Chelsea Handler, both beloved and reviled for her brash, barbed humor, was at it again last night. And this time, she went straight for the jugular, calling Conan O'Brien's sidekick Andy Richter fat.
Chelsea: "Do you float a lot in the ocean?"
Andy: "Sure. What, do you sink? Might be that cast-iron heart."
Yes, it was a light-hearted setting. Yes, Handler is known for her "pointed" humor. Yes, Richter is perfectly capable of handling himself in such a situation, as he so readily proved.
But if a male celebrity asked a heavy-set female celebrity if she could float in the ocean, there would be outrage. So why is this being treated as a funny, light little moment in late-night comedy, with Richter celebrated for his response, but Handler more or less let off the hook?
Feminism cuts both ways, and too often, men are not protected against cruelty -- especially in regards to their bodies -- in the same way women are, based on the presumption that they're men and can deal with it. This notion is, of course, deeply offensive to both genders, presuming men are emotionless voids and women are powder kegs ready to explode into tears and distress at any moment.
But more than that, this notion ignores how the whole body image thing works... and damningly so.
I was first teased about my weight in sixth grade, when a group of boys, led by my crush, began calling me "fat" -- and worse -- on the black top playground. And I can tell you from experience that how it felt had little to do with being a woman, and everything to do with being a person attacked for something fundamental to who I was. I know what it feels like to look down at the body you've been given, and wish you could slip out if it into another entirely; to press down hard on your own flesh, willing it to go away.
These reactions are visceral, consuming and fraught, but they are not distinctly "female."
It's not just my experience that suggests men, too, are capable of feeling body shame. One recent study out of England actually found that more men than women worry about their body shape and appearance, with more than 80 percent of male subjects talking in ways suggesting body image anxiety. Another study, this one hailing from America, revealed that nearly 18 percent of adolescent boys in America are highly concerned about their weight and physique, and that those who feel that way are more likely to be depressed and engage in high-risk behaviors.
It's true, of course, that social pressures and stigmas surrounding female bodies are more acute, and that this in part accounts for more women manifesting body anxiety as an eating disorder. But this doesn't mean men aren't fully capable of feeling shame, disgust and humiliation about their bodies -- or that we shouldn't hold people accountable for attacking a man's weight, even under the guise of humor.
So lay off Chelsea, lay off.