Thursday, October 28, 2010

Letters to Maura Kelly

Dear Maura Kelly,

To try to curb my desire to combat vitriol with vitriol, let's take apart your demeaning, terrible article about how disgusted you are by fat people on your Marie Claire blog piece by piece. (Italics indicate text copied directly from the article).

The other day, my editor asked me, "Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see overweight people making out on television?"


Because I can be kind of clueless — I'm not much of a TV person — I had no idea what she was talking about, so she steered me to this CNN article, about the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly. As CNN explains, "the show centers around a couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous group [and] has drawn complaints for its abundance of fat jokes [as well as] cries from some viewers who aren't comfortable watching intimacy between two plus-sized actors."

Still fine...

My initial response was: Hmm, being overweight is one thing — those people are downright obese! 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. No one who is as fat as Mike and Molly can be healthy. And obesity is costing our country far more in terms of all the related health problems we are paying for, by way of our insurance, than any other health problem, even cancer.

First of all, you cannot see health by just looking at weight, so you don't really have any idea of whether Mike and Molly are healthy or not. You don't get to see what they eat, watch them work out, or pour over their medical records. And may I add, you maintain in your "apology" that these actors are 100% over their healthy weight-- how in the fuck have you deduced that? Really, I want to know.

Let's just say that showing people who look like just regular people on TV is not promoting obesity. If we've learned anything from the media, it's that even promoting being thin-- which the media absolutely does and I can't see any legitimate argument otherwise-- has had just about zero effect on the rate of obesity. If you could shame people skinny, we would all fit into sample sizes. All the shaming has done is make people feel alienated and degraded, even the skinny ones. Promoting a single idea of what is aesthetically pleasing has damaged people at every point on the weight spectrum-- and I mention aesthetics because I have a damn hard time believing you care about my fat ass and how long I live (because living longer is just longer you have to look at me). Very few people genuinely care, and you're not one of them. And even those who do? It's none of their business what I want to do with my own health. If I want to eat pure lard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it is no one's business but my own. Cut the crap.

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.

So you've revealed yourself. It isn't the health you care about-- it's your precious, precious eyes. Your delicate sensibilities, if you will. You're grossed out by fat people doing anything, from walking across a room to being intimate? And in expressing this disgust at these simple things like walking, things that make us animate beings at a very basic level, you are making a disgusting attempt at robbing fat people of their very humanity. So fat people cannot even exist in public space without making you "grossed out?" So what is a fat person to do? Protect you and stay inside all day? This is the irony of your disgust: people like you believe that larger people are lazy and disabled, encased in "rolls and rolls of fat" and claim you wish they'd just get off their asses and exercise, when this venomous rhetoric of revulsion only serves to discourage people from being seen, from moving, for fear that they'll hurt your fragile feelings. Maybe fat people wouldn't seem so different-- and maybe there would be less of them to offend you, who knows-- if you just let them goddam be and live their lives without being ridiculed for being walking freak shows at every turn? I just get the feeling you think of us that way. Just a hunch.

And, seriously, "heroine" addict? I should really stop paying you any attention here.

Now, don't go getting the wrong impression: I have a few friends who could be called plump. I'm not some size-ist jerk. And I also know how tough it can be for truly heavy people to psych themselves up for the long process of slimming down. (For instance, the overweight maintenance guy at my gym has talked to me a little bit about how it seems worthless for him to even try working out, because he's been heavy for as long as he can remember.)

I can't even believe what I'm reading. Pro-tip: if you feel the need to assure people you have friends of a certain demographic, you are a bigot.

But ... 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.

I love the deluded idea that fat is just something you choose to stop being all of a sudden. Honey, there are so many diet and exercise plans out there that if it really were that easy, there wouldn't be a fat person on God's green Earth. "If only they put their minds to it...." You show me a fat person who hasn't dieted-- not even once-- and I will eat my hat. Many fat people have lost a lot of weight over their lifetimes, but statistics tend to show that most people regain all that weight within several years of the loss. I have this sneaking suspicious that "yo-yo dieting" is less about self control and more about how our bodies actually work. It sure as hell doesn't have to do with your mind.

And might I add that this goes both ways. I have a best friend who is a size 00. She hates it. But her metabolism is such that she will often consume an entire box of Oreos in a day and not gain an ounce. She doesn't work out, she doesn't play sports. She has tried to gain weight many times, but her body doesn't seem to allow it. People tell her she's so lucky that she gets to eat whatever she wants, but it's certainly not healthy. If health, as you tried to imply before, is such a big concern, what about the unhealthy skinny people? Oh, right, they're perfectly fine because at least bones aren't jiggly and repulsive. (And this friend totally doesn't mind at all when strangers dare to walk up to her and ask if she has an eating disorder).


...Because fat people don't know anything about diets.... 

Then again, I guess these characters are in Overeaters Anonymous. So ... points for trying? 

This reeks of sarcasm. Points for being a douche.

Then again, I tend to think most television shows are a kind of junk food for the mind and body. The boob tube gives us an excuse to turn off both our brains and our bodies and probably does a helluva lot to contribute to the obesity problem, over all. So ... I don't know. 

You don't seem to know anything-- and thanks for the "junk food is the reason for fatties lol" implication. That's not oversimplifying at all.

What do you guys think? Fat people making out on TV — are you cool with it? Do you think I'm being an insensitive jerk?

You know what? I do. And I'm not entirely sure what's worse: that you're holding onto the delusion that you're a decent human being or that you holding onto the notion that you're a writer or journalist of any kind. As someone who is working on breaking into the field of journalism, I am appalled to see someone as talentless and uncouth as you are being given a columnist position, even if the column is just a blog. You mention at some point in the comments that you posted this piece without editing, and that it was something you just did quickly-- that you would do something like that takes away any shred of credibility you possibly could have had. You could have written a piece that engaged in a conversation about aesthetics while utilizing research and something we call tact, but instead you opted to do this. And, really, as insulted as I am as a fat person, I am almost more insulted as a journalist. You have shown that you have no respect for your job or your audience. You are not a writer.

Honestly, this piece has me so angry that it's difficult to articulate how I feel. There is so much to say, but my blood is boiling and the words aren't coming so easily. Because what I see here is a woman who feels she has the right to take away the humanity of others based on her personal preferences. We are all entitled to find people unattractive. You don't have to find fat people beautiful or sexy, but that doesn't make them subhuman. That doesn't make them disgusting. Bullying has been such an important topic lately that few people would be able to deny that our cruelties can kill.

All love as good love, no matter what size package it comes in.

And now you'll have to excuse me-- this fatass has a make-out session to get to.


*Will you be in New York tomorrow? Take the day off work and join the kiss in protest!


Laells said...

Very well said. If I had ranted about that on my own blog there would've been far more cussing. lol

You articulate your rants very well.

In all seriousness though, people like that just make me sad. It makes me so sad to know that there are such narrow minded people in the world. It's even more appalling when you see stuff like this and they appear to think that the garbage that they're spewing out is perfectly okay and acceptable.

I would like to see more articles out there on how to be a decent and kind human being rather than trash like this but I think I may have to keep my fingers crossed for a while on that one.


The Shopping Forecast said...

This is a great blog to read! Very well said indeed!

Rose said...

thank you.
when i read the maura kelly article i was just stunned.
i'm still too angry/upset/offended/sad/hurt to do anything about it, to write anything.
I'm clinically a normal weight, but with a history of an eating disorder, when someone talks about "fat" people, i put myself in that category. Her piece hurt me so much. And also just made me fucking pissed that idiots like this get paid & even have an audience.
So, thanks for putting into words so perfectly something that I feel I can't.

Anonymous said...

"If you could shame people skinny, we would all fit into sample sizes. All the shaming has done is make people feel alienated and degraded, even the skinny ones. Promoting a single idea of what is aesthetically pleasing has damaged people at every point on the weight spectrum."
This is a fantastic statement, & I agree wholeheartedly with your eloquent observation.
I'm in the same boat as Rose. 5 years of anorexia, as well as 3 years of recovery, has led me to realize exactly how little my actual weight & appearance impacts my happiness, or even my sense of self. When people degrade & deride "fatties", it hurts, because I KNOW the speakers are talking about me when they have no idea. I feel like a secret chubby spy, finding out firsthand what people really think & doing my best to inform, infect & inspire them to be, well, not utter assholes.
What continues to enrage & sadden me the most is how lucky I've come to feel to have been anorexic, as opposed to having the far less recognized (& respected) Binge Eating Disorder. People with BED still have EDs, but because they're not scrawny, covered in white fur, & going bald, they get none of the concern & compassion that anorexics & bulimics get from complete strangers.
Now, at 22, 6 years after a spinal cord injury & 3 years after the damaged nerves began malfunctioning, sending garbled signals my brain can only read as relentless agony, I know what it's like to use food for comfort. When I'm out of opiate analgesics, I reach for sugar, & it's changing my body in ways I'm literally helpless (paralysis, yo) to stop. How can I exercise with wasted muscles & constant pain?
I’m still not overweight. But it’s been impossible, for a long time, for me to blindly judge a fat stranger for daring to leave the house. It’s the shamers who ought to be shamed, & ashamed, & possibly forced to eat their way out of a cake prison.

Kimberley said...

Bravo Vanessa, bravo. You put it so well and readers everywhere are applauding you! I was nodding my head every time you added a comment. x

Allison said...

*Standing Ovation for Vanessa!*


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