This is not an embarrassing body.
I have an admission to make. I have never watched a full episode of Embarrassing Bodies in my life. I will not be watching it. But I have a strong opinion on the show. I believe that it is voyeuristic and similar to The Biggest Loser, it is body shaming. A friend described it as "gutter trash". I agree. It's the modern day freak show designed to make television executives lots of money.
Many illnesses and conditions are featured - obesity, dental hygiene, cancer, breasts, vaginas and men's health, to name a few. It's not a caring or sensitive show. If it was, it would not have the word 'embarrassing' in the title. I believe the GPs involved in the show are morally unconscionable - with no regard for their patients' privacy or likelihood of ridicule once the show airs on television. The show's about shock value and ratings (it's cited as the most watched show on the UK's Channel 4, and it used to be called Embarrassing Illnesses).
I also do not know why the patients on the show would rather expose their so called embarrassing bodies on worldwide television than see a doctor behind closed doors. The Guardian examines why people so readily expose themselves on the show, and how it's helping people seek treatment for their conditions (it's an insightful read, still leaving me puzzled). I wonder how many patients on the show regret it later, or need counselling from the reactions to the show? - I would love to hear from someone that has featured on the show!
Last year Ichthyosis was featured on Embarrassing Bodies. I wrote to Channel 9 about this:
Dear Channel 9. Apparently Ichthyosis features on Embarrassing Bodies tonight. I have this condition. It is medically and socially challenging. It is not a mode for TV condition. It is my reality.
While raising awareness is good, it saddens me that this condition is labeled 'embarrassing'. Sensationalist exploitation.
I'm not watching it. I'd prefer if no one watched it. I want for the day when people with disabilities and chronic illnesses are not exploited by the media.
This type of media only perpetuates the idea that different bodies and appearances are something to be ashamed about.
And this body of mine is something to be proud of, not embarrassed about.
In response to my letter to Channel 9, some Facebook users defended the show as compassionate, educative and interesting. I lost friends over my stance on the show (especially since I hadn't watched it then - though I did search the Ichthyosis segment after friends' comments to me, and my feelings about it had not changed once I watched the show). But I believe that just being affected by a condition featured on Embarassing Bodies is enough to form an opinion on it.
While the show's title and content makes me angry, it's the related commentary about it that makes me more disappointed. The commentary around Embarrassing Bodies is like sniggering in the schoolyard. News columnists are calling it "the horror". People are talking about it on social media. It's TV that you binge on - excited at the prospect and then throwing up at the gory details. I came across an audience analysis where data was captured about what people were saying about Embarrassing Bodies online. Some described it as their guilty pleasure, and another said they "can't wait to laugh at people then vomit".
This isn't how I want my condition discussed. I don't want Ichthyosis to be gratuitous fodder for someome to laugh at in someone's living room. And this isn't how I want my friends' iilnesses discussed.
My friend Friday, who has Parkinson's Disease, told me:
"I had never seen Embarrassing Bodies only heard about it from other friends. They way they described it sounded very distasteful and non compassionate. I wondered what made them want to watch it, but I also wonder what makes people watch Big Brother. I just don't get it.
Then one day I was searching YouTube for Parkinson's related clips and found the embarrassing bodies segment on Parkinson's Disease. The way they presented, the language they used, it was all negative. It described it as being very embarrassing for people who have it. It was exactly the opposite of the message I try to send people about Living With Parkinson's.
People should not have to feel embarrassed or ashamed of the way they are because of things they can't control. We aren't talking about bad piercings or misspelled tattoos. It's the reality of people's entire lives. It's shouldn't be used as a freak show for ratings. People with these conditions deserve respect and acceptance. Telling people my condition is embarrassing is not educating or informing. It's insulting and insensitive.
How do we change perceptions of differences and promote acceptance if such negative words are used?
I think I achieve more with my YouTube clips about PD than bloody Embarrassing Bodies."
Embarrassing Bodies Downunder is currently being filmed in Australia. I've seen excited people share photos of sightings of the Embarrassing Bodies van on social media. A Twitter acquaintance working in the health industry told me they think Embarassing Bodies is "Docutainment" - they find it informative and educative. I told them the idea that people in health are watching the show for education makes me despair.
We're not here for your entertainment.
I hate that people get pleasure out of gross out viewing, gory images, being entertained by suffering from rare conditions and other peoples' embarrassment. I'd much rather people educate themselves by volunteering in a disability organisation, or seeking out stories told by people in their own words, like through blogs or YouTube videos rather than sensationalist programs like Embarrassing Bodies.
And if you are thinking about sharing your story on Embarrassing Bodies or a similar program, don't sell yourself short. Make your own media. Write or film your story for a reputable and sensitive media organisation. Join a support group. See your doctor behind closed doors. Don't be a victim of viewers' ridicule.
I'm boycotting Embarrassing Bodies. Are you?
I'm so excited that I have been selected as a finalist in the BUPA Health Influencer Blog Awards in the 'positive life change' category. There are lots of other fantastic bloggers who are finalists - many of who are my friends. Congratulations everyone! Winners announced 12 July.