The effects of bullying are in the news everywhere lately, from the teen girl, Megan Meier, who killed herself after being harassed on MySpace, to Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi and the spate of copycat suicides that followed him. As crushing as the reports of each new suicide can be, I’m also grateful that the mainstream media is finally paying attention to the issues that lay underneath bullying — like an article about Clementi that made last week’s cover of People magazine. Any conversation about bullying is an opportunity to make people think about their own use of intimidation and the abuse of power.
But I take issue with OK! magazine’s recent cover depicting Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jennifer Hudson under the tag line “Bullied For Their Weight: They’ll Never Call Me Fat Again!” Um, skinny, beautiful, rich women are the two victims you could come up with for a bullying story? And they stuck it to their bullies by going on a juice diet? Yeah, that’s the message we want to send: capitulate to the bullies and you won’t be given crap anymore! If some jerks is calling you a heifer, drop from size 16 to size 4. That’ll show ‘em.It’s easy to see why some editors at OK! would put this story on the cover, given that bullying stories dominate the news right now. Most everyone can understand being made to feel bad for our size. So we can kinda relate in a “Celebs: They’re Just Like Us!” sort of way, because it’s no secret Hollywood starlets are relentlessly bullied about their weight. (“Is that a baby bump? Or did she eat too many French fries??? The shocking story on page 16!!!”)
OK! pegged it as a triumph-over-bullying story: Jennifer Love Hewitt has been at the center of many a vicious cellulite pictorial (the subhead reads: “Jennifer Love Hewitt: No More Cellulite”) and I guess Jennifer Hudson’s been criticized for her weight, too (her subhead reads: “Jennifer Hudson: From Size 16 To 4″). The irony here, of course, is OK! is one of many rags that engages in that body snarking in the first place! A kinda, sorta triumph-over-bullying story is nice. Is “nice” good enough, though? A real, impactful change would be if tabloids could stop doing the body image bullying by scrutinizing everyone’s bodies in such minute, paranoia-inducing detail.
You know what sticks in my craw even worse? They’re co-opting the word “bullying.” I know, I know, no one owns the term bullying. But that particular word was chosen for a reason. It wasn’t “Jennifer Hudson Is Looking Fab!” — it was “”Bullied For Their Weight.” Yet instead of a substantive article about bullying, though, this cover article is a vehicle for Hudson and Hewitt (who’s turning into a younger Kirstie Alley talking about her weight all the damn time) to flaunt their skinny bods!
And that’s to be expected. Flaunting skinny bods is what mainstream magazines are all about. But the timing is inappropriate here. Skinny girls flaunting their skinny bods in an article about body image “bullying” the weeks after a handful of gay teens have killed themselves after suffering at the hands of bullies is beyond distasteful. Don’t misunderstand me: Bullying is bullying and it’s all abusive. Yet when there are young people — gay kids, perceived-to-be-gay kids, just plain weird kids — who fight bullying every day and then go kill themselves over it, no one will be drying their tears because Jennifer Love Hewitt has “no more cellulite.”