This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and as you would have it on ABC Nightline four very different women were brought together for their new series “Face Off” to debate the question: “Is It OK to be Fat?”
In one corner: Marianne Kirby, author of “Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body” and self-proclaimed leader of the Fat Acceptance Movement and Crystal Renn, author of “Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves” and the highest-paid “plus-size” model in the world.
And in the other: Kim Bensen, author of “Finally Thin!,” a woman who tipped the scales at 347 pounds and lost over 200 pounds, keeping it off for over 7 years and MeMe Roth, the head of National Action Against Obesity (NAAO), an outspoken advocate against obesity.
It was a very interesting debate with four very different, very outspoken women (some more than others) who had quite a lot to say about the oh-so-loaded “F” word. I encourage you all to watch the whole thing, but in case you don’t have time here are my favorite moments (Full Disclosure: I’m on the “It’s OK to be fat” Kirby / Renn team so my favorite moments may be biased).
Is it OK to be Fat?
Kirby: “I think it’s kind of an unfair question because that’s like asking, ‘Is it OK to be anything other than white, middle class, hetero-normative, mainstream body type?’ I mean it’s my body. It’s totally OK. It’s no-one else’s business.”
I like how Kirby brings the “other” analysis into the discussion, pointing out the fact that the way society exists today if you do not conform to the thin body ideal that leads to beauty you are lumped into another group completely that is singled out as different and not as good. It is important for people to recognize the strict dichotomy we live under today is: thin-norm, fat-other.
Renn: “What I’m fighting for is a variety on the runway. I want all different types of women in magazines because I think that’s an accurate portrayal of what women are. And I think that they can look at those magazines and those ads and feel very positive from that because people are all different sizes.”
We have seen magazines like Glamour and V Magazine make an effort to diversify their definition of beauty and include a plethora of body types in their glossy pages. It’s nice to see Renn continue to advocate towards this end, especially as one of the most influential “plus-size” models in the business.
Who gets to decide what is fat?
Renn: “I try not to think too much about what fat really is. I try to think about health. You know I found that having had an eating disorder I was so obsessed with numbers and percentages. How many minutes have I been on the treadmill? How many calories have I consumed today?…And I think that when you start obsessing with numbers you get nowhere. It really is about finding balance and moderation within yourself.”
I was disappointed and surprised to see that during the entire segment no-one made mention of the fact that this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I was very glad when Renn pointed out the negative consequences of adhering to the thin-ideal. She can speak from experience of the severe toll your body can take when you focus on fat instead of health.
Obesity as a Form of Discrimination
During the segment Kirby passionately points out that being fat is a form of discrimination in America but Roth argues the exact opposite making the claim that, wait for it, thin people are really the ones who are discriminated against:
“I am not sure that I’m buying into discrimination for obesity. I’m looking at the numbers and the discrimination may be on the few of us who are staying healthy, eating properly and subsidizing an obese culture.”
When Renn is brought into the discussion and agrees with Kirby that yes being fat is a form of discrimination today because, as she points out, she would be on all the runways if it weren’t the case, Roth makes an utterly, ridiculous statement that Renn swiftly shuts down.
Roth says, “Thank goodness they [the modeling industry] aren’t into the waif look right now. Thank goodness that’s hopefully behind us.”
“They are though,” Renn interjects with a dumbfounded-are-you-kidding-me look on her face as the crowd laughs.
Roth continues unabashed: “But you also don’t want to compare, I think, the catwalk and haute couture to maybe what you seen in celebrities. You’ve got people like, I don’t know, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez. So you have a lot of celebrities today who certainly wouldn’t be described as under weight or malnourished who are gracing the covers of many magazines.”
Renn then points out that these celebrities are actually wearing the sample sizes that models wear on the runways so in reality they are very similar in size to models. Point for Renn!
Kirby: “I think if we were really, honestly concerned about the health of children, concerned about the health of adults in America, we would be focusing on these health habits instead of making it a war on obesity. It would be let’s have a national action for healthful living. Let’s have a national action for changing people’s mind’s about brussels sprouts because they are awesome.”
Kirby, I think you are pretty awesome.
When the discussion turned to our culture’s celebration of food I think Renn really hit the nail on the head:
“So we make a big deal about food and we celebrate it and whatever but what about when you start to go the other way and you say, ‘Oh my God food let’s be so scared now, that’s such a bad thing.’ I think that’s also planting the anorexic seed possibly from the beginning in children’s minds so maybe as opposed to celebrating with food, you know, we also don’t want to hate food. Food is necessary. It’s extremely important.”
Creating a fear of food is not going to solve the obesity epidemic in this country. It’s only going to increase eating disorders and body image problems across the board. Just take a look at fellow Care2 blogger, Amelia’s, post on 6-year-olds wanting to be thinner – 6-year-olds!
I have to say I think the very best part of the evening was when an audience member asked the following question:
Why are we framing it in discussions of fat? If you look at the news it’s always the headless fatties lumbering towards the camera from the shoulders down. It’s this faceless army of the fatties coming to get you? Why are we talking about fat people and about policing fat bodies instead of talking about the healthy behaviors that we should be encouraging? Instead of saying, ‘Let’s fight the fat’ let’s say ‘Let’s fight unhealthy eating, let’s fight inactivity.’” Amen!
OK that and maybe when Renn called Roth “fat-phobic.” That was pretty awesome too.
ABC News Photo Illustration - http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/weight-debate-fat/story?id=9911743&page=4