There has been a lot of backlash over an article by Marie Claire writer Maura Kelly. Her story focuses on Mike & Molly, a sit-com about two overweight people, and her disgust in watching fat people … do pretty much anything.
First, I want to congratulate Marie Claire on a successful PR strategy. Publish an unfavourable, media-grabbing, society-polarizing, controversial piece, then counter with a series of stories opposing it, siding with the public-at-large.
Well played, Ms. Claire. Well played.
Second, I want to take this opportunity to voice my disgust in watching skinny people, do pretty much everything on TV.
Now, to get Kelly started on the article in question, her editor asked, "Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see overweight people making out on television?"
It seems only fitting that I start with a similar question:
Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see underweight people making out on television?
Yes and no.
Yes, many people probably do feel uncomfortable on some level, watching skinny people sucking face and squeezing each other’s love handles (aka ribs), because to some degree it makes every day people more self-conscious about their own love handles (aka fat).
No, because that is what we are accustomed to seeing, not in real life per se, but in “reality” life, on TV.
And this is what makes me most uncomfortable.
You see, we have been conditioned to accept certain things in life.
1. Gas prices must increase disproportionate to the cost of oil.
2. The shoes you like most will always be too expensive for your own good.
3. TV is our barometre for “acceptable”, and acceptable defines what should be normal.
And so, what we are encouraged to see as normal is actually abnormal.
Is it normal to have reality scripted?
Is it normal for lipstick (red, no less) to remain unsmudged after a makeout session?
Is it normal to see thin people represented as 99 per cent of the population?
In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that two out of every three adults in this country are obese or overweight. While, in the United States, home to the fattest people in the world, 60 per cent of its population is overweight, and another 20 per cent obese.
What’s more, the prevalence of the obese and overweight has consistently risen over the years and continues to do so.
This is certainly not desirable, but it is indeed normal.
The same way Maura Kelly is “grossed out” by watching two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kiss each other – or even walk across a room – I am repulsed by watching thousands of characters without any fat rolls, represent every day people.
If inclusion is indicative of acceptance, doesn’t it stand to reason that exclusion is indicative of rejection?
So, why does it take an article about the disdain towards fat people to make so many of us angry?
We never fight the system. It is too powerful. We just fight individuals within it. In this case, Maura Kelly. If we actually chose to the fight the system, we wouldn’t need Kelly’s article to enrage us.
Her article just points out the obvious. As hateful and flawed as her opinion is, its core truth is an accurate assessment of society’s feelings: fat people are not acceptable, thus not wanted on TV.
If they were, fat people would be more than just a punchline in a show.
Even Mike & Molly is at fault for that. Rather than using the show as an opportunity to normalize fat people (similar to Roseanne), the sit-com – which puts the “un” in funny – centres entirely on fat jokes. But, at least it puts heavy, or more specifically, NOT skinny people, on TV in a foreign capacity to us – as leads.
Of course, Biggest Loser has an entire cast of morbidly and super-morbidly obese people, but the purpose of the show is to alter their fat for our entertainment, not accept them.
Magazines, advertisements, and entertainment, often tell us what we want, preying on our fears and insecurities to instill and encourage these desires. We have learned that what we have is never good enough, and often not even any good at all.
So, we want to be skinnier, we want to be more muscular, we want to be richer, we want to be prettier, we want to be more handsome, we want to be taller, we want, we want, we want …
These wants become our needs.
But, from time to time, in revolt, we have these little outbursts.
“I’m proud of who I am.”
“I accept who I am.”
“Don’t disparage fat people!”
“Don’t disparage gay people!”
“Don’t disparage [insert cause-of-the-week] people!”
Gradually, the tantrums die down, until the TV hums another lullaby, again soothing us to sleep.
It is a passively-vicious cycle.
From time to time, these outbursts may result in exceptions, but they only serve to prove the rule, and strengthen it. A gay person here, a fat person there … Those bones (and fat, as it were) serve to settle our cravings.
Sure, for the most part TV is the land of make believe. We must learn to suspend our disbelief for certain things. Characters never seem to go pee or pass gas. Bottle blondes rarely have any regrowth. A bomb that is set to explode in 60 seconds can tick down for three minutes of our time. And seldom does anyone wear the same thing twice.
But, there is a serious problem when we suspend our disbelief to the point that it alters our actual belief system.