Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Fat Comeback

I realize I'm a little late to the party on this — three days in the news biz is like years in the real world — but I simply couldn't let this Maura Kelly-Marie Claire affair go unmentioned. (Also, I apologize for my long absence, but I've been writing a book, and as it turns out, I'm not smart enough to write a book, fulfill my freelance obligations and make snarky observations on fashion and beauty and stuff. But I'm here now so let's just get on with it.)

If you haven't been following this scandal, Maura Kelly, a freelancer writer and relationship columnist, wrote a blog post for Marie Claire about the new CBS sitcom "Mike & Molly," which tells the story of the love that blossoms between two people who meet at Overeaters Anonymous. Apparently critics have derided the show for its gratuitous fat jokes, but the impetus for Kelly's column was that people have expressed discomfort with seeing "fatties" getting it on on TV. Kelly, who agrees with the latter, bases her whole sanctimoniously douchey argument on the fact that the actors on the show aren't merely overweight, they are obese and are somehow glamorizing an American epidemic that 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," she writes. (I love how now that the United States is toying with the idea of universal health care everyone is suddenly so concerned with the collective health of the country.)

Kelly was taken aback by readers' outrage, which leads me to believe that despite having a prestigious resume that includes being published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, she can't be all that bright. How could she think she could get away with saying things like, "I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other," and "I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room"? I admit I feel the same way about stupid people, so Kelly best not walk across a room I'm standing in.

I'm not going to delve into the psychology of food or overeating. Mostly because I'm not qualified to do so, but also because if you don't know by now that obesity isn't just about having a weakness for french fries then you're an ignorant jackass who has clearly been living under a rock. In a remarkable fit of stupidity, Kelly lumps fat people in with drunks and heroin addicts, yet later goes on to say that obesity sufferers have "a ton of control" over their situation. And that's where I have to call her own editing skills into question. Someone obviously doesn't proofread her own copy.

Much as I would enjoy nothing more than to launch a personal attack on Kelly — who openly states in her bio that she's a 30-something-year-old woman who's never been in love. Well, duh. Who the hell would love you? — I think the larger issue at play here is why modern Western culture dictates that it's okay to pick on overweight people. Why did Kelly think she was justified in expressing an obvious hatred for people who struggle with their weight? If you substitute the word "fat" with "poor" or "gay", or "Jewish" or "Arab" for that matter, her post would never have seen the light of day (not on the Marie Claire website anyway). But for some reason our culture has made it okay to be mean to fat people, to belittle them and make them feel as though they are failing at life because they don't fit a skinny ideal. And let's not kid ourselves, the ideal is s-k-i-n-n-y, not healthy.

But I also wonder if this isn't so much about fat people as it is about fat women. I've often complained about how television glorifies the fat-husband-hot-skinny-wife archetype — The King of Queens, According to Jim, and yes, even The Simpsons and Family Guy — as if to perpetuate the idea that women should continuously work at looking their best while men can let themselves go and still be considered sexy. But all anyone sees in that pairing is an apparently inherent potential for hilarity. Add a fat wife and suddenly it's repulsive. Why was this not an issue when Roseanne debuted in 1988? What has happened over the past two decades for it to be acceptable to ostracize people based on how they look? I thought society was meant to evolve.

I was thrilled to see the backlash to her post, especially on Jezebel and this piece my good friend Lindsay wrote for the New York Daily News, because no one should be allowed to get away with being so mean and so ignorant. I join in the big fat collective "Fuck YOU" aimed at Kelly and suggest she seek solace in some french fries.