**I’d make this a topic for the Seriously Shiny blog, but this time it’s too important. So bear with me. Note: This is the longest blog post in the world. But I think it’s worth it.**
By most of society’s standards, I am fat. I am 5’7” tall, I weigh around 190 pounds (that would be the first time I’ve ever put THAT in print), and I wear a size 12-14. I don’t shop at “plus-sized stores,” I’m healthy, I eat reasonably well (as well as most skinny people I know), I exercise at least a few days per week (some weeks I’m better at this than others). I’m not in great cardiovascular shape, but I also wasn’t when I weighed less. I have arthritis in my hips and problems with my feet that make certain (more effective) ways to exercise a little more difficult for me.
I’m not making excuses for my weight, by telling you these things. I’m telling you these things in the hopes that you might realize that I’m a human being and not just “fat” or a number.
I have hopes and dreams. I have likes and dislikes. I have hobbies. I have friends. I have a boyfriend. I have parents and siblings. I have a job. I am passionate about a number of things, as I’m sure most of you know.
Finally, at 30-years-old, I’m working on accepting my body. I’m also better at this some days and not so great at it others. I have good days and bad days. Most people who weigh less than me go through the same things. I think that I’m pretty. I like that I have curves. I don’t want to be skinny, but I wouldn’t mind being a little thinner. I worry sometimes that I will become obsessed by it, and develop an eating disorder that would be less healthy than a little extra weight. So far, I’ve managed to mostly escape that.
I know that I do have some form of body dismorphic disorder. Strangely, in my head, I’m a much thinner looking person. In my head, I look a certain way, and when I see myself in mirrors or glass doors, I feel disappointed and a little disgusted. It’s like finding out I’m fat all over again.
These things are all my own issues, though, and not the fault of skinny people in the world. Why am I telling you this?
Because today, I read an article in Marie Claire’s online magazine. Maybe you did, too. Freelance writer Maura Kelly was (apparently) asked by her editor what she thought of an article published on CNN. I’m not sure I really understand why she was asked to write about it, other than to stir the pot. Her opinion has stimulated a huge response from women everywhere (and some men, but it’s primarily a women’s magazine). If you want to read it, and I hate to lend them any more traffic, click here.
I can’t say that Ms. Kelly doesn’t have a right to have her own opinion. But I do think she has a responsibility not to publish such senseless hate (as does Marie Claire, and I think most of the blame for publishing this should lie with them, actually). This is further complicated by the fact that Ms. Kelly herself has struggled with anorexia and has her own body image issues. Why then, knowing how it feels to be ashamed of your body, would she feel justified in shaming others?
Honestly, if she had written this article and said, “You know, watching fat people kiss on television isn’t really my thing,” I don’t think we’d be having this discussion. Sure, some people would have probably found that offensive, and maybe it is. But it’s her opinion. What that says about her as a person is something we’d all have to figure out for ourselves.
The original CNN article, upon which she was asked her opinion, barely touches on the idea that people are uncomfortable watching overweight people being affectionate on television. I suspect because the CNN writer realized that it wasn’t really worth delving into, but I can’t say for certain. Ms. Kelly took it a step further.
“So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.”
The emphasis there is mine.
It would offend Ms. Kelly’s sensibilities to watch a very fat person walk across a room. Later in the article, she gives some well known (and incredibly patronizing in context) advice to these offensive fat people about their health. Eat less, move more. But, Ms. Kelly (and plenty of other people) are disgusted to see fat people even walk. How are they supposed to exercise? I guess they should do it at home, alone, preferably in the dark?
Another favorite part, in justifying her stance:
“And while I think our country’s obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it’s at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny.”
First, I don’t think anyone or anything is implicitly promoting obesity. That’s like saying all the crime dramas are implicitly promoting heinous murder. People would laugh at you, if you said that, and I think we should laugh at Ms. Kelly for saying that simply having a show about people who are fat is encouraging people to get fat.
It’s interesting that it’s commonplace to think that people can be naturally skinny. But no one can be naturally fat. Even though there are plenty of genetic disorders and just plain genetics that suggest it IS, in fact, possible to be naturally heavy.
No, I’m not suggesting that people are born obese. I am suggesting that there aren’t many people (maybe none) who are as naturally skinny as the average model. But skinny is acceptable and fat is not.
I’m particularly tired of hearing that fat people are a drain on our health care system. You know what’s a drain on our health care system? Being ALIVE. Health care costs too much because we’ve let giant corporations that don’t give one tiny damn about actual people be in control of it for far too long. And any time we try to change it? We have a civil war in The Congress (one that’s far from civil, thanks Republicans). Fat people are just a convenient scapegoat because we’ve all decided that they’re disgusting and not real people anyway. They’re just a faceless group that deserves our rage for being something we’ve all deemed distasteful.
Wait a minute, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Kind of like racism or sexism or homophobia. How interesting.
I argue that if, in this article, Ms. Kelly had replaced the word “fat” or “obese” with the word “black” or “Hispanic,” she would have been fired. Racism will not be tolerated, but it’s cool to be mean to the fat kids. They deserve it.
Food addiction is just that…addiction. If a person is fat because he or she has a food addiction, that’s only different from an addiction with drugs in one very important way.
That person can’t just quit eating. Everyday is a constant struggle with the one thing they’re trying to fight. A person addicted to heroin doesn’t have to keep doing heroin in moderate amounts everyday for the rest of his or her life in order to live. That person can fully quit and live independently of heroin. (Not, you’ll note, “heroine,” as Ms. Kelly wrote and her editors missed). No one can live without food.
Think about that for a second. Think about being faced with the thing that hurts you the most, everyday. Three times a day. And then read an article like Ms. Kelly’s. Imagine how it must feel to be a fat person who already knows he or she isn’t good enough. Who already knows that he or she doesn’t measure up to society’s standards of beauty.
Think about reading that someone who doesn’t even know you finds it disgusting that you might deign to walk across a room. And then that person cheerfully tells you that you should just eat better and get some exercise.
Maybe you’re not fat. I bet you’re self-conscious about something, though. What if someone picked out the one thing that could hurt you most and then told you it was disgusting. How would you feel?
And to all the people who commented on that article to agree with Ms. Kelly, I wish I could find the thing you’re insecure about and exploit it. I wish you could understand how it feels to be trapped in a body you feel you can’t control. I wish you could feel what it feels know that everyone in the country thinks you’re disgusting. Even if you did it to yourself, even if you’re not doing anything to change it, do you really deserve to feel those things just so someone else can feel better?
One thing I absolutely can say: I can probably lose this weight. The ugliness that Ms. Kelly showed is probably there forever.
One reader, writergirl826, commented:
While I can understand that the brutality in your observations of overweight people caught other people who have commented off guard, I personally think you have a point. I am overweight (though not obese) and think it’s a real problem when so many obese people think that they’re normal. It’s a HUGE problem plaguing our country (diabetes, cancers, heart disease, high cholesterol) and tip-toeing around the issue in hopes of not offending the plus-sized isn’t helping. It’s America. Someone is always going to be offended by what you say. But bottom line is: people are too fat and while I think it’s important to encourage others to get to know a person before judging them, a certain amount of accountability needs to be placed on those with a propensity for overeating and lack of exercise. I encourage everyone to look at this article which really puts it into perspective. People need to understand that being obese is NOT the norm (and being overly-skinny isn’t either). It’s all about being healthy. I know that I have a lot of work to do in order to be healthier, but the key is to be aware and make steps towards bettering yourself. Making people think it’s okay to be morbidly obese just because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings isn’t doing anybody any good. http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness/2010-09-09-fat-perception_N.htm
Again, she has a right to her opinion, but what I want to know is how she can justify to herself that it’s okay to make anyone else feel like shit for their own health choices. They’re not leeching fat into the air. She’s not going to “catch” obesity. It doesn’t affect her at all, in fact. And there aren’t many people out there who are running out to try to be obese. I can’t say there are none, because the man who owns the Heart Attack Grill is still alive and encouraging people to be obese. But even if some people DO want to be obese? How is it anyone else’s problem? To say that fat people need to be held accountable for their choices is just ridiculous. What exactly does she think their weight is? It’s an everyday accountability check.
Ms. Kelly did issue some kind of apology in the comments section, after this comment:
Thank you, Writer Girl, for making my point with more sensitivity than I had. I wrote this post very quickly, after my editor asked me to read and respond to the CNN article. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone feel ashamed–though obviously, judging from the comments, I did. And I really apologize for that. I know there are some people out there who really can’t overcome their weight problems–like Dispatcher. I do think it’s an addiction, which is why I mentioned it with problems like drinking and drug abuse–though again, I regret that I wasn’t more sensitive. But I’ve also seen many people at my gym, etc, and heard from plenty of people who thought they could never do it, till they tried; slowly but surely, they lost and lost. … Again, I am genuinely sorry if I upset anyone. I would prefer to just erase this post, but unfortunately, I can’t do that.
PS: As for near-death, I think it’s fair to say I came fairly close to dying from my own eating disorder. (cf. here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/books/chapter-going-hungry.html) And while it took me a very LONG hard time to overcome what I had (anorexia that landed me, at 69 pounds, in the hospital for four months, and eventually turned into bulimia) I worked at overcoming it a long hard time. I think part of the reason I was so strident in my post is because I’ve had an eating problem with psychological and behavioral components that involved a lot of shame and body hatred (and a desire to de-sexualize myself). And–as someone who was a compulsive overeater for a time–I think there are a lot of similarities between overeaters and anorexics, which is perhaps why I was being (admittedly) rather self-righteous. I really do apologize, again, for my insensitivity.
Personally, I can’t imagine anyone finding much comfort in this apology. Saying that she “wrote this post very quickly” just implies that she has little respect for her work, and certainly gives the impression that this is her unfiltered opinion. Mentioning that food can be an addiction is nice and all, but she fails to recognize the difference that I pointed out above. People with food addictions have to face their addiction multiple times a day, everyday. I’m not saying any addiction is easy, but this one is a little different. The fact that she suffered from an eating disorder herself, just speaks to how truly insensitive she was being, since she should know as well as anyone how it feels to read something like this.
No one is saying that being obese is healthy. But having obese people on television is simply representative of the fact that there are obese people out there, living their lives, doing much the same things as skinny people. Because they are people, too. It’s reality, even if many people would like to deny it. My only problem with this show is that it seems to revolve completely around how much these people weigh. It’s pointing at them and saying, “See? They’re different. They’re fat. It’s cool to make fun of them, because they’ve been hearing this stuff their whole lives. They don’t have any feelings. They’re fat!”
I would be shocked to later hear that there was a rise in obesity levels that could be tied back to showing obese people living on television.
Hate is not the answer. It never is. It’s not going to get people to change or make better choices. Fat isn’t disgusting, senseless hate is. Fortunately, for the hateful, it doesn’t affect their physical appearance.