OH THE HUMANITY: Thoughts on celebrity snark.

By | February 1, 2010

Over the weekend, the lovely and talented Joy Nash left a comment on the Kirstie Alley’s Twitter Wisdom post that read, in part:

“Your posts are forcing me to see her humanity and I don’t like it one bit.”

Here, Joy has said something in a few words that would have taken me pages to explain. I want to take a moment to explain my approach to being so hard on fat celebrities, whether it’s via extreme satire, snarky recaps, or simply being a smartass in my usual way, while still trying to recognize that humanity.

The really real reality is that famous people are still people. They’re simply people with an audience, and occasionally with very strange lives. (Not to mention houses with walls around them.) They’re not evil, nor are they sainted; they’re just flawed, conflicted disasters like the rest of us, trying to get by on their love of performance. And that’s not something to be ashamed of, even when the media they make is terrible. They’re following their dreams, and being willing to do so publicly is admirable.

To be precise, I don’t think Carnie Wilson is a bad person. I don’t think Kirstie Alley is a bad person. I am rather made deeply sad when otherwise smart, outspoken women are laid low by body hatred. And sometimes, I have to laugh at things so I don’t cry. Hence: the snark. It’s easy to look at celebrities who frequently spout body-hating garbage and think they’re merely perpetuating a system of fascist beauty standards that hurt far more people than they benefit, and that’s true. But famous people struggle like the rest of us, if not more, because their exposure is that much more dramatic. It’s one thing to have your mother or your significant other give you a hard time about being fat; it’s something else entirely to hear it from TMZ.com, or to have it impact your ability to succeed in your career. Does that mean famous folks get a free pass? Fuck no. I can’t speak for everyone, but they get more scrutiny from me because they have a voice that reaches more people, and thus has the capacity to change things more than the average person. It’s true they don’t have a responsibility to do so, and it’s their right to do whatever they want with their bodies, but I also have a right to be angry with media figures who choose to actively support and distribute ideas that I believe are deeply damaging to the rest of us. It doesn’t mean I hate these people; I don’t know them enough to hate them. It simply means I’m holding them to a certain standard, even knowing I’ll be forever disappointed.

Carnie and Kirstie and a million other nameless women like them are living with blinders on; we all thought there was no alternative to hating ourselves, to deprivation and self-loathing and misery, until one day we discovered otherwise. Some people find new ways of being through friends or acquaintences, on the internet, or by accident. They randomly, or bravely, pick up a book that uses the word “fat” in novel and shocking ways, and lots of other words, in contexts and implications they’d never before considered. Some people see a confident fat woman performing, in a play or a song or a television sitcom, and they suddenly realize she is amazing, and they realize they can also be amazing. And some people see the light on their own; they get so fed up and so angry that one day they open their eyes and where once there was a long, dark corridor running in only two directions, fat and thin, that there is instead a vivid and multifacted three-hundred-sixty-degree universe all around, shimmering with infinite diversity and infinite possibilities, and they see that the fears that were shackling them to sadness and self-loathing are just wisps in the wind. What is the worst part of being fat? Hating yourself. Stop hating yourself, and being fat—or just not being thin, or just being in your body, whatever your body may look like—becomes a routine experience. When you hate yourself, you will always find things to hate; no matter how much weight you lose, you will never be satisfied, because the person you are will not change. It is necessary to accept ourselves for any of us to develop real security and self-esteem. It’s only through acceptance, of all our lives’ changing circumstances, internal and external, that any of us will find our happiness.

So remember this, whenever I’m viciously skewering some fat-hating famous person on the end of my invisible internets-pen: I’m doing it because I expect more from people with this kind of cultural power, because I want everyone on this whole bloody planet to find a peace with themselves that doesn’t rely on a number on the scale. It comes from a place of hope, and not hatred. Think of it as tough love, and I’d do no less for anyone, no matter who they are.

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