There have been too many stories about fat-shaming this past week for me to ignore it as just bad judgement by a few people.
Exhibit A: Tough Love
As you may know, Ross Mathews, the late night TV comedian from Chelsea Lately (also known as Intern Ross from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno), lost 40 lbs. And Gwyneth Paltrow had a hand in motivating him.Ross, who used to weigh around 220 lbs, tells the story of how Gwyneth helped:
“We were taping a Chelsea special, and she pointed at my tummy and said, ‘What’s going on here? I love you. Get it together.”
Look, even couched in the softness of love, pointing at a person’s gut and making a comment about it is rude. It’s hurtful, embarrassing, and objectifying; the other party isn’t seeing you, he or she is only seeing your fat. This behavior is in no way acceptable. In addition, while some people may be obese, others may be pregnant, have PCOS, be on medication that causes them to gain weight, have an eating disorder or just carry weight in their middle. The general rule is that unless you are a family member truly concerned about a person’s one’s health, it’s none of your fucking business, no matter how much you “love” someone. Love involves acceptance, not pointing and commenting.
Wow. “What’s going on there? I love you. Get it together.” Ouch! Um, what’s going on there is that you are an asshole, Gwyneth. Even if Ross wanted to lose weight or needed to for health reasons, the way Gwyneth calls this out is like a sniper attack to the heart. If that’s her loving someone, I’m fine with never receiving any love from Gwyneth in my lifetime.
But the bigger issue is that Gwyneth (and many people — famous and not — just like her) thought it was totally okay to confront someone about his weight in that manner. Presumably, if they were backstage at a Chelsea special, they were there working. So now you’ve just confronted someone about their weight, in a very shaming way, at a place they work! How is humiliation a positive way to talk about weight, someone’s health or anything related to those issues?
What this exchange really says to me is that as a society we don’t just consider anything outside the “perfect” thin ideal to be wrong, we think it’s okay (healthy and loving, even) to shame a person because they have fallen too far outside the lines of perfection. Who draws those lines? The people who are celebrated for staying inside them. Fuck that!
Exhibit B: Who put this eating disorder in the fridge?
Here’s the ad:
There are a couple troubling elements to this commercial.
The most overt part is the internal monologue of the woman looking at the cheesecake, who is rationalizing and bargaining with herself about whether or not she can have a piece of cheesecake. (A bigger slice if she eats some celery or she could eat it while jogging in place…). This is a classic element of the kind of thinking a person with an eating disorder does and that’s one of the reasons why experts who deal with those issues have objected, including the National Eating Disorders Association, which issued this statement from their press release:
The language in this advertising campaign was seriously problematic for those affected by eating disorders and anyone who may have a predisposition towards developing one.
Another troubling element is the comparison between the thin woman who wants a piece of cake and the thinner woman who just opts for yogurt. Yoplait says the message is about making healthy choices in your diet. But the message is a not-so-subtle suggestion that it is not good enough to be thin. You must meet a thin standard and the cake-obsessed woman is not meeting it, apparently.
And I’m not the only one who noticed (from Salon.com):
So what’s more stunning: that an ad in which two slim women work out their food issues with cartons of artificially flavored treats made it to the air, or the news that nobody, at any point in the creative process, said, “Hey, doesn’t this sound messed up?” That says a lot about how deeply ingrained that kind of dysfunctional thinking is; it’s assumed that women, even women who clearly don’t have a weight problem, would anguish over a slice of cheesecake, would careen from Restriction Village to what’s looking like Binge Town, without pausing to ask themselves something really crazy like, “Am I hungry?”
That’s why the ad isn’t just offensive to anyone who has had an eating disorder or cared about someone who has. It imposes the notion of sin on one’s eating habits, with the implication that depriving oneself of cheesecake is “good.”
Exhibit C: ‘Momorexics’
The Daily Mail online had this story yesterday about the rise of ‘momorexics,’ the super-skinny celebs who don’t gain any weight while pregnant (think: Victoria Beckham, Rachel Zoe, et al). This story fills me with a special kind of outrage. And, in fact, this is the right time to be asking the question: What’s going on here?!
Why are we making women feel such pressure to conform to a narrow beauty standard that they are not only putting their own health in jeopardy but the healthiness of their their pregnancies and developing fetuses in jeopardy? Why? Why?!
Pregnancy and the time after a woman gives birth should be praised as beautiful no matter how much or how little a woman gains in weight! Period. I will not accept any other answers to that question.
A woman’s body is put through a triathlon of work for the duration of a pregnancy. Childbirth is like a freakin’ marathon! And the time after a baby is born should be spent feeling the happiness and love that comes from having a child. NOT obsessing about how much you weigh and whether or not you will look good in skinny jeans. That is not only unhealthy but a total distraction from the joy of becoming a parent to brand new baby!
But this is not just a problem for some rarefied group of celebs. This trickles down to the Average Janes, too. Countless times I have heard women I know in real life tell me about how they need to start losing the baby-weight right away after giving birth. Sometimes the topic comes up just hours or days after childbirth! This makes me sad for so many reasons — the unnecessary pressure that women feel and all the stress and pain that come with it; the distraction from enjoying a new baby (because they change soooo fast!); the toll to a woman’s body, mind and spirit of dieting or other extreme measures … and so on.
Look, part of pregnancy is weight gain. According to the Mayo Clinic, recommended weight gain during pregnancy for a “normal weight” woman is 25-35 pounds.
I am not ashamed to admit I gained a lot more than the “norm.” I gained 70 pounds! Now, I’m not going to say I was thrilled with how my body looked after I gave birth. But I also cut myself a break. I had a very long and rough labor (37 hours) followed by an emergency c-section. Frankly, aside from the joy I had about my baby, I felt like hell for a long time as my body healed. And my body was still working really hard as the sole source of food for my baby (from breastfeeding, which is responsible for my entire pregnancy-weight loss).
Everyone just needs to give themselves a break! And no more fat-shaming, destructive inner monologues or unrealistic pressures on ourselves or others!
Cross-posted on The Tired Feminist.