01 July 2013

We're not here for your entertainment. Why I'm boycotting Embarrassing Bodies.

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 write my own story so as not to perpetuate sensationalism and exploitation. I wrote about that in 2010, I still stand by that opinion now.

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.




  1. You are spot on Carly, why the hell any intelligent human being would even watch a show with that title is beyond me. xx

  2. I've only, I think, seen one full episode of Embarrassing Bodies (or EB as they abbreviate it -- not sure if they've done a feature on that). That was a story about a girl with chronic veruccas who turned out to have not much of an immune system, and she had to have a bone-marrow transplant to give her a decent one. Apart from that, it's a parade of freakish body problems. As for why anyone goes on it, I have a suspicion that it's the price some people are willing to pay to get their problems sorted out more quickly than going to the NHS (which will, in most cases, provide the treatment, but there are long waiting lists and they can't afford to go private). You also get doctors who will dismiss people's problems, and problems the NHS won't sort out (adult orthodontic issues, for example).

    But it's horribly voyeuristic and trades on the gross-out factor. It should, really, provoke a debate about why people have to tolerate these things for so long. Airing people's medical problems in public, especially if they are intimate, can cause them tremendous problems afterwards as the clips remain on the Channel 4 website or YouTube indefinitely. They do do some work in raising sexual health awareness, but they use the grossness of the programme as a vehicle - hey guys, use a condom or these really gross things will happen to you as it to these freaks. The well-intentioned side projects don't justify the voyeuristic main body of the programme.

    Also, C4 has a long history of these kinds of voyeuristic entertainment programmes: Big Brother originally aired there (and did for years, until it lost ratings and C5, an even more downmarket channel, took it up) and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings also springs to mind.

  3. I watch EM. I don't laugh. I don't watch because I think it's some kind of 'freak show'. I love documentaries, and I view this show in the same light. I think the GPs are fantastic. I think the reason participants are involved is that they are paid a fee- and have their medical expenses covered. What a wonderful opportunity!! Many people can't afford medical care -particularly elective surgery or treatment. The participants appear to have top level care. that's a great thing. It's also educational - I recently saw a condition a friend's husband had, but I didn't know the name of it until I saw the show, therefor I couldn't look it up on the internet. And it's not a condition we'd be chatting about over dinner!! It was great to get some info, and I realised how incredibly painful it must be for him, so it's given me a greater understanding.

    Now, I must ask, do you (or those who've already commented) watch murder shows? Of any description? Or read crime novels?

    Murder is not entertainment!

    1. Hey Anon - thanks for your comment. I see you poor about patients given treatment for no cost, bust as a friend who works in the body image research area says, this treatment is often )or always) available confidentially and at little cost. Why go on TV?

      I don't watch murder or crime shows and I also find it sad that real life stories may be the basis for these shows or books, and profits are being made.

    2. A boob reduction is little cost or a tummy tuck affordable? Hair transplant surgery? I totally disagree.

      Why go on TV? Because it clearly doesn't bother the participants, or they wouldn't do it!

    3. Hey Anon - you're right about those big costly procedures - they aren't affordable. So there's the financial incentive to go on a show like EB. I also think there's some people who have no problem in going on the show, not fussed at the voyeuristi nature of it, and there are others who are vulnerable and somewhat desperate for answers or treatments. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

    4. And to add - something like my condition can be seen by doctors at public hospitals for free, or in consultation rooms for a specialist fee.

  4. Carly, I've watch this show from time to time. I've also tweeted about it and had a laugh at some of the issues. I looked at it as mild 'entertainment' as you've said - an embarrassing admission now, having read your post.

    You're dead right. I had not seen this show from your perspective. My own sister has a couple of illnesses that would be excellent fodder for this show - she'd be angry and upset to see aspects of herself, 'grossing out' the general population. I would be too.

    Not proud to be putting my hand up today. Guilty but I'm owning it. And yep, I won't be watching either.

  5. A great response on Twitter:

    @john_stannard1: @Fridayology @carlyfindlay The freaks are the socially disconnected medical set who think EB belongs in TV general entertainment.

  6. Great post! I have seen this show pop up from time to time and i can not get my head around why people would expose themselves as they do on the show! It could be presented in a far more discreet and respectful way. It is such a contradiction to call the show embarrassing bodies and then try and make people more aware and feel comfortable with the conditions they present on the show.

  7. I've never seen it nor have I ever even heard of the show here in the states. If it is how you describe I can't imagine it is anything more than a show with great shock value in order to make money. These type of shows, just like trashy reality shows, which I never watch, are for the ignorant(which there are plenty of) whose lives are so pathetic that this type of show possibly makes them feel better about their own lives. Of course there are also the individuals who for some reason are actually entertained by this crap. Either way it's all about shock and money, no compassion, no sentiment, no consideration for the subjects of ridicule, just plain schoolyard mentality mocking and teasing performed in mass through the media.

  8. I've barely ever watched it. I've certainly never seen a full episode. And that's purely from the perspective that needles and medical procedures make me faint, so there was never much likelihood of my ever watching it.

    It was my understanding, however, that the show was just about embarrassing things, and was completely about a freak show. Mostly skin rashes and genitals, from my understanding.

    I had absolutely no idea actual disorders or disabilities were featured - I thought it was more "I accidentally fell on this toy car and it's stuck up my bum" kind of show. Not that that excuses it, or appeals to me either, but I am shocked.

  9. It's an awful show and concept. I believe the doctors in it tell themselves until they believe it, that they are performing a public service. I've assumed the people on it are there because the show promises free treatment and the English public health system is so awful. The patients seem to not have money. They maybe also get more people by caravaning round the country and convincing people to sign up and go on that same day. I also wonder how well they look after these people, and whether anyone regrets going on after.

    1. I live in England and the public health system is not *awful* but it prioritises emergencies and serious illnesses. If you can get the things featured in these programmes treated on the NHS, you'd be in for a long wait, most likely, and they might do it in some areas and not others (it's up to local health boards what exactly, beyond the basics, they will treat).

    2. Thanks so much for your comment - I'm also interested in whether there is pre and post counseling of the people who go on the show? I wonder how they cope with the fame?

  10. I can't stand Embarrassing Bodies. I have watched it twice, one of those times was because you tweeted about the ichthyosis story and I was interested to learn more, but I hated the way the producers refer to the people they were make money from as 'embarrassing'.

    I've spent a lifetime being embarrassed about my body (just for being fat and pigeon toed) and it makes me so angry that tv execs make money from this 'embarrassment' and propagate the shame by labelling any medical condition they discuss as embarrassing.

    I think there is an education factor but they could do it a lot less sensationally, starting off by changing the name of the show.

    Treating people like freaks is unacceptable and reminds me of the old time carnival freak shows.

    Great piece, as usual. Congratulations on being a finalist! Wish I could come to the Bupa Master Class to meet you.


    1. Hey V - I wish I could meet you too!
      I think the problem lies in the title - it's automatically shaming and sensationalist. While people have defended the content, I think the name leads to the perception of embarrassing conditions, and also viewers thrive on the gory stuff. So the issue is threefold. I am not sure if that even made sense?!

  11. I have watched it and it makes me uncomfortable. I hear what you are saying.

    One thing that they did do well is encourage screening for things like bowel and breast cancer, and teach breast self examination, with real, healthy women taking their tops off. It was done in quite a down to earth and self effacing manner.
    Unlike many other medical "documentaries", most of it is evidence based and scientifically sound.

    Even though a large part of it is voyeuristic, it might get some people thinking about preventative health.

    So yes, while I agree with you, if it gets the average person thinking about prevention and overcomes some of the embarrassment of getting some awkward things looked at (and there are other ways to do this I agree) then, for some people, it has a role. Not for me, not for you, and not for most reasonable people, but there are others....

    1. Great insight Cilla - appreciate your input from a medical perspective. Thank you.

  12. I think before entirely discrediting this show on the basis of its title (which is indeed unfortunate), you need to watch.

    Jumping to the conclusion that it is entirely a 'freak show' purely for a voyeuristic audience is denying what the show does do - which is educate on conditions that we all have experienced or will experience in the future - topics like STI's, screening for cancer, acne, obesity etc - are universal and I think we can all agree that there are many people out there (particularly the demo who watches) who don't communicate or have access to such information.

    This show will always remain a reality show - and sits within the many medical reality shows out there with a more sensationalist approach. But as someone who has watched, the doctors on the show treat their patients with compassion and understanding - and there is certainly no 'freak show' element that encourages an audience to laugh or belittle someone with a certain condition.

    1. Hey Anon - thanks so much for this perspective.
      I wonder why it is then, that so many viewers to belittle and ridicule the patients on the show when the doctors are apparently kind and compassionate? That Guardian article I linked to talks about empowering viewers (and patients on the show) to take control of their health once they see EB on TV - so that's a good thing. There is potential with the show to educate, but I feel the name and also viewers' reaction (as quoted here) lets it down. Thanks for contributing to the discussion :)

    2. I agree with anon that you can't discredit on the title alone, and yes, there is heaps of good EDUCATIONAL content: sexual health, health screenings etc.

    3. Thanks Anon - as stated, it's not just the title that irks me but the voyeuristic nature of the viewers.
      "While the show's title and content makes me angry, it's the related commentary about it that makes me more disappointed".

      However if the show is encouraging viewers to get their health checked out, then that's a good thing!

    4. Totally agree with what the anons have said. I personally think it's a great show for increasing awareness of body issues as well as showing that you can talk to doctors about anything.. no matter how embarrassing you think it may be. I honestly don't think in any way are the people portrayed as being freaks or are being taken advantage of... that has never even crossed my mind.

      The show also does great things for younger people with their young bodies episodes which deal with the physical and psychological issues people go through as they are growing. Anything that increases the body confidence of young people and also increases awareness on all sorts of conditions and the variety of body types there are, is a good thing in my books.

      Really the content of the show isn't much different from doing blog posts on the suffers of ichthyosis which you did recently. They choose to partake in this, there is no forcing and hopefully increased awareness comes out of it all.

    5. Hey Anon - thanks for your comment. I think the only comparison you can make to EB with my Ichthyosis Awareness Month (IAM) project is that it's awareness raising. The contributions were told in the contributors' own words and very minimally edited (rather than being narrated and edited like on EB), and the reactions to the posts have been much more positive and respectful than any reaction to the EB program as I've exemplified here.

  13. Carly - thanks for helping me to think differently. I don't watch the show because on some sub - conscious level I always knew it was wrong to exploit other people's personal and unique physicality but you actually made me think about why.

  14. My internet is playing up a bit so hopefully this doesn't post twice!
    I can't understand why someone would want to go on this show- surely a visit to a NHS funded GP (in the uk anyway)would help answer many of the questions asked? Are they really performing treatments/expensive surgeries for free for the people on this show? That seems like a hugely expensive production..

    Btw Carly- hopefully this isn't too stalky... but you were on my train this morning! I was half asleep in my kindle and trying to work out where I recognised you from- if I hadn't of been so slow I would have told you how much I like your blog :)

    1. Hello! Were you the woman with that awesome green bag? I wanted to say how lovely it was and ask the brand! Not stalky at all :) thanks for your comment!

    2. I've thought about this since you first bought it up. You've identified a problem but you've failed to supply a better solution.

      Can you come up with a concept for a TV show that:
      1. Provides medical information in a format that is light hearted enough to watch after a long day.
      2. That will encourage people to watch it who don't have your education, emotional maturity, emotional support and medical access. Or those who don't go to the doctors as often and aren't as familiar and comfortable talking to them.
      3. A show that appeals to younger ages (not like RPA or The Doctors.
      4. Demonstrates that there is nothing too "embarrassing" to talk to your doctor about.

      Personally I think the show is called Embarrassing Bodies as everyone is familiar with how embarrassing it can be to talk about your body. They did segment on PCOS and I could identify completely with the other woman as I suffer the same condition. It is embarrassing telling your male boss that you have to go home from work as your "heavy day" is causing you to pass out with pain at your desk.

      Not long ago a teenager in the UK died from cancer as he was too embarrassed to talk to anyone about a lump in his testes. A teenage boy is more likely to watch something like "Embarrassing Bodies" than "The Doctors".

      I know the show isn't perfect but I believe it's doing more good than harm.

    3. Hey Anon! Great comment - thanks. You are right - I have failed to come up with a better solution. Maybe it's because I really hate the exploitative nature of these shows, I couldn't think past that. But you're right, the show is accessible to many.
      I am a presenter on a TV show called No Limits. We talk about disability, covering a lot of topics. But it's on a community station, with little promotion, and a tiny audience compared to EB.
      Perhaps, in writing this post and reading these comments, the thing that gets to me most about the show is the audience reaction to it, as I've evidenced here.
      I'll have a think about your question and see if I can come up with any proposals. Great contribution - thanks!

    4. Yes that was me- Thanks!...that is unless there were lots of other green bagged ladies on the train..? haha I purchased it during an 'accidental' pre exam shop from ASOS during a sale a few weeks ago and have had so many compliments for a bag that was marked down to $35

  15. As a viewer of EB, I must admit that there have been instances where I have cringed at the pain or unsightly wounds or infections that some individuals have. That is not me being disrespectful, or gawking at someone else's misfortune, because I do the same to myself when I have had serious cuts, something burnt/frozen off or even something as much as an infected ingrown hair. If I find something unpleasant - I find it unpleasant. Simple as that.

    But, as a male (in a demographic that is statistically resistant to visiting the GP), I can attest that the TV show has also reinforced the notion that there is NOTHING to be embarrassed about when visiting a GP. I know this because the show has helped give me the courage to get something looked at 'down stairs' despite feeling embarrassed about it. Watching people go on national television made me think, 'If they can do this on national television, why can't I just see my doctor about this as well'.

    Why do people feel the need to go on national television to have their bits looked at? I don't' know. And I don't care? I don't need to understand why in order for their actions to help me overcome my own personal challenges. All I know is that seeing them do that, gave me the courage to get something I had felt embarrassed about getting looked at checked out by my GP.

    Not once have I seen the show portray someone in a negative, disrespectful, unfortunate or demeaning way. But rather, I see GPs who treat patients with respect, courtesy, empathy - ultimately giving the patient empowerment and a sense of control.

    As you've alluded to in the comments above - I don't think the issue is with the show itself, but rather the viewers who USE the show, its content and the individuals who appear on it, as a tool for exploitation.

    Personally, I see TV shows such as EB as providing an important education mechanism to individuals that facilitates understanding about a wide range of conditions… the exploitation of the illnesses and conditions is where amazing bloggers, such as yourself, come into play. Work together! Each of you serve your own purpose - but TOGETHER, I think there is room for both the medium of TV shows like EB, and bloggers like you, to make the difference that changes the minds of the human race!

    That's my two cents.

  16. There are ways that a television series could be done to bring dignity to patients with health issues that I think could still generate ratings, be educational and not be degrading. I completely agree that Embarassing Bodies is an awful show. I saw the ichthyosis patient segment and was horrified that the patient didn't get any medical/psychiatric assistance with her self image. This "Body Shaming,'" a great term by the way, is horrible. The viewpoint it expresses could land the vast majority of most viewers of that show on it according to the examples portrayed. Anyone that doesn't look like a super model when they've had professionals do their hair and make up, has personal trainers and exercises as part of their job, is wearing designer clothing, and has had photos cleaned up via software. Even "supermodels" don't look like supermodels when they're not prepped for a photo or film shoot! The fact that we westerners are self-inflicting such behavior and attitude is appalling! Also, don't most people realize that if they're lucky to live long enough, they at some point will not look even remotely like what they currently consider attractive? Sheesh!

  17. I don't understand this show at all. x

  18. This is not a show about making people out to be freaks. I understand how it might appear that way to some, but after having watched every season I can safely say that it is doing far more good than harm.

    I think the concern lies not with the show itself, which has to my knowledge always dealt with patients in a professional, empathetic manner, but with some of the viewers. If people are watching EB for a cheap thrill over how gross something looks, then THEY are the ones who deserve this criticism.

    I watch EB because I find it informative, compassionate and because I genuinely like to see people find solutions to difficult problems. This show helps people treat, and in some cases recover from, conditions they thought were beyond help. The suggestion that this is somehow letting down other people with similar conditions seems very one-sided.

    1. Thanks Anon - and yes, I did comment on the viewers at length in this piece. :)

  19. Personally I enjoy the show. As a sufferer of potentially an embarrassing illness, I'd happily go on the show if I needed treatment to be sped up or wanted to spread awareness. Big fan of Dr Pixie

  20. Another who has no problem with the show. Some pple are actually okay with doing such things when they feel they need assistance. Many viewers watch this show and do not treat it as an opportunity to laugh and make fun, some just watch it because it is interesting. You cannot make judgements on an entire viewing audience based on the fact that some people watch it and make fun of the people on it. Of course those are the people who will be most vocal. Sometimes we have to take a step back and realise our own issues can sometimes cloud how we think of things and are we getting our back up about a show or is it more to do with our own lives and problems??

  21. Hey Anon
    I definitely see your point - sometimes I do wonder if I get too worked up because of the issues that affect me directly. But then I remember I have a platform and the level of articulation to speak up about the issues that matter to me and the community I belong to.
    Thanks for your comment.

  22. Of course Carly. And it is always hard to pull apart these things when directly affected. And I agree you definately do have the articulation and good means to get your message across and advocate on behalf of others who may not, I guess I always try to not make a judgement that all people will be doing something that is negative - some people justblikecthe show! Thanks for generating discussion on important usdues

  23. Honestly, I watched EB in the past when I hated myself more.

    Once I happened onto body positivity, Health At Every Size, and other methods of living that didn't involve hating myself, I suddenly became hugely less tolerant of shows like Embarrassing Bodies. I can't stand watching it now, it makes me cringe something awful even to see the advertisements, and it's hard to believe that I ever DID enjoy watching it ... but I did.

    In hindsight, I do think the "morbid fascination" stuff taps into many people's self-shame and self-hatred - a tremendously negative but quite powerful force, unfortunately.

    Incidentally they've covered my disability in their series too. Not very well, honestly, but they covered it. I'm not sure how I feel about it ... at the point where that episode aired I quite enjoyed it but I suspect my reaction now would be different!


Thank you for reading my blog. I love receiving comments :)
I really appreciate the time you've taken to write to me, and to share something about yourself.


Related Posts with Thumbnails