weighty issues: some not-so-shocking revelations

In the past few weeks, there have been two media stories dealing with weight issues. swirling around the blogosphere.  The first was the uproar over a Marie Claire blog post, in which a staff blogger wrote openly about her disgust with overweight people on a new television sitcom. 

Sensitively titled “Should Fatties Get a Room?”, the author states:

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.

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. . . .  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.

The author then went on to give some simple advice to fat people on how to slim down.  She also revealed that her best friend is black and that she totally has gay friends, too.

Okay, just kidding on the last part. She didn’t say that.  Though she is happy to name-drop in her bio about her tight circle including a fashion designer, a hard news journalist, a couple magazine editors, a bike messenger-turned-lawyer, a professor of philosophy and an aspiring screenwriter.  Because bragging on your  sophisticated friends is such a meaningful and obvious inclusion for a one-paragraph bio.

(Note to self: add to bio the fact that my close circle of friends includes a bunch of stay-at-home moms, and one of my friends is really good friends with someone whose sister dated a celebrity).

The article sparked an outrage and numerous comments and posts were written expressing disappointment in Marie Claire for letting someone write such mean-spirited words about overweight people. 

Now, my reaction to this?  Sure, I was annoyed by the author, especially when I read that she has struggled with an eating disorder most of her life.  Can we say countertransference?  And also because she is picking on Melissa McCarthy, who I adore since her years at The Groundlings, and who I think is one of the most gifted comedians on the planet.  But rather than get on the Maura-bashing bandwagon, my thought is:

REALLY? People are surprised?

A woman who works for the very industry responsible for distorting women’s body image is saying out loud what the magazines have been covertly saying for years, and NOW we are gonna get our panties in a wad?  I don’t get the outrage.  I think what Maura said, offensive as it may be, is an accurate reflection of a fashion magazine, where typically women larger than a size 2 are rarely featured.  (And when they are it is done in some kind of self-congratulatory, “othering” way).

Case in point, some photos from Marie Claire’s online “Meet the Marie Claire Models” section:

Okay, we’ll come back to that.  The second story was on Oprah – who had Portia De Rossi on the show.  Portia was finally speaking out on her eating disorder.

Portia de Rossi Picture 6

Newsflash, Oprah production team: WE ALREADY KNEW.

I don’t mean to be snarky about Portia, or about eating disorders.  Portia seems like a genuine, lovely person and I have been a therapist long enough to see the way an eating disorder wreaks havoc on the lives of women and their families.  It is a miserable, miserable condition to live with, and recovery is very difficult. 

What grates me, though, is how the media is acting like her coming forward with the health consequences of being so thin is some kind of secret revelation:

OMG! You know that actress with the visible ribcage and bony shoulders?  You are not gonna believe this, but it turns out that she was NOT at a healthy weight!

And also?  Someone employed by a fashion magazine revealed a bias against fat people!!

I mean, really, why is any of this a surprise to us?  In order to keep up with the body standards on television and/or magazines, most women need to starve themselves.  I’m sure there are a lucky few that naturally maintain a taut size 0 into their thirties, but the majority of women we see on tv are just really, really hungry.   And yet, I‘ve only heard one actress willing to talk about this reality.  Julianne Moore  admits:

“I hate dieting. I hate having to do it to be the 'right' size. I’m hungry all the time. I think I’m a slender person, but the industry apparently doesn’t.  All actresses are hungry all the time, I think.” ”

Personally, I’d like to see an actress playing a mom with a little post-baby bulge. I’d like to see someone play a mom who actually looks like a woman who carried a baby in a stretched-beyond-recognition tummy for nine months that does not retract upon giving birth.  I’m sick of ridiculously toned actresses playing mothers of young children, with no provision for how they are staying so thin written into the script.  Because, dude, if you pop out three kids and then look like this:

then there should be a plotline revolving around all the working out and dieting you are doing.

Can I get a witness?

I’d like to see someone who looks like me.  A “medium”.  A size 8/10, pear-shaped, not-totally-fat-but-not-skinny REGULAR OLE’ PERSON.

I am sick of the dichotomy of underweight women as “normal” and then extremely overweight people as character devices.  With no judgments for my naturally skinny and naturally heavy fellow women, I just think it’s unhealthy that more regular-sized people are so rarely portrayed.  Even in writing this, I’m trying to think of an example of an average-sized actress and I’m coming up short. 

And sure, there is a perfect straw-man argument here in regards to the unhealthiness of being overweight.  But the health risks of anorexia are certainly as serious as someone who is obese, and I rarely see people recoiling in horror at images of skinny actresses, or writing earnest blog posts about their risk of osteoperosis or losing their hair.  I mean, why isn’t someone calling for bony people to get a room?

Not that they should.  I’m just saying there is a double standard for the “unhealth” that we are willing to accept, and we seem all-too-willing to tolerate the physical manifestations of anorexia that permeate our visual culture. all the live-long day.  And again, I get that some people are gonna be naturally thin their whole life.  I’m married to one of them.  I’m just saying that the over-representation of SHOCKINGLY THIN people in the media seems to be one of those societal norm that we all shrug our shoulders at and then ignore . . . until somebody like Maura says something stupid, or an actress is brave enough to say, you know? Looking like this is slowly killing me.

So, my reaction?  Yes, I’m outraged.  But  I’m have been for a long time now.  it’s a slow burn, and it’s been building since I was a teenager and first started reading fashion magazines, stoked by my own experience of healthy living and still struggling with my weight, and fueled further by my work with women who have eating disorders.  It’s not directed towards Maura – become ultimately she is just a victim of a much larger system, and she was merely a poorly-edited spokesperson for a culture that rewards women for being scarily underweight.

I feel like we have come to a point where being thin is so so linked to our notions of beauty and success that we no longer even notice that it’s a problem.  We are just outraged when someone says it out loud, because it is this unspoken rule that we all “get” but never speak.

And the problem is so pervasive and so entrenched in our society’s subconscious that I’m not really sure how to solve it.


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