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If you follow the technology news at all, you know that Vegas hosted the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week. And if you follow the news at CES at all, you’ve probably heard about a new gadget from France that has been one of the darlings of the media this week. This gadget, called Belty, is a smart belt. Following the wildly popular electronic wearables trend, this digital belt adjusts to you–loosening or tightening to keep a steady grip on your waist. So for example, if you stand up, the belt tightens. When you sit down, and your tummy is slightly squished it loosens. If you eat a meal, it loosens slightly. If you come back from your high colonic, it tightens slightly. Get the idea?
The belt also functions as an activity tracker and buzzes gently to let you know if you have been seated and sedentary beyond a certain set limit. The belt is not yet for sale, nor is there a clear indication when it might be. The product is kind of silly and the name is ridiculous. So one might wonder just why it has garnered so much press.
Well some have speculated the media attentions stems from the fact that it is new, and extremely visual and lends itself to iPhone video shots of the belt developer/model’s crotch.
But I think the real reason this thing is in the media so much is that it provides an opportunity for everybody to weigh in on the “obesity crisis”–often while utilizing extremely bad puns.
Stuff tv’s headline is simple and accurate. “Hands on with Belty–The smartbelt that adjusts itself to your waistline.” Simple and factual. Thumbs up for Stuff TV. USA Today says that “Belty wants to make losing weight a cinch!” Get it? See what they did there? CNBC calls the product “A smart belt that knows when you are getting fat.” (Sort of like Santa Claus, it knows when you’ve been eating…) Yahoo Health says “World’s First Smart Belt Self-Adjusts to Signal Daily Weight Fluctuations”. Well okay, it does tell an app on your smart phone when your waistline changes in either direction. Some have suggested that the app shames its wearers with headlines like “Adjustable belt shames you into exercising more”.
Actually the belt does contain fitness tracking information. It does buzz gently if you have been “sitting too long”. But there is little evidence that the app does any shaming of any kind. It tracks your waistline, but unlike other apps I’ve reviewed, it doesn’t call you names or yell at you. It buzzes gently, but it doesn’t give you an electric shock like the pavlovian bracelet I’ve talked about before.
In fact, all the while that some are touting the weight loss benefits of the product, others are criticizing it for “promoting obesity”. To be clear, it doesn’t appear that the product plays happy theme music when your waistline increases (although that would be kinda cool). There’s no “fat cat” feature that deposits money in your bank account as your girth gets larger. Some have suggested that by the very fact the belt ever loosens, thus making you less miserable when your pants are too tight, encourages people to pile on the pounds.
The amazing thing to me isn’t that there’s a big, clunky, digital belt that gets bigger and smaller by itself. The amazing thing to me is the sheer range of value judgements we impose on such a piece of tech. The level of emotional stuff that the media and people in general are willing to heap on any product that has anything to do with body size, waist size and weight is remarkable.
Look people, sometimes a whirring clunky digital belt is just a belt. Let’s just reclaim our collective minds and move on, okay?
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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