The women's magazine Marie Claire published an incendiary article on its website this week asking "Should "Fatties" Get A Room? (Even on TV?)" which is receiving a backlash of condemnation via social media. If they were looking for passionate traffic bringing eyeballs to their Laura Mercier and American Express ads, it looks like they got it -- but they also got waves of negative attention and hundreds of readers who have been Tweeting, commenting and posting that the article was full of bias against fat people and a particularly horrible example of the exploitation of body image issues by women's magazines.
Image courtesy CBS
Marie Claire writer Maura Kelly used the topic of fat characters on the television show Mike & Mollyto write a fat-bashing treatise proclaiming (much like a grade schooler taunting for attention during recess) that it is gross to watch fat people kiss. Or, you, know, for fat people to exist. She wrote:
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 addict slumping in a chair.
Now, don't go getting the wrong impression: I have a few friends who could be called plump. I'm not some size-ist jerk.
After hundreds of comments and social media posts rebuking her as, indeed, a size-ist something-or-other, the author posted conciliatory comments and issued an apology of sorts to the post, where she mentions two really interesting pieces of the backstory. The backstory is really relevant, because while we all know that all manner of bigoted and hurtful thinking is common everywhere, it's troubling when it appears in mainstream publications.
First, Kelly mentions how the post came about:
I wrote this post very quickly, after my editor asked me to read and respond to the CNN article. I didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings or make anyone feel ashamed -- though obviously, judging from the comments, I did. And I really apologize for that.
And her update, she sums up a discussion about her own history of eating disorders:
To that point (and on a more personal level), a few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin. As I mentioned in the ongoing dialogue we’ve been carrying on in the comments section, I think that's an accurate insight.
So it seems Marie Claire editors read a story on CNN about the topic of large actors and characters, wanted to spin it with fat-loathing and sexy edges to attract attention, gave it to a writer with an established history of anorexia/bulimia, and asked for a quick turnaround. This game is not new to Marie Claire; Jenna Hatfield wrote recently about the magazine seeking similar attention by panning fitness bloggers.
If that's true, the "Fattie" article is emblematic of all that is wrong in reactive media. It's a horrifying calculus that makes Killing Us Softly look like a child's abacus. A massively influential magazine with a sizable Internet reach quickly publishes exploitative, hateful linkbait by hiring someone with a personal bias and distress rooted in the massively destructive body image problem that is the bread and butter (so to speak) that that type of women's magazine.
Body image inferno.
Seth Godin cautions that the new currency in media is "interesting," which means that outliers and fanflamers vie for our attention and interest with everyone reaching extreme opinions. BlogHer Contributing Editor Laurie White recently wrote about the culture of outrage that is the waltzing partner to the fire of attention linkbait. When we try to talk about hard topics like the commodification of beauty, women's bodies and eating disorders in a publishing environment of crazy attention and outrage, we are playing with very damaging flames.
Maura Kelly rightfully took heat for her words via Twitter and comments. But what about Marie Claire? Are they irresponsible for choosing to commission her with a piece that seems designed to provoke and incite emotional pushback? Or is this just how the game is played, and it's our job as readers to find better sources for our news, culture and entertainment?
Often that's what I decide -- that I should put my valuable attention on worthy writing -- but then I worry about the young women who read crap like "Fatties" without context or complaint, which could fuel the creation of their own self-loathing beliefs or even a serious eating disorder. Young women like Maura Kelly. With new media promising us boundless information and connection, can't we work on this old pattern born in the early years of advertising beauty products? Now that women are making and reading content like never before, can't we finally stop the dragon from eating her own poisonous tail?
Did you blog about it? Link up in the comments. Here are some bloggers' reactions to the Marie Claire piece:
- Fashionista: Fat-Hating Marie Claire Blogger Struggled with an Eating Disorder
- Big Fat Deal: Marie Claire thinks Fat People are Gross
- A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss: Shoutout to the Fat-O-Phobic
- Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Geek:Obesity and Our Culture
- Barefoot Foodie: My letter to Marie Claire
- A Military WIfe's Mayhem: Dear Marie Claire, Should "Fatties" Get a Room? Seriously?!
- Out of Control Fat Roll: Marie Claire Article Incites @fatroll Rage
- Ask the Bloggess: Be Warned: Actual Serious Feedback on This One
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