Marie Claire has done it again! After the article that rocked the food-blogging world (which was nasty, sneaky and unfair... and also made some very valid points that I am still thinking about) last month, the lady mag is back in fine foot-in-mouth form with a new article titled "Should Fatties Get a Room (Even on TV)?" The article claims to explore whether programming starring happy fat people is "disturbing" and "implicitly promoting obesity." Their unsurprising fashion-mag answer: yes and yes. (Which I find hilariously ironic considering their main complaint about the food bloggers is that they promote unhealthy ideals with their obsessive food restriction and exercise. Apparently you can't win unless you spring forth from the womb perfectly formed.)
I don't watch TV. If you didn't know that explicitly you have probably guessed it from how culturally clueless I am. And yet I do remember one thing from hazy college TV-show obsessed days (Holla Felicity and America's Next Top Model!) and that is this: You don't mess with Sookie. Gilmore Girls was brilliant and not just because I couldn't decide who I wanted to be more -- Alexis Bledel or her "mom" Lauren Graham as they were both so witty and adorable. All of the characters on the show were funny, relatable and entertaining. One of the standouts on the show Sookie, played by Melissa McCarthy, who was a chef, a spitfire of a best friend and a comedienne in her own right. Oh and did I mention she was a bit chubby?
Well the (un-Kirstie Alley) fat actress has a new show out called Mike and Molly about an overweight couple who meets at Overeaters Anonymous and falls in love. Typical schlocky sitcom hijinks ensue and the show would probably have barely shown up on the radar if it were not for Marie Claire blogger Maura Kelly's post on how a show featuring two obese people in love is disgusting. In her own words, "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."
Wow, did she really just say that out loud? Yep. And she continues with the tired I-have-a-fat/gay/black/grinder monkey for a friend trope:
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.)
Oh, well, if you know a fat janitor then it's totally okay! She goes on to tell obese people that if they just try hard enough they can lose the weight writing, "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." and then giving overly simplistic, albeit true tips like "eat more fresh and unprocessed foods" and "visit your local YMCA." Yes, it really is that bad.
But now that I've pointed out the egregious error -- and it is as easy as falling of the curb to jump on Kelly, heck half the Internet is (the other half is too busy arguing over whether Christine O'Donnell is a moronic constitutional illiterate or a nuanced legal genius) -- I feel inclined to point out that she's really not the problem. Many, many people feel this way. Remember Anna Wintour being horrified at the Mall of America not by the fact that Forever 21 sits right next to Prada but because she thinks all Midwesterners look like "little houses?" Most people just don't say it out loud. Kelly is the whipping girl because she wrote it in black and white (and doesn't have the entire fashion world at her back).
Jezebel points out that, to her credit, Kelly tries to atone in the comments by saying her remarks are lingering effects of her previous history of anorexia. "Though I don't think of myself as anorexic any more, being freaked out by obesity to the insensitive, even cruel, point that I was is certainly a vestige of the anorexic mindset; maybe so was being righteous about how easy it is to lose weight. (Because once I lost an extreme amount of weight, of course -- about half my body weight -- etc.)." I can personally attest to the mental havoc that eating disorders wreak. Not only do you have no concept of what you as a person look like, you really don't see other people accurately either. And the crazy doesn't go away just because you start eating again.
So I don't fault her for thinking these thoughts -- she is just parroting the cultural zeitgeist of body-hate -- but I think we should focus on the larger issue of challenging the validity of these thoughts. For me, I don't care whether or not obese people are "gross" to watch or kiss. I don't care if they're more expensive to insure or are taking up two airplane seats or are riding zebras in Kenya whilst singing "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts." The point for me is that they are people before they are anything else. And all people, whether they be obese or elderly or handicapped or colicky infants or felons or rogue inflatable-slide-riding flight attendants, deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
How do you feel about a TV show starring two happy obese people? What do you think of Kelly's take on it? Is her history of an eating disorder a valid mea culpa?