disgusting their poo is. ... Of course it is - it's poo!!

Of course what she's really doing is making standard modern television. And that means making people cry, usually women. It's seems to be the main thing that shows aim for these days. Telling people their clothes, diet, lifestyle and even bodies are disgusting and helping them engage in drastic measure to improve the situation.

It's difficult to generalise about such shows, but there are some specific issues with them. Gillian McKeith's diets are based on totally phoney science. She recommends more fresh fruit and vegetables and less fast and processed food, no doubt good principles to be starting with. However she mixes these messages in with nonsense about superfoods and quasi-scientific explanations which as the article above shows, have no relation to real science. And the products she markets herself, apart from the ridiculous claims she makes about them, are wildly expensive. At best people are left confused and ripped off.

At the other end of the spectrum we have shows like "extreme makeover". Even here there is some stuff (a very small percentage) being done that I think is constructive. Some of the candidates have specific issues, such as adult acne, which can be treated very effectively to get rid of a problem which only a few adults suffer from. At the other end we hear about storylines like "Candace, a 29-year-old family support worker and mother of two from Lincoln, Nebraska, has been teased all her life about her looks." And the solution to being teased is $100,000-worth of life-risking surgery? These shows speed up into 30 minutes or an hour the several months of painful recovery needed after major surgery. They also completely gloss over the risk of dying under the knife as well as the risk of being unhappy with the results either immediately or several years later.

And the biggie in some ways is that no mention is made of psychological issues such as BDD - Body Dysmorphic Disorder - which candidates may be suffering from and which cosmetic surgery will certainly not solve and may exacerbate. This issue has been featured in the the press this week firstly in a very witty article by Clive James on the BBC. And secondly in the case of the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

Ms Smith had had extensive surgery on her face and body and openly stated that she was trying to make herself look like Marilyn Monroe, indicating to me at least that she was deeply unhappy with her own identity and appearance. As usual when a celebrity dies prematurely the first thing mentioned in the press is the possibility of an overdose. This may have been the case. It certainly wouldn't be unusual for a depressed BDD sufferer to turn to drugs. Another, perhaps complimentary, theory came to my attention in an article I stumbled across which suggests she may have had further surgery recently and that a resultant infection may have contributed to her death.

Of course what I'm not saying here is that there's something wrong with wanting to change your own life dramatically. And indeed sometimes to do that I fully accept that risks have to be taken. There are risks and avoidable risks though. Compulsory counselling from an independent party prior to cosmetic surgery would help identify those for whom the desire for surgery is a symptom of a deeper problem. Also taking Ms McKeith off the airwaves and her products and books off the shelves would be another good move.

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