Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classic Fat Hating At Marie Claire But Anorexia is Important as Well

First, let me state that I am not a regular reader of Marie Claire and I stumbled upon Should Fatties Get a Room? (Even on TV) quite by accident. Apparently, the author Maura Kelly has a history of anorexia, but that did not stop her from going on a fatstravagnza of hate.
Hmm, being overweight is one thing — those people are downright obese! And while I think our country's obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it's at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny. No one who is as fat as Mike and Molly can be healthy. And obesity is costing our country far more in terms of all the related health problems we are paying for, by way of our insurance, than any other health problem, even cancer.

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.

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. And I also know how tough it can be for truly heavy people to psych themselves up for the long process of slimming down.
Here we go again with marginalized bodies not being allowed to take up space.  She doesn't believe that she is size-ist, but had no problem saying that fat people are repulsive and giving out diet advice because of course all fat people want to be skinny.  Who ever heard of a happy fat person away from a Baskin Robbins store?  To make sure she hit every single anti-fat meme, she reminds us that she has "plump friends."  How could she be hateful when she chooses to associate with some people that are supposedly outside the norm?

I think this piece at Marie Claire is a great primer in just how blatant fat hatred is, but the lesser discussed issue is the anorexia Kelly is dealing with.  In her apology she stated:

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.

Though her commentary is filled with hate, it is also a reflection of the mental illness that she is trying to negotiate.  Here are some facts to consider:
  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia 
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.) (source)
 Can we really have a conversation about the level of fat hatred in the article, without addressing anorexia?


  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide.
  • 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease
  • 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years
  • 30 – 40% ever fully recover – that’s less than half! (source)
The same conditions that create anorexia promote fat hatred. It starts with fat people being invisible in the mainstream.  The photoshopping of models into unrealistic shapes and constant pressure from the diet and exercise industry, further help to push idealized bodies.  Her commentary reflects not only her illness but the rampant fat hatred that is promoted daily by the media.  This is not to say that she should be given a pass, but that we should examine why we promote an idealized size and who it hurts.

When I read the article and learned about her history with anorexia, what I saw was a woman that is in a lot of pain. It manifested by lashing out at others and as someone who suffers from chronic pain, I can relate with the hard to control anger.  For her, fat people represent what she has learned to hate because she has an unrealistic understanding of body size.  Hate, whether it is internalized or aimed at others, is not a positive emotion and has its genesis in pain and fear. For Kelly, her post wasn't just about oppressing others to make herself feel good, but hurting others because she herself does not feel good about her body. Should we hold her to the same standard as someone who is not negotiating a mental illness? 

As a fat woman, I was angered when I read the piece, but as a disabled woman, I know all to often that disability is invisible to many, even when it is physically visible. Anorexia is a disability and our ability to simply cast it aside because it manifested in a way that hurt is a sign of disableism. Just as it is unacceptable to yell at someone who has Tourettes Syndrome who shouted the word fuck in an inappropriate place, it is wrong to attack this woman without considering the anorexia that she is dealing with. What we need to do is deal with sizeism in our society.  There are many things to be learned from her piece at Marie Claire and if we can shut down the impulse to disregard what Kelly had to say, we will see that sizeism effects people differently.