Occasionally it happens that a magazine or website publishes something so outrageously objectionable and intellectually dishonest that the internet bands together, points its collective finger at the the offending writer and bellows, "Shame on you!" Such was the case yesterday when Marie Claire posted, perhaps, the most detestable thing I have ever read online ("family values" political articles excluded). You’d think the title — "Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)" — would say it all, but that’s sadly only the beginning.
The article was written by Maura Kelly, a frequent contributor to Marie Claire‘s "Living Firtatiously" blog, and I wish I could say the premise was something constructive. "Do shows like Huge and Mike & Molly glorify life-threatening obesity?" for example. Or "Is the overweight epidemic in America perpetuated by certain TV programs?" Or even something with a regular degree of offensive rhetoric, like "Do size zeroes and twos looks better on TV?"
But no. Kelly’s article was framed around this question from her editor: "Do you feel uncomfortable when you see overweight people making out on television?"
Yep, you read that correctly: When you see someone outside of Hollywood’s conventional standard of beauty receiving affection from someone who loves them, does it make you feel squicky inside?
Oh, how I wish Kelly had answered "No!" Or how I wish she had answered in a way that even hinted at valuable discourse. You know, something along the lines of, "Legitimate obesity is deadly, and it worries me when I see any form of entertainment panegyrize it." But, again: nope! Kelly spewed enough caustic and cliched nonsense that she sounded like a playground bully by the second paragraph.
CBS’ comedy Mike & Molly
I debated whether or not to include any text from Kelly’s article in this post because the language has the potential to be hurtful. I decided to pull some of her quotes, not to go on some kind of recipro-persecution tangent, but because I’d like to combat Kelly’s misinformation with truth, and open up a safe dialogue where we can talk about the issues Marie Claire should have addressed in their article.
Like I said, Kelly uses the CBS comedy Mike & Molly — a show that, according the CNN article she cited as her source, "centers around a couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous [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" — as a launching point.
Kelly’s problems with the show follow this train of thought: There’s a difference between being overweight and obese; Mike and Molly are obese; obese people cost America a gazillion dollars in healthcare each year. Therefore, yes! She would be "grossed out" by watching two obese characters make out.
If you think that defies logic, you’re right. It’s a weak prop for a nasty stream of vitriol. And the non-sequitirs keep coming.
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.
From "healthcare" to "aesthetically displeasing" in a single paragraph break. The leaps in "logic" are dizzy-making: Obese people gross her out when they’re walking the same way heroin addicts gross her out when they’re shooting up! And if you’re not deeply offended, substitute the word "gay" for the word "fat," and see where you land on the scale of outrage.
When I emailed my sister the article, this is what she immediately fired back:
You know what? There are plenty of people in our state — hell, in our family — who would be offended and grossed out to see you existing in the same space as your girlfriend, much less making out with her, and there’s no WAY we would accept that as a valid opinion.
(Always the Gay Warrior, my sister!)
ABC Family’s recently canceled Huge
Kelly goes on to say she has "some friends who could be considered plump." And then she hands out some free weight loss advice: "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." The first thing is a weaker beam of support than the health care argument — "This article can’t be that horrible; I have some friends who are fat." And the second thing is so profoundly uninformed that I cannot believe it made it past an editor.
Yes, obesity is a serious problem in America. Some recent studies suggest that as many as 66 percent of American women are overweight. So yes, we as a country need to do a better job helping women live healthier lives. But weight loss is not simply a "mind over matter" issue. There are dozens and dozens of emotional and psychological and physical factors that contribute to weight gain. Add that to the specific societal pressures women face, the high cost of eating unprocessed foods, the lack of affordable fitness centers in many areas of the country, and the abundance of political candidates who want to regulate what a woman can do with her body, and you will begin to see that weight loss isn’t some kind of binary conundrum with a black and white solution.
There are solutions, of course. Lots of solutions. But articles like Marie Claire‘s force women into a cycle of shame, and words like "grossed out" and "fattie" and "aesthetically displeasing" will never empower them to break free.
Now is the time for honest, empathetic dialogue. It’s the time for women’s magazines to take a stand and say, "Women of all shapes and sizes and colors are gorgeous — and here are some legitimate ways you can make sure your beauty is a reflection of a healthy lifestyle."
After the backlash yesterday, Kelly apologized in an addendum. She also confessed that she has struggled with anorexia in her past, something that obviously influenced her discomfort with the subject. I also want to point out that she’s written a number of gay-friendly articles on Marie Claire‘s "Living Flirtatiously" blog. And while none of that excuses the violent language she used in her post, I would like to think that the lessons of yesterday — and her apparent capacity to stand up for minorities — will ensure that she uses her power of words for good in the future.
Maybe that makes me delusionally optimistic. Or maybe it makes me the kind of person who refuses to shake Maura Kelly down to a single denominator, the way she shook down so many women who read her magazine.