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Designing Women S4 E11 Extra Sugar - Fat Shaming, Body Shaming, and Body Acceptance

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They was a seminal moment in Designing Women’s history and simultaneously a denouement to the media and public’s relentless obsession with Delta Burke’s weight.

In this week’s Extra Sugar, we’ll talk about what was happening behind-the-scenes, and then we’ll pivot to talk about concepts like fat shaming and body shaming. Why do they matter? And what can we do to take care of ourselves and each other?

Come on y’all, let’s get into it!

Need your own deep dive? Here’s some of the references we used:



Suzanne: All my life, I've had to fight my weight.

Suzanne: I'll admit food has been my security blanket, but also I just gained weight more easily than some people.

Suzanne: Like you.

Suzanne: You've always had that little tiny waist and those skinny legs, but I can't be that.

Suzanne: And people have always tried to make me beat it.

Suzanne: Suzanne, you're not alone.

Suzanne: Be willing to bet most of the people in this country are overweight.

Suzanne: The point is, it's different for women, especially beautiful women.

Suzanne: Look at Elizabeth Taylor.

Suzanne: I bet I've seen National Velvet probably 20 times.

Suzanne: And if she never did anything else in her life, what a contribution that was.

Suzanne: But all of a sudden, because she got fat, it was like she no longer had the right to live in this country.

Suzanne: And that's how I feel right now.

Suzanne: Boy, drugs, alcohol, cancer, whatever your problems, people are sympathetic.

Suzanne: Unless you're fat, and then you're supposed to be ashamed, like 10 seconds.

Suzanne: Everything's set up to tell you that.

Suzanne: Magazine covers, clothes, you're not thin, you're not neat.

Suzanne: And that's it.

Salina: Welcome to this week's edition of Extra Sugar.

Salina: So, season four, episode eleven they shoot fat women, don't they?

Salina: Was a seminal moment in the show's history.

Salina: Simultaneously, it was a danu ma to the media and public's relentless obsession with Delta Burke's weight.

Salina: I'd like to start with what was going on behind the scenes to explore what was happening in real life, and then we'll pivot to talk about the body issues that it raises.

Salina: Two quick disclaimers, Nikki, as always, you know what I'm going to tell you.

Salina: Please be our audience.

Nikki: I'm the eyes, ears and fingers of the audience.

Salina: Got it?

Salina: You said it.

Salina: But if it doesn't make sense to you, it's definitely not going to make sense to anyone else.

Salina: You know what I'm saying?

Salina: So secondly, I also want to let folks know that we circled some of these off screen dynamics before.

Salina: Nikki, I think you've covered it in a couple of things, especially so if I touch on things, we've already covered.

Salina: Well, thank you for your patience.

Salina: It is all part of the sauce and the story, and it does feel like some of it, even if it has been said before, is worth sharing again.

Salina: So, for two years, tabloids had hounded Delta first about gaining weight, and then, according to articles at the same time, they also released phony reports that she'd been suspended from the show, caused trouble on the set, including this really weird story about chasing Annie Potts around.

Salina: That sounds funny.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: And that her marriage to Gerald Mcgraney was in trouble.

Salina: Stories even circulated that she'd be kicked off Designing Women if she didn't lose the weight.

Salina: So I found an La Times article published years later that described Delta had been battling what was really a pretty intense onslaught of depression that hit a fever pitch at the end of season two.

Salina: It was so bad, actually, that she was planning to try and get cut loose from her contract with the show.

Salina: Instead, Dixie Carter convinced her to get help, and she did.

Salina: Therapy and medication helped and got her back for season three.

Salina: But at that time, she started facing panic attacks.

Salina: She even overdosed on Xanax during season four, apparently during the taping of Rowdy Girls.

Salina: I never found anyone connecting these dots in the articles I read, but it's hard not to wonder whether this tabloid coverage wasn't somehow triggering the mental health issues that she faced.

Salina: I read it somewhere that she's faced depression since she was like, 16.

Salina: It was this season when things changed.

Salina: Delta decided that it was time to take her and Suzanne's narrative back.

Salina: According to Designing Women Online, she asked LVT to address the weight gain in the show, and they discussed dedicating an episode to it.

Salina: And it worked, at least for a while.

Salina: I found a lot of favorable press coverage after the episode aired.

Salina: She received a standing ovation from the live audience that night, and later, she would receive the first of two consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy series.

Salina: Unfortunately, the next year, it would become a point of contention between LBT and Delta.

Salina: Delta claimed the episode was her idea.

Salina: LBT said that she spent a lot of time convincing Delta to do it in the first place, but that's a different story for a different day.

Salina: The important thing to understand for now is that this episode ultimately didn't solve larger problems.

Salina: I haven't explicitly used this term yet, but what Delta experienced with fat shaming this type of media coverage wasn't new then, and it's still pervasive today.

Salina: A study published in 2019 found the instances of celebrity fat shaming had a negative effect on women's attitudes about weight.

Salina: Specifically, they led to a rise in implicit antifat attitudes for about two weeks afterwards.

Salina: We'll link to this article, but my assessment was that we're also turning this negativity on ourselves and our own choices.

Salina: I've experienced it firsthand.

Salina: I'll be the first one to call BS on an article like this where they're fat shaming some poor celebrity.

Salina: I mean, they're a celebrity, but you know what I'm saying.

Salina: But then I'll turn around and beat myself up for having a second piece of cake.

Salina: So something's working.

Salina: I think what Delta experienced is an important opportunity to talk about weight and other body issues, particularly for women, because, well, that's the lens that I feel the most comfortable with.

Salina: But I also think there's a pretty darn good argument that as a society, we are the most obsessed with women's bodies.

Salina: We talk about them all the time.

Salina: I also think to something we were talking about in the main episode, we tend to be more vocal about them.

Salina: So as a reminder, this is not the first time that we've discussed the issue of weight.

Salina: It came up all the way back in season one, episode three, when Charlene dates Mason.

Salina: At the time, we talked more about the representation of people who have a higher weight in entertainment.

Salina: We're shifting the focus a bit this time, but there were some things I shared there that bear repeating.

Salina: We are not talking about a vanity issue here.

Salina: People with higher weight have to endure what's known as a fat tax, where it's well documented that they have to pay more for clothing and furniture, they get higher promoted and paid less than their thinner peers, and they tend to get inadequate health care.

Salina: Since many providers want to pin every issue to their weight, I ran across a 2021 brief about fat phobia published by the University of Illinois's, Chicago School of Public Health.

Salina: Critically, the brief tells us that weight discrimination has increased by 66% in the past decade, and this is well to Suzanne's, .1 of the only forms of discrimination actively condoned by society.

Salina: And I think that's really something I don't know, that really sat with me both when Suzanne said it in the episode and then reading it here again.

Salina: Because this isn't a TV show.

Salina: This is a public health article.

Salina: Decades of research have shown that experiencing weight stigma increases one's risk for diabetes, heart disease, discrimination, bullying, eating disorders, sedentaryness.

Nikki: Being sedentary thank you.

Salina: Lifelong discomfort in one's body, and even early death.

Salina: The brief goes on to argue that a weight based approach to health is very problematic, and here are the headlines for why.

Salina: So the focus on body sized is rooted in racism.

Salina: They connect this to things like Darwinism and eugenics.

Salina: But I think my big walk away was that we don't all, and we did not all evolve from people who are skinny.

Salina: And that's okay.

Salina: The very thought that skinny somehow makes you healthier or better is problematic, to say the least.

Salina: Then you have the issue of BMI or body mass index.

Salina: This is flawed, and you can't tell someone's health by their body size.

Salina: For those who don't know, BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that is used to determine if a person is at a healthy weight, quote unquote, healthy weight.

Salina: Focusing on weight under diagnosis, thin people, and misdiagnoses larger people.

Salina: And evidence showed that diets don't work, and weight loss research is also problematic.

Salina: Ultimately, they're arguing that we need to decouple health and weight, but we're clearly not there yet.

Salina: This is not just a public health issue.

Salina: Research published in 2021 found that over half of surveyed overweight adults in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK.

Salina: And the United States say that they have experienced fat shaming from doctors, family, friends, classmates, and coworkers that led to self blame and an avoidance of health care.

Salina: I want to share a couple of quick quotes from Rebecca Pool.

Salina: She's the lead author of that study because I think it really distills what is so complicated about that about this topic.

Salina: And she said, we certainly have created a society that facilitates obesity with an emphasis on fast and highly processed foods and a lack of physical activity.

Salina: And we're ignoring all the other pieces of the puzzle like genetics, environment, biology, agriculture, prices of food, food deserts, and accessibility.

Salina: Instead, these oversimplified and inaccurate societal beliefs persist that if you just try hard enough, you can have whatever body you want.

Salina: Those are the beliefs that really fuel societal weight stigma.

Salina: Fundamentally, this issue is about respect and dignity and equal treatment of people across different body sizes and weights.

Salina: I think there's a lot of wisdom in these words, but knowing something and knowing what to do about it are two different things.

Salina: As it stands, we're not really doing so hot.

Salina: We as in the general, we are not using the right approaches when it comes to weight and health.

Salina: We're receiving and internalizing negative messaging.

Salina: And frankly, we're not being kind to one another.

Salina: We're also apparently fat shaming pregnant women, which is a weird choice.

Salina: Nikki, this is something that you talked about back in season one, maybe episode 13, the one where Charlene has a cancer scare.

Salina: I found a Refinery 29 article that punctuates some of the things that you talked about then just that they just kept bringing it up all the time and didn't they shame you on some of your food choices or something?

Nikki: Yeah, they got the weight wrong.

Nikki: They wrote the weight down wrong.

Nikki: And then when I tried to tell them they wrote it down wrong, they were like, no, we got it right, we got it right.

Nikki: And then she came in and talked to me about how it had just been the 4 July and I must have had a really indulgent 4 July and I really needed to rein it in.

Nikki: And I told her, no, your nurse wrote the number down wrong.

Nikki: And she was like, well, we can weigh you again at the end if that would make you feel better.

Nikki: And I was like it would and they were going to just walk me out to the waiting room.

Nikki: I said, oh no, she wanted to reweigh me.

Nikki: And they were like, oh right, of course.

Nikki: And so they reweighed me and she wrote the number down wrong.

Nikki: And I didn't even get to see the doctor again to tell her, you made me feel so bad.

Nikki: And it was all because you wrote the number down wrong.

Nikki: And even if it weren't, that was an inappropriate way to deal with that situation.

Salina: Yeah, it was horrible.

Salina: It would have been really hard for me to not be like, oh, I did get a little indulgent.

Salina: You know, it was July 4 that there was all the meth, all the alcohols in the world, just anything really, that I could just ingest.

Nikki: I think I had just too much going on right then to even think to be sarcastic because I was just so infuriated.

Salina: Well, this Refinery 29 article, I think it seemed to me when I was reading it to punctuate your experience.

Salina: So in the article, they discuss a British research project looking to understand and improve the way risk is communicated during pregnancy.

Salina: 25% of survey respondents felt judged for their weight and noted that their weight dominated every single interaction with healthcare providers.

Salina: It really shouldn't be that much in the mix.

Salina: It's like we keep missing the balance.

Salina: I get it.

Salina: And I know that you want pregnant people to be safe and healthy, but you're actually driving them away.

Salina: They might actually be less likely to interface with the healthcare system.

Nikki: I have another provider at that same practice that I really respect and appreciate, and I've been seeing that provider a long time.

Nikki: But even she made an offhand comment to me that showed me the bias that she has in treating patients.

Nikki: Something along the lines of these women come in here and they don't understand why they're developing diabetes in pregnancy, or they don't understand why I'm telling them they're at risk for preterm birth.

Nikki: And they say they care so much about their health, and I'm looking at them and they're £50 overweight before they even got pregnant.

Nikki: And I'm just like, you can't care a lot if you don't care enough to manage your weight.

Nikki: And I was like, I don't think that's all one and the same.

Nikki: Think it's that easy?

Nikki: And she made it as an offhand comment to me.

Nikki: So I am not saying that to say she said that to a patient, but it certainly has to color the way they treat their patients.

Salina: I think that's absolutely right.

Salina: If you really are having thoughts like that, I don't see how it doesn't come out in one way or that.

Salina: It could be the look on your face.

Salina: It could be so many telltale signs.

Salina: And people are pretty intuitive about the way they're being treated.

Salina: It's not always the words, although words are really important too.

Salina: But we're not just fat shaming, we're also body shaming.

Salina: Again, this is the general weed.

Salina: Perhaps that's because especially when it comes to women's bodies, there's just no shortage of opinions.

Salina: It honestly floors me how so many people think it's their right to comment on someone else's body, which is something that we talked about a lot in the main episode.

Salina: I mean, I just hear it happen all the time.

Salina: The Chicago Tribune sums it up pretty well with this headline shame for Being Fat.

Salina: Shame for being fit.

Salina: Women can't win.

Salina: I will tell you that this was almost the name of the segment.

Salina: I really wanted to call it shame for being fat.

Salina: Shame for being thin.

Salina: When it comes to weight, women can't win.

Nikki: You know, I'm always going to bring in Taylor Swift, and she, in her documentary, talked about her weight and how at one point she was characterized as being way too thin.

Nikki: And then at another point, she was being characterized as way too fat.

Nikki: And she says at a point, like, it's just all so effing impossible.

Nikki: There's no way to know what I'm supposed to be to everybody.

Nikki: And I think about that a lot.

Nikki: There is no way to know because you can't be everything to everybody.

Nikki: But we put celebrities and people who are in the public eye, they get it so much worse than the rest of us do.

Nikki: The rest of us just aren't judged quite as harshly, but we are not as publicly right.

Salina: And that's why I was thinking so much about like, I've been thinking about Delta Burke every day in preparing for this segment, but thinking about can you imagine you're just going into the store to pick up something?

Salina: And I remember this from being little and seeing her on the front of every tabloid cover.

Salina: So you're just like you can try and ignore it, but sometimes it's so out there.

Salina: And they were so fascinated with her, and I think she was already someone who I've read other places, like, dealt with low self esteem, not to mention the depression issues and everything.

Salina: And so you're just constantly faced with that over and over again.

Salina: And what, we're supposed to react okay to that.

Salina: That's why a lot of times when we're having these conversations, I'll start off by saying, we're talking about real people today, and I just want to make a really conscious effort to say these are real people.

Salina: And so we want to be at least somewhat thoughtful, even if we're giving some kind of critique or whatever, because you just never know how you're affecting someone's life.

Salina: It's funny that you mentioned that Taylor Swift point, because that article I was mentioning, this is the Chicago Tribune one.

Salina: They had stories from three different women who were fat, shamed, then they worked really hard on their health, which included losing weight only to be fit shamed.

Salina: And it ranged from passive aggressive and rude to downright hostile.

Salina: Comments were in the gamut from what it was that they ate to their bodies too many muscles.

Salina: What about the loss of your breasts?

Salina: People question whether they had an eating disorder or if they should be with their kids instead of at the gym.

Salina: Let's just shut your mouth.

Nikki: This last couple of weeks, there's also been something with Gwyneth Paltrow where she did an interview talking about her eating habits.

Nikki: And on the one hand, people are using it as a platform to talk about disordered eating and how dangerous a message that is to send to people, and especially to young people, and, like, sort of the disservice that she's doing publicly by sharing some of the things she's sharing so openly.

Nikki: And on the one hand, I'm fully in on that.

Nikki: I really do think that that's a message that resonates really firmly in a negative way with young people.

Nikki: Some of the things she was sharing is like, she doesn't have a solid meal all day long until dinner time, and her dinner is a grilled chicken breast and broccoli.

Nikki: And so some people might hear that and think, like, I need to be that okay.

Nikki: So that's one thing which I am on board with.

Nikki: What bothers me is when people start adding commentary about her body to that.

Nikki: And so they're like, I mean, look at her.

Nikki: She's skeletor.

Nikki: She looks like the Crypt Keeper.

Nikki: I imagine Gwyneth Paltrow has heard it all, and she's largely probably immune to it.

Nikki: Like, she just tunes it all out for the most part.

Salina: Just doesn't count as that goop money.

Nikki: Yeah, she's fine.

Nikki: But my point is, it's not better than being shamed for being overweight or being fit.

Nikki: Shamed just because she's a celebrity and a person.

Nikki: Like, somehow you're allowed to do that to her.

Nikki: The message is still resonating that it's okay to be ugly to other women.

Nikki: It's okay to judge other women for the way their bodies look.

Nikki: It's okay to judge other people.

Nikki: I should make it broader than that.

Nikki: Other people for their dietary choices and what they choose to do with their lives, that's okay because it's Gwyneth Paltrow.

Nikki: You know what I mean?

Nikki: But I don't think people catch that caveat that it's Gwyneth Paltrow.

Nikki: You're doing it to another person.

Nikki: That has bothered me a lot this last week or so.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: Wow, man, she really gets it a lot, too.

Nikki: She brings some of it on herself.

Nikki: She knows that this is not or maybe she doesn't know somebody should tell her.

Nikki: This is not normal for other people to resonate with.

Nikki: Like, this is not going to make you relatable.

Nikki: And when you're not relatable, that's when people are going to pile it on you.

Nikki: So on the one hand, she's kind of bringing it on herself.

Nikki: But that's why I say she must have skin as thick as a rock because I'm sure she has heard it all and just keeps coming out talking about it.

Suzanne: Yeah.

Salina: I wonder if some of it's like her mom's famous.

Salina: I mean, just like growing up in some level of a spotlight.

Salina: I think maybe you have to get it because that's just your whole life.

Salina: It's so fascinating just to think about people just being that tuned into daily aspects of your life.

Salina: It just blows my mind.

Nikki: It's crazy.

Salina: So I want to say, too, that when we're talking about body shaming, it's certainly not just about weight.

Salina: Anything and everything is on the table.

Salina: We'll link to a Vice article where women describe the body shaming they've received around a skin condition, scars, and even a mastectomy.

Nikki: That's the thing we don't do.

Salina: I just almost cursed.

Nikki: That's the thing we don't do.

Salina: I just almost cursed.

Salina: And I've already read the article, and I still made you angry all the time I did.

Salina: I just got p***** off again.

Salina: So now what?

Salina: Public health is recognizing a shift is needed, but they're not there yet.

Salina: Providers are performing unevenly at best.

Salina: Media falls into old patterns by proliferating negative body images.

Salina: And there are so many outside influences that even trusted people in our lives may fall short or say something hurtful because they don't know any better.

Salina: For all of these reasons, perhaps the best thing we can do is turn our work inwards.

Salina: Most of us could probably use at least a smidgen of retraining the way we think about bodies, especially our own.

Salina: The Women's Media Center pointed out that as women, we are often asked to accept and ignore body shaming.

Salina: But you know what?

Salina: We certainly don't have to.

Salina: And we are allowed to stand up for ourselves and tell people how what they say and do makes us feel.

Salina: It's totally valid to tell someone that what they said is not okay.

Salina: On the flip of that, we should all be thoughtful about our own commentary to others, which comes back to what we talked about in the main episode and to some extent today, even intended compliments about someone losing weight or like, quote, unquote to our standards, looking better.

Salina: I mean, that can be fraught with issues.

Salina: You just don't know what people are going through or have been through.

Salina: I'll just say that for me, my rule is to limit my comments on weight, shape and body type.

Salina: Unless we're like real close.

Salina: Like real close.

Salina: Like, there's probably three people that I might mention something to.

Salina: So to wrap up, I thought I'd share some positive body concepts that steer us away from the negative ones so many of us have been exposed to in one way or another.

Salina: Body acceptance.

Salina: This is a big buzzword, and I'm about to lay down a couple of buzzwords here, so just bear with me.

Salina: But it is accepting your body whether or not you're completely satisfied with it.

Salina: This includes acceptance that's based on your own standards, not what society has deemed acceptable.

Salina: So body positivity or I love my body is kind of the thought process there.

Salina: Now, this actually originates this is one of those buzzwords, right?

Salina: This actually originates, though, in the this was from what was known as the Fat Acceptance Movement.

Salina: And it was created by and for folks in marginalized bodies.

Salina: And it encourages unconditional body love no matter what it looks like.

Salina: In recent years, this term has been commercialized and co opted and often leaves out the people the movement was created for.

Salina: We really know how to make a good thing bad, you know what I'm saying?

Salina: But there's also body neutrality.

Salina: This is I do not love or hate my body.

Nikki: I like this one.

Salina: This is usually where I think I fall as well.

Salina: I'm a down the middle kind of gal.

Salina: So it prioritizes the body's function and achievements rather than its appearance.

Salina: It views the body through a neutral lens without judgment or force.

Salina: Positivity liking your body is not a requirement for loving yourself and acknowledges body love is not always realistic or attainable.

Salina: I also agree, too, that the reason that I like this one is because sometimes, even when I'm feeling really down on myself, I like to try and remember the fact that I'm very happy that my kidneys work.

Salina: I'm very happy that all of those things I'm very happy that I could walk across and grab something off the other counter.

Salina: Just thankful for the things that I do have.

Salina: I'm very happy that I can function.

Salina: I'm happy that I could get up this morning and I have the ability to work out.

Salina: Not that that's the end all be all by any means, but it's just like if you can't get the big stuff and you can't get the high concepts, like, for yourself, not that you can't understand them.

Salina: I get that you can understand them, but grab what you can grab.

Salina: My motto.

Salina: What's that?

Nikki: That's my motto.

Salina: There you go.

Salina: Grab what you can grab.

Salina: I really like it.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: There's also body liberation.

Salina: This one was new to me, but it's I am more than my body.

Salina: It promotes inclusivity body autonomy, fat acceptance and size diversity.

Salina: Freedom from systems of oppression, including weight, stigma and size discrimination to create a safe space for all bodies to exist.

Salina: It separates a person's self worth from their body or appearance.

Salina: I like that a lot too.

Salina: Sounds like a journey for me.

Salina: It's important to note via very well fit for some people, gender identity or other physical and mental attributes can mean body acceptance is not on the table.

Salina: Working with a therapist and a doctor provides the support and medical guidance you need to make a plan to address some of these concerns.

Salina: So we'll link to that article for some guidance on how to achieve body acceptance and to bring it back to Designing Women.

Salina: It sounds like Delta may have reached a level of body acceptance herself.

Salina: According to Designing Women Online, she eventually decided she, quote unquote, liked herself better as a size 16 than a starved size six.

Salina: For a time, she even put out a clothing collection for women size 14 and up.

Salina: She also wrote a book titled Delta Style.

Salina: Eve wasn't a size six and neither am I.

Salina: It's filled with motivational advice, personal anecdotes, and style tips designed to make women more comfortable with themselves in a world that emphasizes thinness and beauty.

Salina: And couldn't we all take a page out of that book?

Salina: And that's this week's extra sugar.


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