Fatphobia and sizeism have always been prevalent in the media, but I have rarely seen it expressed as explicitly as it was on magazine Marie Claire’s website Oct. 25. The vast majority of women’s magazines use photos to promote an ideal that involves only one body type: the white, straight, perfectly made-up, incredibly thin woman we all know so well.
Most of these magazines at least pretend they care about body acceptance, as long as you’re working out and trying really hard to get thin – but not Marie Claire blogger Maura Kelly.
In one of her recent posts, Kelly decided to forgo the farce and publicly declare her fat-phobic sentiments, voicing the underlying sizeism on which most women’s magazines rely.
The post appears in Kelly’s blog, titled “A Year of Living Flirtatiously.” The entry can still be found on the Marie Claire website. The title of the offending piece is “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” Yes, you did just read that correctly.
Let’s just take a moment and think about that. First of all, the word “fatties” is problematic and can be incredibly offensive. In that one phrase Kelly is separating “fatties” from the general public, and calling them out specifically to “get a room”. The “fatties” she is referring to are Mike and Molly, the two title characters on CBS new sitcom “Mike and Molly.” The show is standard prime-time sitcom fare, except for the fact that these two characters are overweight and met in Overeaters Anonymous.
What do these “fatties” need to get a room for? A kiss. Albeit, a rather steamy one, but it was not sex nor a stripping scene. It was a simple kissing scene which happens on television between “normal” actors daily. If Kelly didn’t make her disdain for larger people clear enough in the title, in the post she spells it out for us. She writes , “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.”
Excuse me? What? Think about if you replaced “fatties” with any other marginalized group. That doesn’t sound right, does it? However, sizeism is still socially acceptable, even standard in our society, which frequently makes fun of overweight people. It is socially acceptable to exclude people of size in fashion magazines, degrade them on reality television, and make “fat jokes” about them.
What was nearly worse than the original piece was the response by the magazine. Marie Claire’s ediotr in chief excused Kelly as a “provocative blogger” and stood by what she wrote, even after feminist pop-culture website Jezebel reported Marie Claire receiving 18,000 angry emails about the blog post. The post generated countless comments that read along the lines of “Consider my subscription cancelled.”
Does Kelly think her article is out of line? Nope. She writes later in the piece, “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.” Oh really Maura Kelley? Good to know. I’m sure you have black friends too, and therefore could never be called racist, regardless of what you say.
Kelly goes on to talk about her concern for the overweight, claiming she would “find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine [the misspelling is hers] addict slumping in a chair.” Since when is obesity the same as an extremely unhealthy drug addiction?
She even goes on to give “helpful” diet tips, saying “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.” Yes, because you know, obese people just haven’t put that much thought into their weight. And even though she says she also doesn’t like looking at people who are anorexic, she does find it more respectable than fatness:
“Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny.” So some people are naturally skinny but nobody is naturally fat? I don’t think so, Maura Kelley.
Yes, it is possible for a lot of people to lose weight. But what about those who can’t, either due to their economic situation or a physical problem?
Being overweight is not always unhealthy. Weight and health are NOT the same thing. Weight measures the force that gravity has on your body; health is a complex mix of internal and external factors. Most people however, still confuse the two things, which is part of the problem with eradicating fatphobia: we are taught that anyone who is fat is unhealthy.
Some organizations exist to fight these fat-phobic myths, such as a non-profit called Health At Every Size. The organization tries to teach young women about how weight and health are not the same thing. On their main website page they state that their mission is to “acknowledge that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people – of all sizes – in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.”
Even scientists acknowledge the fact that health exists at every size. Some scientific studies have begun to find that fat can be healthy, with the New York Times reporting that “a number of studies (show) that men and women who were a few pounds overweight but physically active had less risk of developing cardiac disease than people who were of normal weight but sedentary.” This kind of information is not advertised on the covers of these women’s magazines, which usually touts workouts that will get you “healthy” by losing those “last ten pounds.”
Think about it this way – having a little too much of something is probably better than not having enough. Some studies even mention that some fat can be good for you. For example, a new article on livescience.com summarizes a body of research showing that “hip and thigh fat can help to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.”
Kelley’s insensitive article has not only incited the huge amount of Marie Claire reader backlash – it has set the blogosphere aflame. The fury even lead to action in the real world. A “Big Fat Kiss-in” was staged in front of the Marie Claire offices in New York City, organized by popular fat acceptance blog “Big Fat Blog.”
Jezebel’s writers provided several responses to Kelly’s post. The most scathing was written by blogger Dodai Stewart, titled “If you’re fat-phobic, you’re also an ignorant, bigoted idiot.” While that sounds harsh, the point Stewart makes is that you cannot judge someone based on their weight alone. She writes, “Point being, you cannot LOOK at someone and make a judgment about his or her health. So you shouldn’t. And really: Even if you do know why someone is thin or fat, what business is it of yours?”
So now you must be wondering, what happened to Maura Kelly? She is still writing for Marie Claire, updating her blog several times a week. She did apologize in print, saying, “I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I’ve said in this post. 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.”
Her apology was not accepted by very many of the outraged readers, mainly because she places the blame on the “too fat” reader rather than herself. Well I’m sorry I’m offended too, Maura Kelly. I’m also sorry you can’t take responsibility for your own words and actions.
Eating junk food and being sedentary is not healthy, and may lead to weight gain. However, it is completely possible to be overweight and healthy, and this is the message that most mainstream media sources, and our society in general, tends to flat-out deny.