I’ve thought a lot about whether to post about the Marie Claire blogging controversy that blew up a few days ago, and finally decided that it was something I could not not address after all.

For those who haven’t read about it, a blogger named Maura Kelly wrote a post, published on the Marie Claire website, entitled “Should Fatties Get a Room? (Even on TV?)”. It purported to be a review of a TV show called Mike & Molly, about a couple who meets at Overeaters Anonymous. I say “purported” because the author admitted that she never watched a single episode. She did have plenty to say about it though, including thoughtful gems like “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.” I’m not going to link here to the original post, because I would hate to think that it might get even one additional hit, but if you want to read more about the situation then check out the coverage over at Jezebel or the excellent response over at the Huffington Post.

Here is the thing. I don’t believe that a discussion of weight issues really has a place on this blog, because the whole point of the message I am trying to get across is that style has nothing to do with weight, size, shape, age or any other physical attribute for that matter. I am not naive in thinking that these things are not real, difficult issues that people deal with on a daily basis; I just don’t want this to be a place where they get re-hashed or, worse, somehow amplified. Maybe I am naive in thinking that it is possible to talk about fashion and clothes in a completely positive way, without making anyone feel excluded or unwelcome. Regardless, I found that I simply had something to say about Ms. Kelly’s blog post. First of all, because it gives bloggers everywhere a bad name, including those of us who work hard at this without any financial compensation but with no less dedication and care than “real” journalists. Second, because it’s absolutely disgusting and needs to be addressed as such. Third, and most importantly, because it managed to find a (inter)national platform through a fashion magazine.
I’m going to start my rant by saying that this is not about whether or not Ms. Kelly was properly P.C. about how she approached her subject. Her entire viewpoint is inherently bigoted, flawed and hateful. There is no excuse for anything she had to say, and it is encouraging that so many people in the media have recognized that and condemned it. The reason I am angry enough to write about this whole thing is the fact that Ms. Kelly is not some lone kook, spewing her awful propaganda somewhere out in the internet wilds to the sound of crickets. She is writing for, and is now being defended by, a large and respected multinational publication – one that markets itself as a progressive magazine sensitive to “women’s issues”. The fact that an editor of Marie Claire approved this post, and still appears to stand by it, is appalling. And unacceptable. And it is a troubling glimpse into the “psyche” of the magazine, no matter how loudly it might trumpet its progressiveness. 
It is bad enough that magazines rely on unrealistic images to peddle the wares they are being paid to sell to women. The harm resulting from that is insidious and sometimes irreversible, but it can at least be called a lesser evil – an evil of omission. They simply don’t show anything but bodies that fit certain criteria; the message is implicit, sure, but they can hide behind so many justifications about the fashion industry, societal expectations and the like. That does not excuse (and I hope no one is fooled into thinking that it does) but it allows them to deflect scrutiny (and pay lip service to the concept of acceptance while still publishing hypocritical pieces about weight loss, plastic surgery and the like). And yet, it is a far cry from that to outright and explicitly stating that anyone who doesn’t fit some narrow, arbitrary and ultimately meaningless parameters is “gross”. It is unbelievable and disheartening to realize that, in 2010, there are still people in the magazine industry who don’t realize that this is a repugnant concept, and one that is anathema to the philosophy that should inspire their very existence. Isn’t the point of a women’s magazine to create a sense of solidarity, acceptance and support? I mean, somehow even men’s magazine (hardly a bastion of sensitivity) seem to have figured out that insulting, demeaning and alienating your audience is not the way to stay relevant or, indeed, keep your audience engaged. 

I’m going to conclude my rant (before it runs away on me) by saying this: if you read this and are outraged by the irresponsible, cavalier and wholly inappropriate way in which Marie Claire has chosen to act in this matter, then I hope that you will do something about it. Don’t excuse it next time you’re at a gas station or supermarket and are looking for something to read. Send a message with your dollars. Tell Marie Claire to suck it!!

9 Comments on On a serious note

  1. I’ve been reading about the controversy on Entertainment Weekly, and yesterday I actually went and read the article and I was shocked and appalled. I could not believe what she was saying – which was, basically, that fat people are aesthetically displeasing and they should just lose some weight already and could very easily if they just ate better and exercised more.

    You may want to go check out her article just to see the sorry excuse for an “apology” that she has posted – which is not really an apology at all.

    I am definitely boycotting Marie Claire. And, if you read through the (mostly outraged) comments on her post, a number of people are calling for a boycott on all magazines that Hearst publishes (Hearst being the publisher of Marie Claire). One of those magazines is the Oprah magazine…so I’m thinking if this continues, things could get very interesting!

    Regarding the portrayal of women in fashion magazines, I have to say that it doesn’t really bother me very much. I don’t think I’m supposed to look like those models, because, frankly, it’s all fake and airbrushed and whatever, so I don’t beat myself up about not fitting into that mold, because I don’t need to because I’m not a model. However, I will point out that Glamour magazine now has committed to using “plus-sized” models in at least one photo shoot in every magazine. So you have to commend them for that and for trying to change the prevailing winds of fashion.

    And finally, about style, you’re right – it’s not about weight. It’s about looking good with what you have to work with. And some of us have a few extra inches, some of us have a few extra pounds, some of us would like to have some extra inches, or straighter hair, or curlier hair, or whatever. Style is about looking good with what you’ve been given. That may mean you might have to skip some trends (I think skinny jeans are not my friend!) but style’s not about trends, it’s about looking good in clothes that suit you – no matter your age, weight, height or whatever.

    So thank you for addressing this issue – and thank you for being an awesome stylist!

  2. @ Laura – thanks for your thoughtful comment!!

    I read her “apology” over at Jezebel and I call bulls**t. She’s basically using her past eating disorder as a justification, which is no more acceptable than her initial post. I’m not going to get into it, but as someone who has struggled in the past, I can tell you for a fact that having an eating disorder does not make you an insensitive asshole. If anything, it makes you more aware of the difficulty that a lot of people experience around body image, and the pain that it can cause. So I’m not buying her “apology” for one minute. It’s like saying – I’m not a bigot, I’ve been discriminated against myself. You’re still a bigot.

    Sorry … here I go all ranty again 😉

  3. I especially enjoyed the thoughtful and well-written piece at the Huffington Post. I also thought the discussion on Jezebel was interesting.

    I like where this is going. I like how people are getting angry and cancelling their subscription and boycotting advertisers and marching on Marie Claire headquarters. I really feel like this is leading up to something big.

  4. Thanks for your articulate response to this, Adina! I was appalled when I read about the article, and when someone said “she just wrote what a lot of people think,” it did make me somewhat glad that that position and mindset can now be scrutinized and confronted.

  5. Being a fatty myself I find this very progressive. Not long ago it would have been extremely rude and contraversal to speak out against smoking calling it “gross” and “distasteful”. Nowadays it’s almost common place to belittle or badger smokers and smoking due to it’s obvious harmful affects. Sorry to not be on the bandwagon of appalled but it is going to take public ridicule to address our nation’s, and I use that loosly as Canada & US, overweight issue then so be it. Obesity has the same, if not worse, harmful affects as smoking. In the future I imagine it just might be common place to yell out at someone eating 3 big Macs “God you’re a fat pig, do you mind not eating that in public or at least 5 meters away from the front door”. This taking place in a fashion arena just seem to fit in with society’s peer pressure values, as people could care less what the medical community has to say.

  6. @ KGB – here is my problem with this argument. The analogy breaks down because being overweight is not the same as smoking. Smoking is an activity. Being overweight can be the result of an activity (over-eating) or lack of activity (exercise), but it’s not always that simple and black and white. No one can make those kinds of assumptions. Condemn over-eating or poor eating habits – fine. But to demean people, no. No one is actually suggesting that smokers themselves are somehow less worthy of love or respect as human beings because they smoke. Which is what this person is saying about overweight people. Seeing overweight people as “regular” characters on a TV show (as opposed to the butt of jokes or villains) doesn’t glamorize obesity because, as a commenter on another site pointed out (i’m paraphrasing), until we see obese people rolling around in money, being fed grapes by scantily clad women and riding unicorns, there is no glamorizing going on. It’s just a portrayal of real life where, yes, some people are overweight.

  7. Maura Kelly’s argument reminds of something very interesting that I recently learned about the Dutch media. In the Netherlands, as in some other European countries, models must meet a minimum BMI in order to be allowed to model in fashion shows or on public billboards in an effort to stop the normalization of anorexia. However, the Dutch have expanded this practice to ban models that are OVER a certain BMI, as they are concerned about the normalization of obesity. Is this progressive or discriminatory?

    As somebody who has been much heavier than I am now, I know how hard it really is to “just lose some weight.” After a year of very restricted caloric intake (and maintenance of some strict eating habits), I still am only just within an “average” body fat percentage, yet most of the stores I shop at (particularly Jacob) have in recent years started using mannequins that are so skinny they can’t even fill out the smallest size well enough to make the clothes look good.

    Adina, I love that with a few simple accessories and fashion rules (e.g. “tucking in”, you have managed to make four normal women with 4 very different body types look absolutely stunning, and I think the fashion industry could stand to learn a few things from you.

  8. KGB, it’s not acceptable to belittle smokers. It’s not acceptable to belittle ANYONE. Public ridicule for your body shape is devastating and doesn’t serve ANYONE.

  9. @ Cat – that information about the Dutch is interesting, I had no idea. I think I need to digest it a bit further before I can make up my mind about it. I’d be curious to know their “acceptable” BMI range too. Although, as has been pointed out again and again, BMI is a poor indicator of “healthy” weight anyway.

    I’ve been on both sides of the weight spectrum over the course of my 20s, and been incredibly unhappy at both ends. For years, I had a love-hate relationship with clothes for the very reason you point out – the industry (and I’m not talking about haute couture but “high street” clothing retailers) seems to strive to make a large segment of the population feel excluded. Fashion shouldn’t be some exclusive club that only a fortunate, genetically-blessed few should get to enjoy. It’s clothes we’re talking about, after all. Why there is this immovable unwillingness to create products for every segment of the population is beyond me, given that the raison d’etre of any company in a capitalist society is to expand its consumer base to make MORE money. I refuse to believe that clothing retailers are concerned about the health of its customers, and wish to “discourage” obesity – altruism is not exactly an enshrined corporate virtue.

    Here is my (hopefully) final thought on this controversy. Even if you think that society should do more to address obesity as a health concern, approaching that goal through means that demean and dehumanize people is (besides unacceptable) simply NOT working. For the last 30+ years, people have been told that “fat is bad” over and over and, yet, according to the statistics, the rates of obesity are rising. Obviously, being made to feel bad about themselves is not helping anyone, even the people who might (and I emphasize “might”) have complete control over their weight issues.