Short Cuts: Kitchen Sink edition

By | August 8, 2011

The title sign for my CSTI workshop, reading "It's Okay to be Fat!"Damn, y’all, how busy have I been? Really, really busy.

A weekend ago I collaborated with the amazing Nancy Haque to deliver a workshop on radical fattery for Western States Center’s Community Strategic Training Initiative. It was a pretty excellent time. The day-long workshop went surprisingly great — I am always astounded when people seem open to these ideas, and don’t fight me on them — and I got to explore a bit of Portland besides, although my impression is that Portland is probably a more compelling place when you have a handy local to show you around.

I spent the better part of Sunday at Powell’s epic store of books, the only real break being when I figured I’d better check out some other places downtown and walked to Fat Fancy, which was closed. I took this as a sign and returned to Powell’s for another couple of hours. Later, I ate a donut with bacon on it, because pretty much everyone was all “GO EAT THE BACON DONUT!” It was less life-changing than I might have hoped, but an interesting experience nonetheless.

What else? I was on NPR’s Morning Edition today, talking about fat characters on TV. This bit was recorded back in January, so I had to read the transcript to remember what I said. You can read (or listen) here. And, of course, there’s lots of new stuff from me on xoJane, including this post about street harassment, the comments to which are cuckoobananas in their awesomeness and their rage.

But enough about me. On to the most amusing links of the past month.

Last week the NYT had an article about celebrity diet spokespersons which really says nothing all that new on the subject:

Famous people, however, play out their weight struggles under glaring lights. It’s hard to forget commercials of the actress and former Jenny Craig spokeswoman Kirstie Alley lustily drooling over the program’s sanctioned fettuccine, or of her triumphant disrobing on “Oprah” to reveal her new bikini body in pantyhose.

[...]

Last year, another diet program, the Fresh Diet, parted ways with its famous “spokesdieter,” the pop singer Carnie Wilson, after she gained weight while under contract.

“It didn’t work out with Carnie,” said Zalmi Duchman, chief executive for the Fresh Diet, which delivers fresh meals daily across the nation. “She dropped like 20 pounds in the first three months. Then she, I mean, she had to go off of it. There’s no question. She might have eaten the meals, but she ate the meals with a lot of other stuff. She started a cheesecake company.”

Poor Carnie Wilson, man. I don’t want to laugh at her endless struggles, nor do I want to lend credence to the idea that the Fresh Diet “works” as a long-term weight-loss solution any better than any other overpriced diet shenanigans, but “She started a cheesecake company” is kind of hilarious. As though simply being a fat lady in the proximity of cheesecake is going to further enfatten her.

But no, the real reason I’m bringing this article up is because it includes two before and after pictures of Carrie Fisher, one of many current celebrity spokespeople for Jenny Craig. Here, check them out:

Carrie's Before and After Jenny Craig pics, photoshopped so thoroughly that they no longer look entirely human. Plus? I don't actually know where she's lost weight.

Dude, that purple shirt probably weighed at least a pound.

Oh shit you guys, look how much weight Carrie’s Second Life avatar has lost! Or don’t, because I kinda don’t see a difference, aside from the before image showing Carrie in a loose overshirt, and the after image without. It doesn’t help that Carrie’s face and body have both been photoshopped right into the uncanny valley. Does Jenny Craig now come with Botox? I just don’t get how anyone can see these images and take this shit seriously, y’all.

In other news of the absurd, a couple weeks back, there was a brief bit on The Today Show featuring a lady with a new! diet! revolution! Oh, I’ll let her speak for herself:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I had to watch this twice to make absolutely sure that it wasn’t an Onion parody.

Susan Cheever, a random person with no apparent past writing credits than I can find, nor an identifiable background as an authority on anything other than her own life experience, wrote an article for Self about what she calls “The Mean Diet.” She lost 25 pounds by being “mean”, or in other words, practicing perfectly reasonable self-care. Then they put her on The Today Show. Where she said:

I realized that being overweight and eating protected me. I had a kind of suit of armor. A friend of mine said obesity is the American burqa. I was a little bit invisible. I was a little bit protected. If I accommodated the world all day I could go home and soothe myself with food. Once I saw that, I started changing my behavior and in a lot of discussions with my brother we worked at what we call “the mean diet.” I started saying no to people. I stopped answering the phone. I started being mean.

Yes, yes, that lady called being fat “the America burqa,” which is one of those things where I have to laugh, laugh uproariously and even a little deranged-ly, lest I totally lose my mind about it. How to unpack such a notion? For one, the burqa — the actual fabric burqa — is not an oppressive evil force, and painting it as such not only erases the agency of the women who choose to wear it, but also insults a culture and religious tradition that frankly gets enough shit already. For another, even IF the burqa WERE a smothering horror, the assumption here is that all fat people are buried — dehumanized, even — under an obfuscating layer of fat that “protects” them is preposterous.

My fat doesn’t protect me from shit (well, maybe from dying from a stab wound from a short-bladed knife, I suppose) but more often makes me an obvious target. And while one can be fat and invisible, invisibility is not an intrinsic aspect of fattery. One can also be fat and very, very seen.

You know that Susan Cheever lacks bona fides because they had to pair her with a psychiatrist to nod and agree. And you know, it’s cool if she has worked out a method of self-care that works for her — that’s not the issue here. Susan Cheever can do as she likes when it comes to her own body. The issue is that Susan Cheever has decided to basically package this as a universally-applicable idea. The fact that Today gave any time at all to a woman who — let’s be honest — just made some random shit up and called it a “diet” speaks to the persistent and defiant absurdity of diet culture.

Finally, an intentionally-funny link: Mary Jo Pehl, late of Mystery Science Theater 3000, currently of Cinematic Titanic, author of the forthcoming Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals, and seriously one of my funny-smart heroes going back many a year, has taken up the bloggering on a regular basis. I am so happy about this I must share it! Here you go.

Got any links I missed? That’s what comments are for.


36 Comments

Melinda on August 8, 2011 at 10:29 am.

YAY!! Thanks for mentioning my friend Mary Jo! That just made my morning- I am friends with Mary Jo and LOVE your website. I link to it often on my Facebook page and she and I are of like minds about a lot of the stuff you discuss here.

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buttercup on August 8, 2011 at 11:08 am.

We saw a commercial with Bertinelli the other day, I can’t remember who she shills for, there was a “scale going down” shot, and it went down to like 65 pounds. I was horrified. I don’t have enough sanity watchers points to peruse youtube for it, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere.

Also, Carrie Fisher. Ugh. Why? What happened to “FU if you don’t like how I look”. I guess they paid her enough, or the pressure got to her, or both. And the singing “I’m eating jenny!” thing creeps me out. Weight loss through cannibalism. Right.

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Jami on August 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm.

THANK YOU! Every single time I see that commercial I keep thinking she’s a cannibal that only eats women named Jenny. It creeps me out majorly! (And oddly, it’s the one commercial Jenny Craig has no put on their YouTube account. Just the first part.)

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Lurker65 on August 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm.

I just spit iced T all over my keyboard.

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purplekeychain on August 8, 2011 at 11:10 am.

I normally turn NPR off as soon as they start on their “obesity” series over the past week or so, but this morning I opted to listen in, and was surprised to hear your name and voice. Nice one! So glad to hear you on the radio. Was especially happy to hear mention of Huge!

“American burqua” made me throw up in my mouth a little.

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Jezebella on August 8, 2011 at 11:33 am.

I just have to laugh at the “mean diet”. I’ve been that kind of mean most of my life – I say no when I want to, I only answer the phone if I feel like it, and I don’t play nicey-nice when I’m not feeling it. And yet! I am still fat! What gives, y’all? Shouldn’t I be stick-thin after all these years of not letting people tell me what to do and how to act?

Feh, I say. Feh.

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hannah byun on August 8, 2011 at 11:33 am.

Thanks for the head’s up on Mary Jo Pehl’s blog. It’s fantastic!!

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CJ on August 8, 2011 at 11:34 am.

Oh! I wish I’d known you were in Portland. I would have loved to show you around! Glad you spent some time in Powell’s and at Voodoo Donuts :)

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Great Big Girl on August 8, 2011 at 11:38 am.

“My fat doesn’t protect me from shit”

You took the words right out of my mouth! That’s all I could think while watching the clip. The idea that fat is somehow a shield from the world is such an old-fashioned, “Fat-Is-A-Feminist-Issue” (which we have to remember, had the goal of helping women lose weight) myth that has been compeltely debunked by those folks practicing radical fattery today.

You’re serving up the awesomeness, as always!

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Ankaret on August 8, 2011 at 11:43 am.

All I get from that before and after shot is ‘OUR DIET WILL PUT BOWS ON YOUR BALLET PUMPS, BUT GIVE YOU CRAVINGS FOR ODD-FITTING PINK SHIRTS’.

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JupiterPluvius on August 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm.

Susan Cheever is a writer, probably best known for her biography of her father, John Cheever, but who has also written various other books including a truly crap biography of Louisa May Alcott.

So you see how she is an expert on body size and metabolism and what-not.

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Lesley on August 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm.

Ah! So my problem was attempting to find prior work from her relating to her new area of expertise. That clears it up.

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JupiterPluvius on August 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm.

Well, she just made this astonishing scientific discovery, after all.

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Julie2 on August 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm.

And she wrote that memoir about sex addiction, yes? Also, duh, obviously, contributing to her expertise in this area.

You’d think being raised at least in part by John Cheever would earn you an associate’s degree from the School of Hard Knocks, but clearly there are points missed by even the keenest students.

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Aimee on August 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm.

Thanks for the Mary Jo link!

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Kate on August 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm.

That SELF article is probably one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. Words have failed me.

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marjorie on August 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm.

JupiterPluvius beat me to it!

Susan Cheever wrote a bio of her father that outed him; she’s also written books on her own addictions to sex and alcohol. For whatever its worth, learning that she grew up in an abusive household (it does sound like John Cheever was a very mean drunk), with both parents telling her she was so unattractive she’d never find someone to love her, I find it easier to understand the self-loathing that seems to seems to fuel this piece. (And I’m gonna blame the clueless use of the term “American burqa” on her coming from the Upper East Side. I’M ON THE GEOGRAPHICAL HATE-DIET, YO.)

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Twistie on August 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm.

So… the key to permanent, joyous weight loss is to mess up your host’s seating charts? That’s kind of what I got from the piece. Besides, her crowing about how sitting next to someone she personally finds interesting, seating chart be damned!, helps her skip dessert? Just tells me never under any circumstances to invite her to dinner at Casa Twistie. After all, my desserts are the best part of an awesome culinary experience. And we don’t invite boring people who pride themselves on not wanting to actually ingest my food.

Also? Obesity is the American Burqa just… words, thoughts, even rude hand gestures fail me. It’s especially cluelessly ironic considering how the burqa itself runs the gamut from failing to protect women by outlawing their desire to wear something freaking else in public (in some countries) to failing to protect them by pointing them out in a crowd for irrational hate mongering and religious persecution (in other, more ‘enlightened’ ones).

So really, I guess the comparison does work on some tiny bizarre level based on the fact that NEITHER ONE PROTECTS YOU FROM FUCK-ALL!

Fat women and women in burqas still get mugged. Fat women and women in burqas still get raped. Fat women and women in burqas still get murdered. And both groups of women are particularly likely in the Western world to be publicly harassed by the ignorant and the intolerant.

Sigh. I want to go to Powell’s. Take me with you next time! Pretty please?

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empressmitzi on August 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm.

Never mind the dieting, what the hell has Carrie Fisher done to her face? That can’t just be Photoshopping, she’s completely unrecognizable. Another childhood heroine lets me down….

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CTJen on August 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm.

I tried to watch that Today show clip, I honestly did, but I couldn’t get past the 1:30 mark it was so terrible. And, our fat also protects us from freezing to death in cold weather or starving to death in the first few weeks of a famine. So, YAY for the protection of FAT!! FAT FAT FAT! w00!!!

ahem.

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Drama Queen on August 8, 2011 at 10:50 pm.

“For one, the burqa — the actual fabric burqa — is not an oppressive evil force, and painting it as such not only erases the agency of the women who choose to wear it, but also insults a culture and religious tradition that frankly gets enough shit already.”

THANK YOU.

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Katherine on August 9, 2011 at 12:27 am.

Can I just take a moment to register my grumblings with that NPR segment? It started out so awesome. Stereotypes still abound! Yeah! The tragic awesomeness of “Huge”! Critical media analysis! Biggest Loser sucks! Except then Biggest Loser doesn’t suck because it Inspires people to Change Their Lives(TM) or whatever the eff. Oh, its creator thinks it’s a great show? Well, I’ll be! Grrrrrrrr.

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Dora K on August 9, 2011 at 9:29 am.

What a crock of shit! That woman on the Today show is an idiot. She was just a pushover her whole life, but then decided that she was going to “be mean”, and that’s how she lost weight?? Wow, so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong! (omg, I just lost a pound! maybe it does work..)
I have felt anything but protected from my fat…if anything, there are days where I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb!

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Amy on August 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm.

If being mean caused weight loss, I’d have negative mass by now. Seriously, this woman is ridiculous. Why can’t women be encouraged to set boundaries and advocate for themselves without it being packaged as a “diet?”

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AniaGosia on August 9, 2011 at 5:48 pm.

And without it being labelled as “mean”. Setting and respecting your own boundaries is not mean. If a man were to act in the way that she describes as “mean”, no one would think twice about it.
Also – I was happy to hear you on NPR this morning, but disappointed with the segment. Ending it with the positive portrayal of Biggest Loser made it seem like that was the last word – fat people will always be desperate to lose weight because that’s how things are. Fat is bad. Of course, that’s pretty much the message of most of that series on NPR. I hate the “battle with obesity” language. The “war on drugs” didn’t go so well. Maybe it’s time to stop battling concepts. Just sayin’.

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silentbeep on August 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm.

lots of peeps are blogging about the Jess Weiner article in Glamour – can’t wait to hear what you think Lesley! :)

(I mean beyond twitter since I follow you there lol)

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Rubyfruit on August 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm.

…Bacon donuts don’t sound that appetizing to me, and I like both those things. But it would sound interesting to try.

I also want that title sign on a shirt or a messenger bag or something. Because that would be awesome.

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Tara on August 10, 2011 at 12:08 am.

Oh, I also wish I’d have known you were in Portland. I’d have loved to show you around (and taken you to a FAB locally-owned plus-clothes shop), and also would have loved to take your workshop! Seems the FA movement here has dwindled of late, and we could use some energy!

Please come back soon–there’s lots of fun to be had!

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Paintmonkey on August 10, 2011 at 6:08 am.

“Putting the me back in MEAN.” Holy Shite. Putting the me back in “load of old bullshit”, would be better I think.
I do however like the idea of a suit of armour of fat, but slightly altered in that I would actually make the suit of armour out of high calorie foods and stroll around with it on. I cant imagine a better way to make myself more popular and be less mean than to strap on pastries, cakes and chocolates and then trip round town while friendly folk and passing cats help themselves to my suit of armour treats . Surely a great way to have fun, and if I could get through my door and past my own dog while wearing a cake suit I’d do it, by god.

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Nynaeve on August 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm.

“For one, the burqa — the actual fabric burqa — is not an oppressive evil force, and painting it as such not only erases the agency of the women who choose to wear it, but also insults a culture and religious tradition that frankly gets enough shit already.”

Let’s put aside Susan the Mean and focus on the burqa itself. The actual fabric burqa is an oppressive evil force. For starters, it is hot; it covers everything, and I mean everything; and it both robs women of their individuality and foists upon them the idea that their bodies, by virtue of being female, are unclean. Women’s bodies incite lustful thoughts and deeds in men, so women’s bodies must be covered up: this is the logic behind the burqa (and the chador). This links back to the post about female gamers being restricted from participating in the gaming get-together, whereby women were protected from dangerous menfolk by just being shunned.

Most women who wear burqas do not wear these atrocious things out of joy. Some women have drunk the Kool-Aid and think that, yes, their bodies are unclean before God / Allah and that they must cover up, both to avoid offending God / Allah and to avoid inciting the lust of men. (Which, as pointed out above, doesn’t even work – women in burqas are raped more than we’d like to think.)

Yes, I admit it: I openly loathe a cultural tradition which teaches women they are little better than animals; that men, by virtue of their having penises, are vastly superior to everything except for God / Allah; and that women exist to be servile to men. Education? Rights? Excuse the men of this cultural tradition while they double over with laughter. Oh, and be prepared for them to routinely beat their wives. It’s not only common, it’s expected.

Did I forget to mention that I’m half Middle Eastern, with a strict father who is actually from the Middle East, and who is considered quite lenient by Middle Eastern standards? Lenient though he may be, he certainly hammered down the law: I’m female, ergo I am worthless. This attitude is horrifically common with Middle Eastern men – it’s uncommon for Middle Eastern men to not share this attitude.

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Flo on August 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm.

While all of these things are sometimes true, not all women who wear burquas (or chadors or hijab etc.) do so because they are either forced or have “drunk the kool-aid” as you say. You claim that wearing a burqua erases women’s individuality, however I remember having a conversation in which a hijabi woman told me she wears it partly as a way for her thoughts to be taken more seriously. In our culture women are often judged (especially by men) on their bodies, their physical appearance. When that body is concealed people are forced to judge one’s thoughts and actions instead. She liked being able to have conversations with men, where her personality mattered more than her body. Clearly women should not be forced into covering themselves, but claiming that all women who do are somehow brainwashed is disrespectful to a group who as Lesley so well put it, “frankly gets enough shit already.”

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thirtiesgirl on August 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm.

Just thought I’d call your attention to this: former NY mayor and House of Reps member Ed Koch and his sister Pat have written an “anti-bullying” children’s book called “Eddie Shapes Up,” in which the bullied main character, Eddie, is essentially told to “shape up” and drop some lbs in order to “stop being such a target” for bullies. Oy… *eyeroll*. Dr. Deah Schwartz, who is, I believe, a member of NAAFA, has written about it on her blog, here: http://networkedblogs.com/lvaSl

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Savannah D on August 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm.

But if being mean makes you skinny, how come bullies and villains in childrens’ books are always fat??? LOGISTICAL FLAW

Also I always wish I could hear the photographer coaching the “before” shots. “No smiling! Try to think about how much your fat life sucks!”

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Lurker65 on August 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm.

Ok, here’s me being mean: Carrie Fisher doesn’t need a diet, she needs a stylist.

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Emerald on August 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm.

‘American burqa’…ugh. Unfortunately, on almost every debate here as to the allowability in the UK of this and various other face- and/or body-hiding garments, there have been comments from men who say, yes, they approve of burqas! But only on fat women! Because, only women hot enough to not offend their delicate penii should be allowed to go out uncovered in public. Sheesh.

And, I read your xoJane article at work, but thanks to their security filters, hadn’t gotten to read the comments till now. Thank you for writing this. Because this kind of crap happening to women reminds me why I still believe feminism is necessary, dammit.

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thirtiesgirl on August 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm.

I just saw another thing today. TLC network is launching a new plus size ‘reality’ show about 4 fat women trying to make it as plus size models in New York. I saw a teaser commercial for the show this morning. From what I saw, it looks like the show partially focuses on the women’s lives, and is not just all about fashion and modeling. Info on the show can be found here: http://press.discovery.com/us/tlc/programs/big-sexy/

I had a problem with one of the statements made by one of the fat women in the teaser commercial. She says, “Once you go big, you’ll never go ‘twig,’” using the dehumanizing term ‘twig’ to designate thinner women. Ugh. It’s the whole “real women have curves” thing again, as if someone is “less real” because they’re not fat. That’s not size acceptance, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m hoping I don’t see it on TLC’s new show. It airs on TLC on August 30, so I’ll be watching to see how they do.

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