The Marie Claire Magazine blogger, Maura Kelly, set off an emotional tsunami when she posted her candid reaction to a TV show Mike & Molly, which centers around two characters who attend an Overeaters Anonymous group. Can we turn her "disgust" in "fat people" into a teachable moment?
If you haven't read the Marie Claire blog, here is a snippet:
"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...
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."
Take a moment and gauge your reaction. What ensued from this posting? Shock. Hate mail. Cancelled subscriptions. General outrage.
Kelly tried to explain her posting. You can hit delete but what you put out there on a blog is permanent, like a tattoo. So, at this point, the incident is over. It can't be changed. Let's focus on the "teachable lessons":
- While not the ideal way to get the ball rolling, this incident got people talking. Dialogue about weight, stereotyping and bullying are important conversations to have. It happens everyday, behind the scenes. This took it out of the closet. The incident forced people to think through how they really feel about weight and the body. People make snap judgments based on weight, thin or overweight.
- The majority of readers had very strong reactions. In general, it suggests that when push comes to shove, people don't like judgment, criticism or perpetuating the idea that women and men should be judged by their weight. Bullying, disrespect and judgment is not okay, no matter what size you are.
- The blog repeats a common myth that many people still have about obesity -- that it is a personal failure. However, it still brings up a heated, polarizing debate. Obesity is a complex issue. It doesn't just come from a lack of "willpower." Your weight is determined by an interaction of your genes, developmental issues, hormones, set point, food environment as well as a variety of other factors. Your "set point" (natural weight range) is determined by genetics, physiology (ex, if your leptin level is down due to sleep), medications, conditions like hypothyroidism, Bipolar etc. Where you fall on that range is determined by your lifestyle. The main point is to be healthy, no matter what size you are.
- Many people wrote back very harsh words about the writer. It's tempting to judge the judger. It seemed apparent that this reflected what was going on inside of her head. The blogger admitted to struggling with her own food issues. It must be very painful, for anyone, to live with this type of self-judgment. When people are angry or disgusted, it is often masks another emotion -- fear. Terrified of her own body being judged? Have you ever had this fear? When you hear extreme disordered thinking, offer help and compassion.
TIPS: If you had the urge to "do" something in response to the blog, here are some ideas.
1) Stop Fat Talk. Many people engage in what they think is harmless chit-chat about weight. "My arms are too fat." "This dress makes me look fat." These are the building blocks for the sentiments expressed in the blog. Check out the winner of "Fat Talk Free" video contest.
2) Join Operation Beautiful. The polar opposite of judgment is compassion. Join with others to spread a message of self-acceptance and empowerment. You can do so by leaving a positive note in a public place, like a bathroom mirror, with a message about how beautiful you are--just as you are!
3) Take inventory of your own judgmental thoughts about yourself and others. Ask yourself where this comes from. Being more compassionate towards others starts with being kind to yourself. Make a list of ways you could start taking care of you.
Many people who respond to this blog or Maura's blog are on extreme ends of the debate, for or against it. Hopefully, this blog helps people who aren't clear on how they feel to check in with themselves.
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is the author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health, Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz T.V. show. Visit Albers online at www.eatingmindfully.com