By Lesley | August 11, 2010
Yesterday, a post appeared on the Huge Facebook page promoting a fat-camp scholarship in Nikki Blonsky’s name. Within minutes, my inbox was collapsing quantum-singularity-style under the mass of so many aghast messages letting me know about it. I haven’t said it recently, and can never say it enough, but oh, my vigilant little pudgemuffins, you are such treasures, and I sincerely appreciate all of you who take a moment to send me fat red alerts about this sort of thing — even when there are lots and lots of you.
The Huge Facebook page, where the offending post can be found, is here. I strongly recommend against reading the comments, unless you are one of those loveable scamps who digs on feeding trolls. Though things began as a fairly even conversation expressing opinions both for and against, the thread predictably spiraled into ridiculousness once word spread and dutiful citizens turned up to inform people that a) being fat is not okay, b) all fat people are fat because they eat too much and are lazy, and c) any fat person’s life who does not meet this criteria does not exist. (Oh, and producer Savannah Dooley is an irresponsible horrible person who wants people to get fat and die, suffocated by their own adipose tissue.)
I’m going to take this in two parts: first, the announcement itself.
Last week, La Blonsky* visited Camp Shane — evidently “the longest running” fat camp in the US — to announce the scholarship that will bear her name. The press release for the scholarship announcement is here, if you want to read it in its entirety. The short version is that applicants will submit essays on why they want to attend, and La Blonsky will read them and choose a winner. I do understand the kneejerk reaction a lot of folks have had — so many of you have been on pins and needles, certain that Huge was going to break your heart, so it makes sense that the response to this would be an emotional one. But let’s break this down a bit first.
To start with, this does not seem to be a scholarship that is sponsored by or really in any way connected with the show itself, but rather something one of the show’s stars is involved with, which ABC Family is dutifully promoting, because that’s how this works. Way back when the triceratops was still a dinosaur and I was in film school, one of the things that was hammered into our heads — reluctantly amongst the screenwriters, but still — is that film (and television) is a collaborative process. Sure, somebody writes something, but then that something passes through the interpretive lenses of actors, directors, producers, and so on, before it reaches an audience. And even then, it is again put through a marketing and promotional filter as the company distributing it decides how best to sell it, which may or may not be in keeping with the motivations and purpose of those who made the project in the first place. Thus, a story told on film is a story read by a multitude of voices, with a plethora of intentions and understandings behind it. Maybe if you’re George Lucas, this isn’t true, but then George Lucas hasn’t made a good film in a long-ass time.**
The point being that it is a bit of a leap to assume that because a member of ABC Family’s Facebook Brigade posted a press release about one of their stars, that means everyone involved with the show in question must be automatically on board with that. Nikki Blonsky seems like a smart lady; even in the quotes used in the scholarship announcement, she talks about loving her body, and I am inclined to trust that she would not support a venue where fatties are routinely being brutalized. Would I rather the emphasis on weight-loss be dropped and said camps style themselves on a Health at Every Size (HAES) model, which allows room for weight loss to occur but focuses attention more specifically on overall well-being and individual fitness?*** Hellllll yeah. But that camp doesn’t exist. And the truth remains that many kids, even kids who were traumatized by early diets and body image problems, remember fat camp experiences as positive ones. I’m in no position to dismiss that.
On a broader scale, Huge as a series is portraying a range of experiences and perspectives — including the one of the kid who wants to go to fat camp — and it’s doing it in a calculatedly even-handed way. It is throwing together characters with a wide array of feelings on weight and their bodies and letting them mix it up in this complicated social soup; curiously, just like real life. Indeed, my own real life is conflicted and turbulent, even given my collected fat-lady honors. It is not a solemn march arm-in-arm with like-minded acolytes through fields of nonbelievers, bearing the light of objective truth, because on this issue at least, objective truth does not exist. I live in the same world that plays host to folks like the commenters on Facebook, who believe I and my fat brethren are ridiculous for daring to think of ourselves as real people, worthy of respect. I don’t get to go around all day long educating, much as I would like to, because I have work to do, and a friend’s band may be playing this weekend, and there is laundry that needs washing, and so forth. Life is complicated. For everyone.
Which brings us to the second part of this two-part story: the Facebook explosion.
On some level, such an elaborate demonstration of fat-hating from a small but vocal group is useful. It’s useful because it undermines the argument that size prejudice does not exist, or if it does, that it is not common. It’s also useful because it illustrates the astonishing irrationality of many of these arguments. Folks who spew hate simply know that certain things are true, and require no evidence of it, and if evidence is provided to the contrary, then that evidence is flawed or a lie. This is essentially the opposite of critical thinking, and the opposite of critical thinking is like a cancer in American culture today, affecting us across systems and ideologies and killing our ability to be independent critics of our own world. To wit: if your position is not strong enough to stand up to civil discourse and thoughtful questions, then your position is not very strong at all.
But more than that — and here I repeat myself, again and again as I have for years upon years, and as I will continue to do, to be sure more people hear — no amount of shame is ever going to make me thin. I am not fat because of a shame deficit, and supplying me with additional shame is not a productive solution to a circumstance that I don’t even consider a problem. All shaming fat people does is make them feel like shit about themselves, and if you enjoy doing that, hey, it’s a free country — but you should know that it also makes you an asshole. I spend every day going about my business without shame because it’s how I choose to live, certainly; but I also do it to set an example for anyone whose body fails to conform to arbitrary standards of acceptability, whether they’re fat or not. Shame serves no purpose; it merely drains your energy and your ability to go out and live a fabulous, gratifying, full life. You can leave it all behind.
Or, here is an abridged version: I am fat. Being fat is okay by me. And you cannot make me be thin, no matter what you do. Nyah nyah, neener neener, go fuck yourself, good night.
* Apropos of nothing, but have you SEEN how fierce she is in that dress at the 2010 Teen Choice Awards? Look at the picture again. DAMN.
** Poor George Lucas. You had to know how terrible The Phantom Menace was. I suppose being able to cry yourself to sleep every night whilst reclining on a giant pile of money is some small reassurance.
*** On the phone with Marianne last night, I shared my shock at learning that Camp Shane costs $8300 for TWO MONTHS worth of fat-camping. Marianne’s response: “WE ARE IN THE WRONG BUSINESS!” So maybe five years from now Fatties-Come-Frolic camp will become a reality. Humor aside, though, that number really throws the class privilege of the Camp Shane kids into stark relief.
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