Trojan Horse —
Now for some context.
Last Thursday, just as the Marie Claire/Maura Kelly debacle exploded across the media, I was one of hundreds of voices expressing outrage and disgust on MC’s Facebook page. I don’t know what it was about my comments (maybe they found my blog and determined I was a “legitimate” critic), but the MC FB moderator responded to one of my apology demands:
I found this comment amusing for several reasons. First, where the moderator says, “We have been apologizing.” Where? I have not seen a single apology (outside of Maura Kelly’s) in Marie Claire or elsewhere. But what amused me most was that they “offer up” (a sacrifice to the gods of fatty rage) Marie Claire’s website as a platform for discussion.
Marie Claire ran exactly four posts (1, 2, 3, 4), which, at first, I considered a thoughtful gesture. But it slowly dawned on me that rather than do the right thing (apologize) Marie Claire was playing games. Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles was making dismissive comments in the press, while hoping she could appease the fatties with some token posts.
I decided that if they were going to let me offer my counterpoint, I was going to go straight for the heart of the matter: the editorial staff of Marie Claire fucked up and they should issue an apology.
I emailed Erin Flaherty (Web Director), Kate Schweitzer (Senior Web Editor), Anna Maltby (Editorial Assistant), Jessica Henderson (Senior Editor), and Abigail Pesta (all of whom were listed on the Editor’s Blog page). I heard nothing back, so the next day I emailed them and wrote:
I’m willing to make the edits necessary to make my contribution printable. Just let me know what needs to change and I’ll gladly change it.
Remember, you offered the guest post to me and it’s going to look a lot worse if you reneg on that offer simply because you don’t like my counterpoint.
We’re not going away any time soon. That is, unless Joanna Coles apologizes officially on behalf of Marie Claire.
That’s right, the stakes rise with every passing hour. We want to see Joanna Coles on television apologizing for creating a culture which engages in this kind of nonsense.
Now, this article by Lea Goldman has surfaced: http://www.marieclaire.com/celebrity-lifestyle/articles/living/locker-room-nudity
Apologize, recommit to body positivity and we go away.
Flaherty responded and said they received “an overwhelming number of them” because it was an open call (and if it was an open call, why did they ask me specifically?). I resent and she verified that she received it.
Then, over the weekend, Marie Claire makes four bizarre choices that I documented on Tuesday, including the decision to remove me from their MC FB page.
On Monday I asked Erin if they were planning to publish it and she said, “As far as printing counterpoints, like all editorial submissions we cannot guarantee that we will publish.” I asked her to confirm by end of day if they would print because I didn’t want my piece to get stale.
Apparently, they decided not to print mine, or any other counterpoints, after the weekend.
Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe I’m misinterpreting things. Maybe my ego is flaring up again. Or maybe they are beginning to feel the effects of the boycott, but something’s not adding up.
So, below is the counterpoint that Marie Claire refused to post. I can’t say I blame them, but at least have the courage to reject, rather than play games on Facebook and manipulate reality.
What’s missing —
Forget Maura Kelly.
At this point, I think she has (hopefully) learned that just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.
I’m no ideologue. I don’t expect Maura Kelly to see the outrage her post inspired and say, “Ya know what, fatties are sexy!” I don’t expect Maura Kelly to jump on the fat train and take a ride with us to Happytown. Hell, I don’t even expect Maura Kelly to be nice to fatties in person.
What I do expect, and what is reasonable for all people to expect, is that a major publication would understand the difference between free speech and hate speech. What I do expect is that a major publication has the foresight to filter out any ugly, crude, and hurtful articles about an entire group of people. What I do expect is that a major publication would recognize the mistake they made and apologize unequivocally for it.
Kelly’s apology was tepid, but welcome. She explains that, “I was talking about a TV show that features people who are not simply a little overweight, but appear to be morbidly obese” as though readers were unclear that her disgust was with REALLY fat people, not just her plump friends.
When Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles finally commented, she said three things:
- “Maura Kelly is a very provocative blogger. She was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about.”
- That in response to the 28,000 emails, Kelly was “excited and moved by their responses.”
- “I’m concerned about a show that makes fun of large people.”
First of all, Maura Kelly is not a very provocative blogger (or at least not the good kind of provocative). A provocative blogger makes readers think, not simply seethe with rage.
Second, and more importantly, this brings me to a pet peeve of mine: equating anorexia with obesity.
Anorexia is an eating disorder, while obesity is a physical condition (or, more technically, a category for those with a BMI over 30). In her apology, Kelly is kind enough to point out that when she sees a morbidly obese person, “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.”
Like obesity, morbid obesity has a clinical definition: a BMI over 40. Do you know what percentage of this population has a BMI over 40?
So much hand-wringing over such a small percentage of our population.
Now, I am 5’7″ and 260 pounds, which gives me a BMI of 40.7.
So, by way of illustration, here I am in all of my morbidly obese glory.
The media loves to illustrate stories about the “obesity epidemic” with headless fatties, so when people talk about obesity, they picture the massive torsos that are not representative of the population or of obesity. And that is why stereotypes and panic surround the issue of obesity, and instead of a reasonable understanding of what obesity looks like (which Kate Harding’s BMI Project deftly illustrates), we get to hear all about how we all have eating disorders and watch TV all day.
And it is because of these distortions that our society chooses to focus on weight as a proxy for health, when research has shown again and again and again that exercise, “regardless of weight loss,” has an incredibly positive impact on our health.
Joanna’s second comment regarding Kelly’s reaction to the 28,000 email bothers me. Did 28,000 people email Kelly to thank her for finally speaking truth to fat? Was she “excited and moved” that so many people found her attitude reprehensible and its expression disgusting?
This is a problem for me because it suggests that Joanna Coles still does not get it.
But it’s her final comment that convinces me that this is so. “I’m concerned about a show that makes fun of large people.”
Really? You’re concerned about television shows that make fun of large people, but have nothing to say about one of HER writers comparing fat people to drunks and heroin addicts?
There’s not a lot that Joanna Coles can do about the CBS lineup, but she sure as hell can do something about a corporate culture that condones an editor suggesting an article on the visceral response to FPDA (Fat Public Displays of Affection) and publishing it without question.
Although my journalism experience is limited, I’m pretty sure that most publications would at least disguise their attitudes by interview a “man on the street” who then expresses the disgust and disdain that they’re shooting for, rather than laying it out so frankly. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still be pissed at the man on the street, but at least his agenda isn’t part of a multi-million dollar industry.
Marie Clair is not the only publication that currently accepts fat hatred without a moment’s hesitation. I recently encountered an equally despicable column that ran both in The Huffington Post and The Aspen Times. I took great pleasure in shredding the columnist until he finally apologized.
Is that what it’s going to take? Are we going to have to respond with obscenity and outrage each time some thoughtless articles slips through the editorial process? Are we going to have to demand accountability from your advertisers until the financial pain causes you to accept that denigrating and dehumanizing fat people is wrong?
Because we can and we will.
Defenders of Marie Claire have repeatedly tried to make this an issue of free speech, which is laughable.
Folks, free speech means that you can run around outside all you want screaming “I hate fatties!” until you’re blue in the face, but it ain’t gonna stop me from opening a manhole and letting you fall.
Free speech has consequences.
For far too long, fat hatred has been free speech without consequences.
This week, we have demonstrated that those days are over. If you insult us, belittle us, or stereotype us, there will be consequences, and no amount of rationalization will change that.
All we want from Marie Claire is an official apology on their website acknowledging that allowing fat hatred on their website was a mistake, that it was wrong and that it will never happen again.
Marie Claire has had three long days to issue such an apology and has refused.
And that is three days too long.
(Note: Now it has been nine days).