Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fat-Bottomed Girls

I had a few other blog post ideas for today, but those all went out the window after I read this article this morning (thanks to my friend @laurenoostveen for posting on Facebook and bringing it to the attention of my end of the interwebs). I strongly encourage you to click the link and read the whole article for yourself, as that's the only way to really get why it made me so angry (and I'm not the only one - last time I checked, there were 415 comments, most of them denouncing the piece).

While I do think the author makes some valid points - namely that it's not good to implicitly promote obesity, that obesity is a major problem in North America that costs the healthcare system (if you can call it that in the US) a lot of money, and that people who are obese do have (some) control over it and can change it if they really try.

However, I do not agree with the other 80% of the article, or at least the language used. My jaw literally fell open in shock when I read this little gem:

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 can't even put into words how rude and offensive the language is here. Perhaps the author didn't mean to be as offensive as she came across, but it doesn't matter for many reasons:

First of all, um HELLO?! You're a WRITER. Choosing words is a pretty darn big part of what you do for a living....well, actually it essentially IS what you do for a living, so it's a pretty big impossibility (and downright crazy) that you would choose the wrong words, and then proceed to permeate your ENTIRE article with these poor choices.

Secondly, this article appears in Marie Claire, which, even though my opinion of it has pretty much been flushed down the toilet now, is a fairly reputable publication that has been around a while. As such, I'm assuming that there are a team of editors on staff whose job it is to EDIT articles before they are published. Therefore, I'm assuming that at least one other set of eyes (besides the author) looked over these words before they were posted. Ergo, clearly several people on the Marie Claire staff determined that this article was well-written and suitable for public posting. Why they thought this is beyond me, but nevertheless, it happened.

While I'm all for freedom of the press/freedom of speech and encouraging public discourse, I think there are ways to do this without being unabashedly, bluntly mean and arrogant. I realize this is essentially an opinion piece, and the author is completely entitled to her opinion, but I feel that there are ways to bring up an issue and explore it while still being at least mostly impartial. I not only feel that the author used extremely poor language in her article, I also feel that she didn't explore the whole issue. I think that, as a writer (especially if you are getting PAID for what you write), if you're going to present an extreme opinion such as this, you owe it to readers to provide concrete, sensible reasons for that opinion, as well as acknowledge the other issues at play in the issue (including the opposite view to yours).

There is a time and place - if you are sitting around with friends in the comfort and privacy of your own home, you have much more leeway in terms of how bluntly you can present your opinion. But when you're posting your opinion on the Internet where ANYONE IN THE WORLD can find and read it, you do have to think about filtering at least somewhat. Either that or expect some MAJOR backlash, both to your own credibility and the credibility of a reputable publication (in this case, Marie Claire).

As I mentioned, however, the author did get one or two points right - obesity is a huge (no pun intended) problem in North America and it's only getting worse. Collectively we could all do with a little less junk food and a little more exercise. That being said, I also feel that obesity is a very COMPLEX problem. For some people, it's not as simple as eating less and exercising more; some people are overweight or obese through no fault of their own but thanks to a chronic health condition, medications, etc. Also, not everyone who is "large" is unhealthy; some people have large body types and some people have small body types. Just because someone doesn't look like a supermodel doesn't mean they are lazy and fill their face with pizza and chocolate cake all day. I'm short and have a slow metabolism, so I tend to put on weight easily if I'm not careful. But I have friends who can eat tons of food and never gain a pound because they are tall and have high metabolisms. There are SO many factors to weight and body type it's not enough to simply say 'shame on you' for being fat and why don't you do something about it.

I myself am not entirely happy with my size and shape, and I could stand to lose a few lbs. However, as anyone who has tried to get in shape knows, it's easier said than done. It can be extremely hard to stick to a diet and exercise plan and falling off the wagon at one point or another is inevitable. But I'm human and I try my best. And articles like this - and magazines like Marie Claire period, in fact - certainly don't do wonders for the motivation. Hey Maura, your trite offer of "nutrition and fitness suggestions" are much appreciated *cue eye roll* but one might be more likely to take them seriously if you didn't precede them by describing those who could benefit from said suggestions as "fatties" that you find "gross" to look at.

Want to hear something extremely shocking?! Your suggestions are completely useless anyway in the long run because (are you ready for this?): EVERYONE KNOWS IF YOU EAT BAD FOOD AND DON'T EXERCISE THAT YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT AND NOT BE HEALTHY, BUT NO ONE DOES IT BECAUSE IT'S TEN TIMES MORE FUN TO EAT CHIPS AND COOKIES AND SIT ON THE COUCH WATCHING CAKE BOSS RE-RUNS THAN IT IS TO GO FOR A RUN AND EAT A SALAD.

Egads!! The truth finally comes out. Sarcasm aside, these are suggestions that could be found in any health publication or article and most people are aware of them already in any case so you're not bringing anything new to the table. This writer really is "clueless" (and I should point out that this is HER word, not mine - check out the 2nd paragraph!).

The bottom line here is, that yes there is a huge issue with obesity in our society but there's no quick fix for it. And the last thing that will help is continuing to make fat people feel worthless and guilty by shoving hurtful words and labels (like the ones mentioned in this article) and unrealistically "attractive" images down their throats and then turning around and pointing an accusatory finger in their faces. It's like that line from Cold Mountain (that for some reason has always stuck with me), it's as though "they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'".

Obviously magazines and magazine writers are not to blame for the problem of obesity, I'm just saying they are certainly contributers to the issues surrounding it. I can't believe that, even after such an outcry has been raised in recent years, fashion magazines continue to be so out of touch with reality. I think it's particularly funny in Marie Claire's case because they are the only fashion magazine I know of that features a monthly column on full-figured fashion!! I thought Marie Claire was better than this, but apparently they are just as shallow and out of touch as all the others. Anyway, this is a whole other issue but bottom line is no one can deny that when it comes to the fashion industry, for all the envelope-pushing there is a sad lack of diversity.

Of course, the author obviously isn't entirely clueless, because she issued the following apology at the end of the article, clearly not long after the barrage of negative comments started):

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. A lot of what I said was unnecessary; it wasn't productive, either.
I know a lot of people truly struggle to lose weight— for medical and psychological reasons—and that many people have an incredibly difficult time getting to a healthy size. I feel for those people and I'm truly sorry I added to the unhappiness and pain they feel with my post.
I would like to reiterate that I think it's great to have people of all shapes and healthy sizes represented in magazines (as, it bears mentioning here, they are in Marie Claire) and on TV shows--and that in my post, I was talking about a TV show that features people who are not simply a little overweight, but appear to be morbidly obese. (Morbid obesity is defined as 100% more than their ideal weight.) 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. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge based on superficial observations.
To that point (and on a more personal level), a few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin. As I mentioned in the ongoing dialogue we’ve been carrying on in the comments section, I think that's an accurate insight.
People have accused me of being a bully in my post; I never intended to be that--it's actually the very last thing I want to be, as a writer or a person. But I know that I came off that way, and I really cannot apologize enough to the people whom I upset.

Sorry Maura, but I think it's a case of too little too late here. Ya know in court when the judge tells the stenographer to "strike that from the record"? Well, I've got news for you - it may mean the words will no longer appear on the page, but everybody still heard them.

*Sorry for the rant but this issue just really grinds my gears*

6 comments:

Eileen said...

Please don't be sorry for the rant. I agree with you completely. The entire U.S. seems to have become a nanny society where we all have to take care of every single wrong all the time.

I thought the title of the book was hilarious and signed up to get it on a goodreads.com giveaway!

Melissa said...

I agree with Eileen, do NOT be sorry for this rant. I've been fuming over that article all day and it's so satisfying to hear someone else just totally tear it apart the way I want to. The fashion industry (magazines included) has long promoted an unrealistic standard of beauty, but I never realized how their writers really feel about overweight people until I read that article.

It's like you said -- several people at Marie Claire had to read that article and think "hey, yeah, that's suitable for publication!" for it to make it onto the web. That means that many people thought the writer's opinions about obese people weren't offensive or hurtful. And that's just scary.

Kim Humes said...

I know right?! And a lot of ppl commented that it never should have made it onto the website in the first place. It says something about the magazine and the media in general that an article like that CAN be published. Part of me wonders if they did it for publicity, but I doubt it...many of the comments also said that they would never read Marie Claire again

Kim Humes said...

I know right?! And a lot of ppl commented that it never should have made it onto the website in the first place. It says something about the magazine and the media in general that an article like that CAN be published. Part of me wonders if they did it for publicity, but I doubt it...many of the comments also said that they would never read Marie Claire again

Melissa said...

I agree with Eileen, do NOT be sorry for this rant. I've been fuming over that article all day and it's so satisfying to hear someone else just totally tear it apart the way I want to. The fashion industry (magazines included) has long promoted an unrealistic standard of beauty, but I never realized how their writers really feel about overweight people until I read that article.

It's like you said -- several people at Marie Claire had to read that article and think "hey, yeah, that's suitable for publication!" for it to make it onto the web. That means that many people thought the writer's opinions about obese people weren't offensive or hurtful. And that's just scary.

Eileen said...

Please don't be sorry for the rant. I agree with you completely. The entire U.S. seems to have become a nanny society where we all have to take care of every single wrong all the time.

I thought the title of the book was hilarious and signed up to get it on a goodreads.com giveaway!

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