|Just a couple of horrifying big girls, miracle the camera didn't break!|
I’ve been struggling all day with figuring out a response to the current circus surrounding Maura Kelly’s horrifically hateful fat-bashing blog post that is garnering so much attention over at Marie Claire. Especially since today @MarieClaire supposedly solicited some counterpoint to the piece.
For those of you who have not read the post, you can find it here, in all of its prejudiced, ill-informed, dismissive, and indifferently spelled glory. Should Fatties Get A Room…
I recommend you actually click over and read it, since otherwise the following will make little or no sense.
For starters, it seems clear I should preface this by saying that Maura Kelly has every right to her opinions. I am a strong believer in the right to free speech, and I will defend anyone’s right to express themselves. After all, just because you are small-minded and bigoted, doesn’t mean you need to be silenced. I can choose not to listen to you, the same way I ignore racists, misogynists, homophobes, and people who think they were abducted by aliens. I have never before delved into the work of this particular hard-hitting journalist, as I already know he is into me, have never had a Holiday related dating disaster, and I would never have sex in public for sport. Just for pay. But I digress.
Maura, at the prompting of her Marie Claire editor, read an article on CNN.com that indicated that people were finding the new sitcom Mike and Molly, about two plus-sized people who fall in love, was making them uncomfortable. And while some people are uncomfortable with the visual of humans of this particular heft getting hot with each other, most people seem more uncomfortable with the reliance on fat jokes as the driving comedic force behind the show.
|AHHH! The Horror! Look away!|
Now, my first instinct was not to address this, as I have not seen the show. But lucky for me, Ms. Kelly felt free to write about it without watching it either, so now I know my ethics are okay! In fact, Ms. Kelly indicates that she is both “not much of a TV watcher” and “can be kind of clueless”, an admission which became very obvious over the next few paragraphs.
For starters, Ms. Kelly indicates that the particular level of obesity in the main characters is problematic. Because apparently, Ms. Kelly is unaware the current AVERAGE size of women in America is 14, and they might want to see people who look like themselves on television in lead roles. For every size 0 actress in Hollywood, is a size 28 somewhere who probably would be happy, now and again, to open a magazine or go to a movie that celebrates her experience and does not dismiss her because of her size.
Ms. Kelly also implies that showing these people on TV is somehow implicitly promoting obesity, (despite the fact that the two meet in Overeaters Anonymous, dealing with their obesity in a proactive and healthy way) which makes her angry because her insurance premiums might go up for dealing with the related health issues of fat people.
Ms. Kelly goes on to say:
“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 (sic) heroine addict slumping in a chair.”
Poor Maura. Life must be very distressing with all these aesthetically displeasing people running around spoiling her view. She acknowledges that she has a couple “plump” friends, but that comes off as the equivalent of a low-level racist claiming a pal of color or two. But she does accidentally touch on the issue which is actually nearest and dearest to my heart.
She aligns very obese people with alcoholics and drug addicts. With whom, in fact, they have a lot in common. Compulsive overeating has the same hallmarks of any addiction. There can be genetic predisposition. There can be environmental factors. And there is a very strong element of being out of control. The addiction takes both psychological and physical hold. There is an emotional toll for loved ones. It can negatively impact your relationships, lifestyle, and health.
But here is the difference, Ms. Kelly, since you are so quick to say that “I think obesity is something that most people have a ton of control over. It's something they can change, if only they put their minds to it.”
Alcoholics, drug addicts, they can quit cold turkey and never touch booze or dope again.
Compulsive Overeaters have to have a relationship with food multiple times a day every day for the rest of our lives. No one has to try and teach alcoholics how to have just one drink three times a day, or show a drug addict how to take just one tiny toke every three hours. Food is the hardest addiction to overcome, and the one with the most misconceptions. Maura seems to genuinely believe that the difference between fat and not fat is just “eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, read labels and avoid foods with any kind of processed sweetener in them whether it's cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, increase the amount of fiber you're getting, get some kind of exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week, and do everything you can to stand up more — even while using your computer — and walk more.” There is nothing wrong with any of this advice. It is a blueprint for a reasonably healthy life for anyone at any size (although the standing at the computer thing is ridiculous and obsessive). But none of that shows any awareness or sensitivity to the very real psychology behind the disease.
Now, I have had this discussion with many people over the years, as a plus-sized woman, and often it is simply that they themselves have had no personal experience with eating disorders, either as a sufferer or having someone close to them dealing with the issue.
But Maura Kelly, by her own admission, is a recovered anorexic.
Who never stopped for one second while writing this diatribe of intolerance to think that perhaps her utter loathing of fat people might be related to her own very personal demons? My whole life as a fat girl, I was always so relieved that if I was going to have an eating disorder, at least it was overeating and not starving myself. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to feel compelled to reduce yourself to the smallest possible person. To work so hard and suffer so long to become a size 0, to become nothing. (And let me be clear, I don't mean you tiny girls whose natural state happens to be a size 0. I mean the people who obsessively seek that non-number as a mark of pride and success.)
To say to the world that you do not deserve to take up too much space.
I might be fat, and I have had my share of sad moments when I wish that I were not, but I genuinely like what I see in the mirror most days, and have never once felt the need to try and shrink myself for any reason other than my health. And let me be clear, I have no desire to be skinny. I’ll take voluptuous, curvy, and healthy. A double digit size is fine with me, as long as the first digit is a 1. It is a constant struggle, a battle I win one day and lose the next. But along the way, I never forget to love who I am, because who I am is pretty spectacular no matter what size I happen to wear, or what people like Maura Kelly might think of me.
As an educator who spent over 15 years working with teenagers, I know how damaging the sort of attitude that Kelly espouses can be. Marie Claire is a magazine targeted at young women in their most impressionable and vulnerable years. They might think that cheeky little pieces like Maura Kelly's are sassily provocative, but what they are is the propaganda of hate. Its okay to revile overweight people, because of course, it is just an issue of having some self control! That they don't seem to care that it gives permission for others to embrace that very intolerance, can feed into the culture of bullying that is so prevalent today amongst young people is irresponsible and extremely disappointing.
It is an issue I deal with in all of my books. In Inappropriate Men, the size 24 heroine is having a passionate affair. (Look away, Maura, fat girl having sex!) In Room For Improvement, the lead character worries about how being a size 14 will affect her budding career as a designer on a home improvement television show. And in my new book,Good Enough to Eat, the woman at the heart of the story is a formerly obese woman who has lost the weight, and loses her husband in the process.
For Good Enough to Eat I drew on my 25+ years of experience as a plus-sized person. The kind of person who would “gross out” Ms. Kelly if she saw me crossing a room.
Ultimately, I feel terrible for Maura Kelly. For the struggles she herself has been through with her own body, and for the pathology that makes her knee-jerk to being repulsed by all fat people because they represent her own personal most deeply held fear of what she herself could become.
So while I am, and have been all day, seething at this post, it is not Maura and her anti-fat vitriol that bother me the most. I have long been used to fat being the last acceptable prejudice. My distress comes from the fact that Marie Claire Magazine not only assigned this piece to an admitted former anorexic who has not watched the show, but read it, gave it their stamp of approval, posted it on their site, and defended it when it garnered negative attention.
Now, I do not often read Marie Claire, as I am a 40 year old plus-sized woman who already got the guy, got the job, knows how to organize her purse, and will never EVER wear an item as unfortunately named or generically unflattering as “jeggings”. But I thought it was great when they brought on Ashley Falcon, a plus-sized stylist. And Nina Garcia has always been pretty great on Project Runway when they have had the rare plus-sized challenges, taking designers down a peg when they complain about how hard it is to design flattering things for women who are built like women and not ten year old boys.
But this. This erases all former goodwill.
If Maura Kelly’s post had been about the disgusting nature of interracial couples kissing on television, or how uncomfortable it is to have to see gay people walk across a room, Marie Claire would have issued a formal apology, made a donation to GLAAD or the Anti-Defamation League, fired Ms. Kelly quickly, and hired a talented gay writer of color. And lord knows, if they were smart, they would hire a plus-sized writer to do an ongoing blog about living as a larger person. To fill the vacancy they should create where Maura Kelly currently resides.
My twitter page today was filled with note from my Tweeps, all of whom know that I am a plus-sized woman who writes about the lives of plus-sized women with what I hope is sensitivity, honesty, compassion, and love. I got e-mails from some of my fans saying how much they hoped Marie Claire would ask me to write a rebuttal piece. But like my BFF Jen Lancaster, who wrote her own very wonderful piece on this issue today, which I strongly recommend you read here, I don’t need Marie Claire to ask me to share my thoughts on their tacitly endorsing the views put forth in a piece of writing that is deeply hurtful and offensive to a large segment of the population.
I cannot force major women’s magazines to stop ignoring plus-sized women, any more than I can stop Hollywood from taking an extraordinarily talented actor like Melissa McCarthy and either marginalizing her to the “fat bestie”, or when they finally give her a lead role, taking the sad path of relying on the fat jokes. She is so much better than that, and as Jen mentions, if ever someone has the guts to produce any of my books as movies or TV shows, she is up there on the top of my dream list for casting.
But I can use the same freedom of speech that supported Maura Kelly in putting out such a sad piece of crap to say shame on them.
Shame on you, Marie Claire. In an age where bullying sends kids down a suicide path, endorsing ANY denigration of another human being based on who they are and not what they do is shameful. You want to hate someone because of their actions, fine. Lord knows I have a list of my own. But weight, no less than skin color, sexual preference, religion, or gender identity is a part of who someone is, and intolerance of who someone is, that is as base as someone can be.
To Marie Claire I can say that I wish I believed that this was purely an insensitive oversight and not, as I suspect, a cheap shot intended to create media uproar and bring you attention.
To all the larger girls who read Maura Kelly’s ugly words, I can only say this.
You are beautiful. You are deserving of love. You are deserving of respect. No one can take away your intelligence, your kindness, your generosity of spirit. The person you are has nothing to do with the number on the scale or the tag on your clothes. You are sexy. You are powerful. And there is nothing you cannot do. If you decide to get smaller, for your health, or because you simply want to be smaller, I am on your side and pulling for you. And if you decide that you like yourself just the way you are and have no desire to change, I am on your side and pulling for you. You deserve to see women like yourself represented in the magazines you read, the television you watch, the movies you see. Not made the butt of the joke, or as the sidekick, but front and center in the spotlight. Do not ever be ashamed of how much air you displace in this world. You are not minimal. You are a celebration. Revel in yourself, and love yourself. And know that you are not ever alone.
Some women of size that I have looked to for inspiration:
Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifah, Emme, Camryn Manheim, Delta Burke, Ann Wilson,Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates, Della Reese, Mae West.
And of course, Jen Lancaster. Who had the ability to not only express her own outrage, but to go for the funny, which I was too angry to be able to do.
Yours in Outrage,