I'm a foreign policy guy. Chances are this is my first and last post on social issues in America. But Marie Claire's heinous attack on human dignity published in the form of an 'innocent' blogpost by Maura Kelly about the CBS sitcom Mike and Molly, which is about two obese people falling in love, enraged me to the point where I had to say something. If you know the story too well and are tired of it, skip to 5.
1. The Blogpost
Reading the post that sparked this controversy, one can easily see the author for who she is -- after all, the headline reads, "Should 'Fatties' Get a Room? (Even on TV?)."
Only a bigot could write:
"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 [sic] addict slumping in a chair."
(Don't mind her inability to spell heroin right... Or mine to spell druggie right.)
Only an individual filled with hate could think it is okay to say:
"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."
(Just like if you have one or two black friends, you can't be a racist, right?)
And only a heartless person could pull this one off,
"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."
Did she seriously think people, especially women with weight issues, won't be reading her blogpost? And at the end of her crusade against overweight people she asks, "Do you think I am an insensitive jerk?" I'll let you decide whether she is by reading her full post if you haven't. But it's kinda like herpes: it just keeps on giving.
2. The Apology
To the shock of Marie Claire and Ms. Kelly, thousands of people found the post offensive. Over a thousand comments were posted on her page (and counting), Twitter went berserk with criticism of her and Marie Claire, and both of their Facebook pages were filled with remarks by angry citizens who were simply appalled at the level of bigotry. This prompted first attempt to bury the matter. Ms. Kelly issued an apology posted at the bottom of her original post. However, it was riddled with words so cruel you'd think she was either kidding or really didn't mean it.
Instead of the apology taking the form of "I'm sorry. My post was mean, cruel and tasteless. I sincerely apologize. This will never happen again. I beg you to forgive me for hurting you all so badly," it takes the standard form of, "I'm sorry if I hurt anyone." (Not a quote). In other words, if no one who'd be potentially hurt hadn't read it, it was a well-written, thoughtful and insightful piece.
Some of the gems from the apology include:
Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much.
What exactly did you want people to do? Write comments like, "Yeah, I really find them gross?"
And for whatever it's worth, I feel just as uncomfortable when I see an anorexic person as I do when I see someone who is morbidly obese, because I assume people suffering from eating disorders on either end of the spectrum are doing damage to their bodies, and that they are unhappy.
Insult the anorexic to please the obese? That trick only works when everyone is as clueless as you are. And who says overweight people cannot find happiness? So what? All these "fat people" that I know who have enriched my life, who have given me joy and happiness, who I call friends -- and one of whom I proudly call mom -- aren't happy in life according to you because they're fat?
Needless to say, the apology was not accepted by the masses. That's when the magazine decided to take things into their own hands.
3. Marie Claire Acts
Instead of immediately taking the post off and issuing and pasting the non-apology in its stead, the magazine staffers kept the post and jumped in to defend Ms. Kelly. Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles had this to say about the writer of the post:
"Maura Kelly is a very provocative blogger... She was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about."
Having mental issues with weight is a life-long problem for some, I understand that and sympathize with anyone who's facing it. But why would you have a recovering anorexic write about weight issues? Don't you think she'd be biased in her opinion to begin with? It's like asking an on-again-off-again KKK member to critique Roots. Then she does more damage by letting this slip:
Coles said the mag has received over 28,000 email responses to the piece, and that Kelly was "excited and moved by their responses."
Wait, why was she excited? Because she's managed to hurt the feelings of at least 28,000 people who took the time to write about this to Marie Claire? (Not to mention the countless more who tweeted about this, or wrote comments on Facebook, or whose souls were crushed and who shed tears and tried to forget about this whole affair without uttering a word.)
This is the person you entrust with such a deeply emotional issue for people who don't fit your perspective of beautiful or normal or even acceptable?
While Coles made clear that she hasn't actually seen Mike & Molly, she added "I'm concerned about a show that makes fun of large people."
And you asked one of your bloggers who finds overweight people gross to address those concerns?
Editors are supposed to not just click spell-check on MS Word. They're supposed to read things and judge them by their content as well. If something is insensitive, hateful and generally unproductive, editors are supposed to not publish it. Ms. Coles is just as responsible for this post as Ms. Kelly is. What should've happened was for the post to be replaced with a sincere apology and for Ms. Coles to come forward and issue her own sincere apology for letting this shameful attack on people's image get published.
Obviously, when they failed at their second attempt at quelling this, they tried it a third time by attempting to turn this into a debate by hastily arranging for some of their plus-sized bloggers to try and kill the fire. There's an old saying in Persian, "The more you stir fresh feces, the more it will smell."
They published two blogposts (here and here) that were both meant to make those damned 'fatties' feel good about themselves, stop hatin' on Marie Claire and not cancel their magazine subscriptions. But there was a priceless comment on one of those articles that really made anything else from the magazine redundant:
"How "kind" of Marie Claire to offer a counterpoint to Maura Kelly's vile, fat-hating column? You seem to be under the impression that whether or not fat people have the right to appear in public is up for discussion, a mere matter of debate. I eagerly look forward to seeing what other groups your editorial board deems unfit for public existence. You could make it a theme - a new bigotry for every issue."
You'd think the folks at Marie Claire would have felt bad about hurting so many people and stopped stoking the fire already. This tweet from their Twitter account says otherwise:
RT @jet_set: Frankly, I'm more upset w/ @marieclaire for their obvious anti-TV bias. Not a "TV person"? That's jst insufferable. I cry foul!
4. The Online Defense
The epic failure of Marie Claire, however, is lost on some people. These folks who're a small minority have come up with cute little excuses to try and put down this issue on their own.
Excuse 1: People secretly agree with this post, what's the big deal?
The big deal isn't one person pulling this bigoted post which will undoubtedly go down as a masterpiece in the annals of hatred. It is the audacity of a reputable international magazine for women to make thousands of women feel like their bodies are unworthy. That they are ugly. That their mere presence on our television screens is a public offense.
I know that many overweight women have image issues and they know that there are people out there that look at them and judge them by their BMI. However, at least those people are kind enough to not come up to them and say it to their faces. Because that would be mean. A reputable international magazine for women just came forward and told millions of women that its staff thinks they're gross. It gave a bigot the platform to come out and hurt millions of people. That is a very big deal.
Excuse 2. Knock it off. Freedom of speech enshrined in the US constitution allows her to do this.
Dr. Laura used it to defend her n-word tirade. Juan Williams used it to defend his statements on Fox. Now, folks are using it for her. Well, guess what, that's not what freedom of speech is about in this country. What the constitution of this country says is clear: the government will not pass any laws to prevent people from speaking their minds. The government, not Dr. Laura's employers, not NPR and certainly not those who have been offended by Marie Claire. Translation: we can deplore their actions ad infinitum and continue to demand that they issue a sincere apology.
Maybe we can get all these 'freedom of speech'-touters to a PoliSci101 class where we can beat some understanding of the constitution into these jackwagons. (Thanks Geico.)
Excuse 3. Who cares about Marie Claire anyway?
Beyond their own readers, I doubt anyone else does. What people do care about is how it has hurt them and their loved ones. I'd call that very reasonable.
5. The Conclusion
I'm not a personal issues expert. But I'm a human being living in the West who knows what's going on. And what I see is this: there is an incredible amount of bias perpetuated against overweight people in the media. They are almost never the central character -- always neatly tucked in as a secretary, the nurse or a character who's too old to rouse romance. The last time I saw overweight people in a movie as the central character was in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and recently in Precious. Both the movies had a bit to do with weight.
When they appear on TV shows, it's about weight. Guess who the loser in The Biggest Loser is... Guess who's huge on Huge (by the way, a very witty show that got canceled). And when it comes to commercials, There're always those damn 'fatties' that can't seem to lose their weight without this or that new magical drug or diet.
Criminals can and do get central characters, otherwise. Druggies do. Even rapists and child abusers get more frequently featured. Fat people just aren't good enough. (And to come to this realization right now just truly, deeply and profoundly upset me.)
The only shows, commercials or movies in which they get treated as normal people are those oriented towards the African-American population. Kudos to them for having the empathy. Only the oppressed can feel the pain of the oppressed.
Overweight people have become marginalized by the media simply because they're overweight. Just like African Americans were marginalized because they were black and more recently, gay people because they're gay. I understand fully that unlike the color of someone's skin or someone's sexual orientation obesity is a medical condition and a problem, but obese people aren't. That is the issue. That is the problem. That is what both overweight, "normal" weight and underweight people need to come together and fight against.
The first step towards losing weight is not putting your mind to it. It is not making a list of things you will absolutely not do. It is not locking up the fridge. It is knowing that even if you fail at losing weight, people will still love you for who you are and not the number of pounds you're packing. That people will judge you by your character and not because you are unhealthy weight-wise (and some people are perfectly healthy even when they are overweight). It is that feeling that you are doing this for yourself not because you have to fit a mould created for you.
That cannot be accomplished as long as Western culture continues to brand people who weigh more than what it deems aesthetically pleasing as unacceptable. It's gotten so bad that even a few people who're skinny live in constant fear that they might add a few pounds and not look beautiful enough to not be judged by people. And since media plays a huge part in formulating our cultural perceptions, it needs to change immediately -- whether people like Ms. Kelly like it or not.
To that end, I urge everyone who finds size-ism in the media as a menace to view this as a watershed moment. It's time to come together and fight this bigotry to the bitter end. Change does not come without someone pushing for it. If we want this to change, if we want for us, overweight or not, to not be judged by our BMI, we need to not let this fire die down.
We need to stand up and demand change. Even if it means we need to force the issue daily on social networking sites. Even if it means we have to boycott media that continue to practice this bigotry. Even if it means we have to hold peaceful demonstrations for the end of this practice. If media does not change, we cannot change this culture that seems to have been forever marginalizing overweight people.
It's not just people judging you on the street. It's about losing job opportunities. It is about equal treatment in the health care system. It is about being able to breathe, knowing everything's gonna be alright.
The media's side-stepping the issue and pretending all's well reminds me of a scene from the movie Good Luck Chuck. Chuck is hexed so any girl who sleeps with him ends up meeting the love of her life in the next few days. His overweight secretary finds out about this and like any woman, she wants to find the lover of her life. She corners him one night and begs him to have sex with her, but he won't. It goes on for a couple of minutes. Then, finally when he's on the ground and she's on top of him and he refuses, she tears up and says, "It's okay. Close your eyes and pretend I'm someone beautiful." He looks up, visibly moved, and says, "I'll pretend it's you."
Well, pretending is just not good enough anymore.
In the spirit of free speech, I urge Marie Claire to republish this blogpost on their website and attempt a fourth time to clear their name. If my post is unacceptable because of the anger or because I'm a man, they can at least try to publish a post that is not just 'feel good', but also substance and criticizes them for the hurt and pain they have caused with their bigotry.
Follow Josh Shahryar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JShahryar