‘Morbidly obese” — there’s not a precise sense of bucket-kicking in the term. But it sure seems that way. If your channel-surfing has introduced you to the freak-show panoply served up nightly by TLC, especially the long-running program “My 600-lb Life,” you’ll find it difficult to pooh-pooh the obvious: The show’s super-morbidly obese subjects are eating themselves to death.
Poor things — could that tug at your clogging heartstrings? They’re counting on it, and it’s evident to me (having watched chunks and snippets from numerous episodes in recent years) that many of the show’s featured subjects have spent their lifetimes perfecting the arts of victimology. But one man’s statut de victime is another man’s stark warning (in this case, a doctor’s): Every week, My 600-lb Life broadcasts deathly predictions, or something akin to them, from the droning but hypnotic voice of one Dr. Younan Nowzaradan, a.k.a. “Dr. Now,” the tough-talking, memes-instigating, Iranian-born obesity guru and bariatric surgeon who has seen it all, heard it all, and says no to it all. When the excuses come, Dr. Now refuses to (if you’ll pardon this) stomach them, or the lies and BS, or the whining and subterfuge that are part and parcel of the on-display, individual bulge battles that are reality show’s Wednesday-night heaping main course.
If truth-telling and spade-calling that defy political correctness and that refuse to make concessions to victimhood are the stuff of modern conservative virtues, then Dr. Now — the author of The Scale Does Not Lie, People Do — is very much a conservative hero. He may seem like a glutton for punishment, but he is a man for these troubled times.
The people eating themselves to death? Well, some of them — after the lying stops — turn out to be heroes, too.
About the show: Since its 2012 launch, My 600-lb Life has featured more than 100 people seeking radical weight reduction via bariatric surgery (and then the removal of massive skin swaths). Their startling gargantuan presence is usually shocking — some of the show’s featurati have begun the process weighing in at over 900 pounds. Camera angles and close-ups highlight mattress-covering enormity and expose numerous ways in which the body adapts to extreme weight, accommodating it via de facto mass boulders and displacing bulges amid flaps of flesh. There is attending grotesque skin-related afflictions, as well as issues of immobility, questionable hygiene, and scenes of eating that seem unreal but aren’t.
It can leave the viewer speechless. Or yelling, “What the hell is . . . that?”
The show’s premise is simple: Participants confess and admit that something utterly catastrophic is happening, that drastic measures are required to avert death, and that they must follow, on-site, Dr. Now’s Houston-based program, making a commitment to aggressive weight loss. The regime includes dieting (it’s all about the intake) and exercise, to meet Dr. Now’s shocking (to those of us mildly obese) reduction targets. (A typical meme: “You have one munt to lose tirty pounds.”) If all goes well (or ends well, because on this show it never goes well), surgery can include lap-band systems, gastric bypass, vertical-sleeve gastrectomy, and other procedures.
That’s the first goal. Surgery is little more than the end of the beginning: It is only the engineered means by which people can achieve additional, significant weight loss. Some of Dr. Now’s patients have lost over 500 pounds.
As a health matter, reaching the initial goal on My 600-lb Life merits a job-well-done response. And a job well done receives that plaudit. But . . . the entertainment aspect of this reality-television staple prompts more jeering than clapping.
That’s because My 600-lb Life is unsettling. How can it not be when the viewer finds himself immediately rooting against the week’s subject? Because they’re fat, and fat people deserve fat-shaming, as the status-holders contend? No: Contempt, or something approaching it, comes from watching the participants indulge in scapegoating, self-pitying, and rage at the denial of food. They toss tantrums when disappointment looms, brow-beat their indentured enablers, rationalize junk-food bonanzas, lie about commitment, lie about recent eating habits, and lie about sneaking pizzas into hospitals. To me, the most disturbing is that they sometimes force children into uncomfortable care-giving roles — a teenage son’s job is to clean between mom’s folds with a face cloth or scrubbing brush!
Could viewers’ contempt be intentionally elicited by tricks of the show’s producers? Unlikely.
Still, goody-two-shoes do not make for good television. So drama reigns. My 600-lb Life’s weekly fare ranges from complete failure (the individual leaves the program, ignores Dr. Now’s instructions, refuses counseling, etc.,) to success, reached via crooked and bumpy paths, journeys of the two-steps-forward and one-step-back variety. And the success is this: Dr. Now proclaims his satisfaction, announces his decision (his alone to offer or deny) to schedule surgery, and shares sought-for words: “I’m Proud of You.”
Success does not come easy, though. It is achieved through the monotone hectoring of the 77-year-old surgeon, he of hunched posture, alarming dye-job combover, and clipped English that speaks truth to power and powdered doughnuts, a strange star in a visual medium, but a star nonetheless.
In an age of required pitying and babying — when Americans fear to call the bare-faced liar a bare-faced liar, and instead sanctify contrived victimhood — the empathetic but un-connable emigre understands that he is engaged in a deadly (literally) serious business. He understands that he cannot allow the portly patient to justify his 20-pound weight gain without a direct counterattack. Minus Dr. Now’s bluntness, this patient, already on a path to an early grave, will arrive all the sooner.
This unwillingness to allow lies to go unchallenged should make conservatives smile: To shock the system, the fabulist must be told, directly, that he is lying, and that his excuse-mongering is not fooling the man who is trying to help save that life.
Does Dr. Now enjoy the position he must take? Probably not. But whether he knows it or not, he has emerged as a refreshing image of leadership, absent amid America’s cultural cave-ins. He is the sort of role model who is sorely missing among the woke-accommodating presidents of universities and corporate boards.
His words are blunt, direct, and necessary. (“No you don’t have to eat something! You have 800 pounds of food in you.”) They are leveled at all who need the comeuppance of truth (“You don’t gain weight from thin air!”), and when necessary, they can consist too of accusations, directed at anyone who runs errands and worsens the habits of his obese patient. When it comes to enabling, Dr. Now does not hesitate to employ the death-rhetoric card.
There’s righteous anger when needed. But Dr. Now — armed with the facts of the scale that tell no fibs, his ears familiar with all the possible jargon and alibis that come with his trade — is typically unflappable when the moment comes to ask the patient, So, how y’all doing?
Prepare for a confrontation, at least from the perspective of the story-telling patient. To the physician, though, the ensuing ice bath is a requirement. There is a life to be saved here. Lies are a powerful enemy. They cannot be abided.
And Dr. Now does not abide them. There are as many examples of this as there are episodes. Picking one at random: Holly Hager fit the bill, and was over 650 pounds. Her initial compliance with Dr. Now’s weight-loss demands produced minimal results. At her check-up meeting with the famous physician, Holly displayed a defense of ignorance and immaturity. Dr. Now called BS:
Holly, stop playing games and lying to me. You know exactly what you’re doing when you’re making your choices. I’m not going to play along with this act. . . . You act like a child who doesn’t understand, so everyone gives up on trying to get you to do what you should. That’s not going to work on me.
She confessed: She had nagging thoughts about chocolates. The thoughts prevailed. “So,” replied Dr. Now, “chocolate is more important to you than living, apparently.”
First and last, it’s all about life and death for the Houston surgeon. And it’s inspiring that on this one television show — stuck amid TLC’s other fare of hoarders and the quickly affianced, the too-close sisters and the too-many wives, the foot-mangled and the pimple-afflicted — there is evidence that there is someone in our under-assault culture who will speak the truth, who will reject lies, who will call them as he sees them, who will resist the glorification of contrived victimhood, who truly wants what’s best for people, even and especially those people who need help but inspire little sympathy.
His name is Younan Nowzaradan. He is stooped, has a funny accent, and needs a new barber. But for this right-winger, he is a conservative hero — and an American one.