A few years ago, my nephew walked up to me and proclaimed, apropos of nothing: "You're fat!" It made me remarkably sad. Not because I was being teased, I can handle that. But because this was someone who has known me since birth and despite all the things he knows me to be -- an aunt, a writer, a director, a journalist, an animal lover, a remarkable ping-pong player -- all he could see me as was fat. But I didn't blame him. For one, I am overweight, and have been most of my life. For another, he lives in a society that says criticizing someone for their weight is the last acceptable form of bigotry there is. And finally, most importantly, he was eight-years-old.
So what's Jeff Wells's excuse? In an interview out of Cannes last week with the cast of Alexander Payne's Nebraska, the blogger dedicated a good portion of his column on a rant about how no decent man would ever be caught dead with a fatty. In the film, Will Forte's love interest is played by Missy Doty (not "Miss Doty," as Wells credits her) who you might remember as the plus-size waitress that takes Thomas Haden Church home in Sideways. Wells writes (and the bolding is his, mind you): "I told Forte that while I've seen guys who look like him hooked up with women who are ample and busty and zaftig and maybe even a little chubby, I've never seen guys like him with a steady girlfriend as plus-sized as Doty. Some guys are chubby chasers and that's cool, but I've never seen a thin, nice-looking guy with an obese girl in my entire life. Chubby, zaftig, overweight... okay. But not obese."
He then gets even deeper into his psychosis, saying Payne was just trying to push his buttons. "The bottom line is that Payne cast Doty as Forte's girlfriend because he wanted to get a rise out of guys like me. You know he did. He knows it's a provocation. Don't buy that elegant smoothie act -- Payne sometimes likes to do the nervy thing."
Let me be clear: I have laughed at (and written) my share of fat jokes and I believe there's no sacred cows when it comes to comedy. But when people say things like this without irony, it alarms me. We've been down this road before. Perhaps most recently and famously with the Marie Claire piece sensitively titled "Should Fatties Get a Room (Even on TV)?" in which the "writer" Maura Kelly complained that she didn't want to see Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell making out on Mike & Molly. I put "writer" in quotes because, among other errors, Kelly even misspelled "heroine" in her rant. Kelly doesn't just mind seeing overweight people make out, she doesn't even want them violating her eyeline as she states: "I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room."
I've made this point countless times before but had either of these writers replaced "fatties" or "obese" with any other group of people -- Jewish, African-American, gay and lesbian -- this kind of blatant hate speech would not be tolerated. I will give them credit however, for putting their name on their bigotry, unlike the anonymous users on social media. (I'm looking at you, 5bluefire!) I don't actually begrudge Kelly for her article -- she's clearly screwed up and she issued an apology -- what mortifies me is that a "women's" publication like Marie Claire had no hesitation in running it.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life and while I could talk about my battles with dieting or give excuses (it really is glandular!!) for my size, I don't talk about it much because it doesn't define who I am. Despite what the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch may think, I don't feel as if I'm not one of the "cool kids." And I've never let my weight stop me from doing something I really want to do, whether it be bungee jumping or wearing a swimsuit on the beach without one of the damn skirts on it. I definitely have moments of frustration or despair but in general I feel beautiful and assured and have rarely had a problem finding a date -- even, believe it or not -- with thin guys!
And yet, there are those who will always be fixated on my weight. I've done wildly popular video interviews with the likes of Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling where they were funny, revealing, and fascinating and yet there's always a few viewers who would rather talk about "the fat girl wearing a curtain" talking to them.
I know I should feel bad for these people, with such narrow-minded views of beauty. I know that when someone tells me they'd hire me for broadcast journalism if I would lose weight, this isn't a person I'd want to work with anyway. And I know that when I hear guys talking about how Melissa McCarthy is "kind of cute for a big girl" I should just laugh and remind myself they wouldn't have a chance with someone as gorgeous and amazing as she is. But I will admit that sometimes it gets to me, this constant reminder that because I am too much, I am somehow not enough. I see it all the time in the people who look through me when I speak, the oh-so-subtle comments about a new fad diet, and the waiter who constantly brings me Diet Coke when I clearly asked for regular. And when I see people standing behind their bigoted remarks proudly, all but saying, "Amirite??" I sometimes have moments where I wonder if I really am the unlovable, horrible beast they say I am. Why is weight the one thing people feel free being openly biased about? It makes my head spin.
And then I stress-eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Amirite?