The Big Fat Kiss-In, Fat People on Television, and the Epic Marie Claire Fail (Part 1 of 2)

Last night I had the privilege of sharing a rather chilly Manhattan sidewalk with some of the most important people living in America right now:  people willing to stand up for the right of fat people to be treated with the dignity and respect that should be afforded ALL people by virtue of the fact that they are, well, people.  The event was the Big Fat Kiss-In, held in front of the Hearst Corp building in protest of a recent blog post by Marie Claire magazine blogger Maura Kelly.  I haven’t blogged about this yet because I haven’t really had the time to sit and think of something to say that hadn’t already been said.  But I’m going to give it a shot now.

A week or so ago, a grad school classmate of mine said this in her Facebook status:

[Grad School Friend] is kinda irked that TLC is making such a big deal out of plus sized brides…why can’t they just be included in the regular series instead of making it seem like they’re “other”…?

There’s a whole body of work on the concept of “othering” that I’m just now starting to explore as my interests shift from natural science more toward social science as an adult.  Othering isn’t a tough concept to grasp, but you have to be sharp to recognize the variety of ways in which is happens, and who’s doing the othering, and who’s being othered.  If you want to know who’s being othered these days, popular culture is the place to look.  Currently, there are plenty of examples of fat people being segregated into a television ghetto where they really only appear in shows that are, to one extent or another, ABOUT their fatness.

Take the shows that fit into the format of “The Bachelor.”  Every bachelor has been thin.  Every bachelorette has been thin.  Every contestant vying for their affections has been thin.  Of course they would be, because everyone knows that romance and relationships and sex are for thin people, and that nobody would ever compete for the affections of a fat person, nor would a fat person be a legitimate competitor for the affections of a more conventionally attractive person.  Fat people were completely absent from these shows.  But then, they were given their own show, where fat women competed for the attention of a fat bachelor.  And the entire premise of the show was that it was about FAT relationships, as distinct from NORMAL or REAL relationships, which already had their own show.  Note the original shows on which this show was based were not called The Thin Bachelor or The Thin Bachelorette.  It is taken as as given that a show about romance and sex will feature only thin people.  It goes without mentioning. But when there’s a show where the participants are heavy, it has to be pointed out in the title, and it has to be the entire point of the show.  It’s othering.

Anyway, back to GSF’s FB status on the show about plus-size brides.  Most of the comments by her friends were enlightened and very positive, pointing out how weight does not equal health on the individual level, how Hollywood can be ridiculous and contributes to weight issues in women and girls, etc.  A very impressive showing, and not a surprise; this particular grad school friend is a stunningly well-educated and enlightened person herself, and I’d expect her to have really smart friends.  But one of the other comments said this:

[GSF’s F]: Maybe it sheds light on the obesity epidemic and encourages people to take better care of their health?

GSF responded, calmly and wisely, with this:

[GSF]: idk. It kinda ridicules them but trying to make it look like they support them…

Yes, exactly.  Othering people isn’t done to be helpful, which is good, because it isn’t.  Excluding plus-size women from a “regular” television show and putting them in a separate-but-not-equal show that is mainly about their fatness… that’s not done to raise awareness that there are a lot of fat people.  After all, is there really anybody left in America who doesn’t know this?  It’s done to make money at our expense.  To pretend otherwise is unproductive at best.

I, on the other hand, kind of lost my shit.  I started out with the facts, but then I lost my cool a bit and let it get personal at the end.  Here’s what I said:

[Me]: @ [GSF’s F], there’s a whole body of research that demonstrates that treating fat people like circus freaks and/or social pariahs has just the OPPOSITE effect. Also, what evidence do you have that these women are not CURRENTLY taking good care of their health? It may be that they gained some weight from making bad choices in the past (although this is far from the only reason some heavy people are heavy), but they may have turned their lives around entirely and the weight has not come off like they hoped. Or maybe they started out at 300 pounds and now they’re 250, and although that’s a huge accomplishment, they still look fat by American standards. Yeesh. Think before you speak.

At which point she proceeded to attack my character at length and then pretend the discussion had not been about the effects of othering of fat people on television, but rather about whether there was an obesity crisis in America, blah blah blah.  If you can’t win the argument, change the subject.  I do have to own the fact that I made it an argument by accusing her of not thinking.  Of course no person will react positively to something like that.  But on the whole, the thing played out like these things always do– somebody says something ignorant and concern-troll-y, and does anything but open their mind when confronted with the facts.

Anyway, that’s the blog post I had been working on before the Marie Claire thing hit this week.  So the topic of fat folks on television had already been on my mind.

If you haven’t already read Maura Kelly’s blog post, you’re out of luck, because I’m not going to post a link to it here and reward Marie Claire with additional page hits.  But I will sum up:  It started out being about the television show Mike & Molly and whether it’s okay for fat people to kiss on television.  It is hateful and vile, it is condescending and cruel, and it was written by someone who has very deep-seated weight issues of her own.  She is someone who has learned to hate and resent fat people in very extreme ways, and she apparently has no effective editor, internal or otherwise.  If you have been living under a rock this week and you haven’t read anything at all about it, the best writing I’ve seen about it so far is by Josh Shahryar at Huff Post and you can read it here.

One of the things I’ve read a lot about the piece is incredulity that the editors at Marie Claire let the blog post get past them.  Didn’t they see how vile it was?  Didn’t they know a lot of their readers would find this offensive?  Having stood outside the Hearst building last night and seen the employees walk out– the almost universally young, thin, conventionally beautiful employees– I think the answer is:  actually, no.

Remember in August when Glenn Beck planned his rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech?  And how Beck claimed it was an honest mistake and he had no clue it was the same day?  And how people had a hard time believing he didn’t do it on purpose?  Well, here’s what Jon Stewart had to say about that.  (The bit you’re looking for comes between 0:25 and 1:45 in the video).

I think Stewart really might have been serious, and correct to boot.  Think about the narrow little  world Glenn Beck lives in.  Do you think black leaders and the importance of the real Civil Rights Movement are even remotely on his radar?  I doubt it.

And after watching the employees of Hearst Corp exiting the building after work last night, that’s what I think about them, too.  With only one exception– one! — the people coming out of Heasrt were either young, thin, and conventionally pretty, or middle-aged, white, male, and very affluent-looking.  These are the beautiful people, writing for (among other things) a fashion magazine.  In the course of their working day, it appears they only see other thin, (conventionally) beautiful people.  A plus-size person to them is a size-12 fashion model.  Thus, I think it really is possible that they ARE truly clueless about the actual lived experiences of fat people, or that we are people at all.  We are Other.

I said with one exception.  Let me tell you about the exception.  Around 6:30, the one and only plus-size person to come out of the Hearst building all night came out.  And although technically not thin, she was maybe a size 14 at most,  she was young, and she was conventionally pretty, with long blonde hair and blue eyes.  (Amazingly, one of the kiss-in protesters actually knew her.  Can you imagine?  The ONE fat person among a sea of thin Hearst employees was the ONE person among them who knew one of us.)  I cannot even begin to describe to you how strikingly different the workforce Hearst chooses to employ is from the dedicated and talented group of people at my workplace, who come in all shapes and sizes.

So yes, I think it’s perfectly plausible that the editors at Marie Claire really were and are completely shocked to discover that fat people are real people, with feelings, and that we want and deserve to be treated with dignity.  In the narrow world in which they move, it just doesn’t come up.  As Jon Stewart said of Glenn Beck’s ignorance of the MLK speech, I find that perfectly plausible.  Not excusable, but plausible.

This post is already too long, so I’ll stop for now and write about the protest itself (with pics!) in another post.  Stay tuned!

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One Response to “The Big Fat Kiss-In, Fat People on Television, and the Epic Marie Claire Fail (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Deb Rox Says:

    That’s an interesting point about their limited view. I read a piece from someone in LA that said something similar. If you live in a size 2 world, 12 seems huge, 24 doesn’t even register as a possibility, maybe? Glad for the kiss in, I totally would have gone if I lived in NYC.

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