Is It OK to Be Fat?: ABC Nightline’s “Face Off” Tackles the Question with Panel

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!

Child Obesity

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. 

Celebrating Food

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 -


Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

A big part of the problem is that the definition of what is considered "fat" is really skewed. Not too long ago a certain actress of the Ali McNeal show was always referred to as the "fat actress" even though she was on the far thin side of normal (she just wasn't ultra skinny like the other actresses). When we take the media's definition of "fat" (as definited by magazine ads, actors, celebs, models), a perfectly health weight (as defined by doctors) is considered *fat*. And this is wrong!!!! If you are eating healthy, exercising and living a healthy lifestyle, then it shouldn't matter what shape your body takes, especially when normal/average is now considered "fat" and normal/average people are being condemned as overweight!

Beverley A.
Beverley A7 years ago

To Sylvia B - 195 lbs is about 88kg. For someone 5'5", this would be considered overweight/obese but probably not morbidly obese. The weight you were in high school, 115 lbs or about 52kg, is probably just about the right weight for a female your height. I am 5'7" and about 58kg - have been around this weight for years, & now nearly 50, so there is no need to let one's self go as one ages.

Beverley A.
Beverley A7 years ago

It's not ok to be obese or morbidly obese. There are enough strains on the health systems of many countries without having to deal with people with self-inflicted diseases. Being obese contributes to heart disease, joint troubles, type II diabetes etc, and the health system has to pick up the tab. When there are people starving to death in other parts of the world, how can people possibly justify being obese to the point of ill-health ?

Elizabeth Vanderpool

I hated when i began eating healthy and running everyday too , but I was fat and I made a choice. My choice is to not have health problems and to not feel bad when putting on clothes in the morning . If you are fat enough to feel bad about yourself , and arent do anything to change or better yourself then you are accepting life as the person who has to buy two seats on a plane . If you wont put forth effort for yourself , why should someone else put forth an extra seat ?

Sylvia B.
Sylvia B8 years ago

As for the question, I suppose it would depend on the people's definition of "fat". I was called fat by sinny anorexic b*****s when I used to weigh 115 pounds in high school, so who was correct in that situation? Hell, I weigh nearly 195 pounds now and I am 5'5", so would that make me morbidly obese? I think it is all in the eye of the beholder, though morbid obesity is dangerous for the person suffering from it, not only becaus of the social stigma, but because they have all kinds of other health problems that stem from it that can eventually kill them. As for the idiots who dismiss it as something that can be fixed by eating only once a day, part of the problem with obesity is psychological. I know a good many people in 12-step meetings who packed on pounds from dealing with either their own or someone else's addiction, and only started to get themselves healthier when they got strong enough to get themselves of the bad situation. One had to look past the skin to see what really is going on.

Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba8 years ago

I don't think fat is beautiful, if you are excessively fat and it you can have health risks - heart problems, diabetes.... Chubby is ok but overweight or obese it not. I used to be overweight because of antidepressants they put me on. I'm almost at a normal/average weight.

Lindsey O.
.8 years ago

The question under discussion, Rozzanna, is NOT "Is it acceptable to discriminate unreasonably against fat people?"

The question is, "Is it OK to be fat"?

And the answer is NO.

Being fat doesn't make you an inferior person, nor does it make me an inferior person. In the same way, having cancer wouldn't make me an inferior person. But having cancer, like being fat, is NOT OK.

And airlines are not throwing fat people off planes willy-nilly. They very reasonably say that if you can't fit into your seat, you have to buy two seats - so you WILL be able to fit. Use two seats - pay for two seats. Or don't fly.

Rozzanna s.
Rose S8 years ago

I am sick and tired of being ignored, or ridiculed because of my weight. It is the last predudices that is ok. color race religion is something we are told we cant talk about or discriminate over but weigh. thats ok...

Most people who are over weight or obese have been on diets all there life . Its a hard road not fitting in to normal clothing, chairs, plain seat. Have people stare at you.
Even the travel industry is taking crack at us with throwing fat people off planes...


It is a terrible fact, but if you are a binge eater, you most likely will always feel like heading straight for the fridge, the minute something stresses you. I STILL do... BUT the only difference is, I have a fridge full of really healthy food and maybe, eat good quality bread with a smidge of maunka honey,istead of pounds of biscuits and cakes. I changed over to vegetarian food and cut out cheese and dairy. I have changed my lifestyle to gardening. walking ( not excessively!) adn cycling, Keeping active and helping others. I still live in the fridge, sometimes, but, because the food I eat is different and my activity level is so much higher. ( Without being fanatical...) I am so much thinner than I was. I also tell my friends about my cupboard eating, so that it isn't on of those "secret things" Know what I mean? Bring it out into the open. Do some research into what types of food speed up your metabolic rate and eat those... Masses of it, if needs be. Don't feel guilty.. ENJOY IT. You will feel like a whale and so tired when you first stsrt to get active, but after a while, you will get much stronger and trimmer... After you have done all this... that is your size! Don't fight it.... Just reach out and help OTHERS and you will start to like yourself again! With a bit of luck, in a decade or two... nice and femine and plump will be in fashion again! Good Luck!!

Lindsey O.
.8 years ago

Dell, I don't see any fat person's life being 'interfered with' in an attempt to force thinness. The question of the poll was is it 'OK' to be fat? And the answer is 'no.' Not 'do they have a legal right to be fat', where the answer would be 'yes.'

And nobody 'wants' to be fat, Dell. As a person who's been overweight her entire adult life I can attest to that. Nobody wants to be fat. Period.