Unless you've been under a (very big) rock, you've probably heard about the brouhaha surrounding Marie Claire, the sitcom "Mike and Molly," and the online article
in which a writer opined, "I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other."
She also wrote, "I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room," which is part of what started the firestorm.
It's gotten so much attention that ABC.com is now reporting blogs and Twitterers are calling not for a boycott of the obese on TV, but for readers to stop buying Marie Claire
, the magazine.
Since then, the writer has apologized and, in so doing, admitted she battled anorexia in her past.
I'd like to add the opinion of a professional therapist to this debate -- namely, me -- one who has seen really fat people, really skinny people, and really troubled people all wearing the same blinders -- not just when they sound off on the Internet, but when they walk into my office.
They are the blinders of someone who struggles with fat people taking up space on the airwaves when they are really struggling with themselves.
There's a trick that is often pulled on therapists when they are working with resistant clients, and it goes a little something like this:
"Do you even know what addiction feels like? You can't help me unless you've been there yourself."
"You don't even have kids. You have no idea what parenting is really like."
ever been suicidal?"
Whenever I heard this from clients, I would internally roll my eyes and then calmly explain to the client that even if I had been through the exact same things that they've been through, it would never make me an expert on their experience of depression / drug addiction / anorexia. Everyone experiences, well, everything differently. At best, having a therapist who has gone through your trauma makes you feel a false sense of connection to them.
At worst, it can make everyone feel like a failure.
Because even if they don't mean to, a person who has experienced a mental health issue has a hard time guiding anyone else through their own path of recovery without going, "Well, this is what worked for me!"
Therapists who are in recovery will show their clients the methods that got them clean, and then feel perplexed when those don't work. The clients feel even more rejected, because now they've tried a method that had guaranteed results, and their clients still have a problem. It's a natural phenomenon with no evil intentions on the therapist's part, but it happens nonetheless. They just want to help people change the same way that they've changed, but the therapist who's "been there" can come off sounding sanctimonious and superior.
It doesn't mean that a formerly eating-disordered therapist can't help a client with eating disorders, it just means they have to work extra hard not to bring their own baggage into the room.
Long story short, sometimes the most judgmental people are the ones who have been through what you've been through.
Which brings me to this editorial piece in Marie Claire.
Maura Kelly was asked by her editor to write about the TV show "Mike & Molly," which is about two overweight people who meet in Overeaters Anonymous. She doesn't watch the show. Instead, she just went on a tirade about how fat people disgust her.
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 [sic] addict slumping in a chair.
Then she offers advice on how fat people can get skinny if they just put their minds to it.
(I'm happy to give you some nutrition and fitness suggestions if you need them - but long story short, eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, read labels and avoid foods with any kind of processed sweetener in them whether it's cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, increase the amount of fiber you're getting, get some kind of exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week, and do everything you can to stand up more - even while using your computer - and walk more. I admit that there's plenty that makes slimming down tough, but YOU CAN DO IT! Trust me. It will take some time, but you'll also feel so good, physically and emotionally. A nutritionist or personal trainer will help - and if you can't afford one, visit your local YMCA for some advice.)
As you'd expect, the comments exploded. Maura immediately had to backtrack and apologize for what she called flippant cruelty. She also said this in the comments of her own piece:
To UKJulia, JLFritschie and others who have mentioned that I've brought my own (body-related/beauty-related) issues to this post without realizing it: That's an interesting and accurate insight – I think you're right. Though I don't think of myself as anorexic any more, being freaked out by obesity to the insensitive, even cruel, point that I was is certainly a vestige of the anorexic mindset; maybe so was being righteous about how easy it is to lose weight. (Because once I lost an extreme amount of weight, of course–about half my body weight–etc.) A friend with whom I was emailing this morning made the same point about this post – that part of my extreme reaction might have to do with how much I've internalized cultural standards of beauty.
A-ha. This is why all those terrifyingly skinny control-freak therapists I've met who "specialize" in body-image issues scare me. The cruelest cuts come from the person who has been there physically and is clearly still there mentally. Maura's brain appears to be full of self-loathing that she hasn't yet come to terms with, so it's spilling out all over Marie Claire.
For anyone who has a voice that carries into the public domain, we should all stop to think about the baggage we're bringing with us every time we speak. If she wanted, Maura's voice could have been one of understanding and hope and perhaps even an examination of her own hatred of the person she was. It could have been wonderful.
Instead, we'll just have to wait for her self-awareness to blossom as beautifully as she wishes we all were on the outside.
Tell us what you think about the issue in the comments -- or cast your vote here.
Emily V. Gordon was a couples and family therapist and is now a freelance writer and Lemondrop contributor. She lives in Los Angeles, and she's not saying she doesn't bring any of her own baggage to the table as a therapist or writer, just that she tries to be aware of it. Also, she doesn't mind seeing anyone make out.