I have a high threshold for sexist, sizeist, classist, and racist things that people write on the internet because I’ve seen so much of it over the years. But the MarieClaire.com article by Maura Kelly titled “Should ‘Fatties’ Get A Room?” — which we told you about yesterday — was above-and-beyond disgusting. Kelly wrote that she wouldn’t want to watch the new TV show “Mike & Molly,” starring two plus-sized actors in an intimate relationship, because she would “be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything.” In case you need her point driven home further, Kelly added, “I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across the room.”
The blatant sizeism in those statements should make Maura Kelly ashamed of herself. And given how quickly she posted an “apology” yesterday and how her boss, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, responded (more on that in a second), she appears to be mortified.
Here’s the thing — I actually feel bad for this woman.Throughout her career as a writer, Maura Kelly has made no secret of her struggles with anorexia. While I don’t mean to imply people with mental illnesses are somehow exempt from responsibility for their actions — I myself have depression and don’t think it’s an excuse — I will say my first thought when I read that Kelly used to be anorexic was, “Oh, this woman is sick and she’s making a fool of herself online.” The things she wrote about fat people — her disgust, even hatred towards their bodies — are probably the same things she has turned inward towards herself. There’s a reason — a very sad reason — Maura Kelly believes these things. True, millions of non-eating-disordered people who also live in our thin-worshiping culture share some shred of her opinions. But she’s not the most level-headed spokeswoman for a body image discussion, no?
Knowing Maura Kelly’s history, I wish her editors at MarieClaire.com had also possessed the good sense not to publish Kelly’s piece in the first place. There are a lot of reasons the piece shouldn’t have passed muster: 1) because the viewpoint was clearly discriminatory and no more defensible than racist disgust at watching a biracial couple kissing; 2) because sizeism doesn’t fit with Marie Claire‘s brand (the mag made waves last year when it hired a plus-sized fashion stylist); and 3) by Kelly’s own admission, the article was not particularly well-thought-out or well-written. Those are three good reasons that would leave any editor to decide that an article should not to be published. Yet, MarieClaire.com was more than happy, apparently, to let a writer with a history of eating disorders make a fool of herself by calling large people “fatties” and posted the piece anyway. No doubt delighted at the page views they’d rack up from angry readers, editor-in-chief Joanna Coles went so far as to defend Maura Kelly. Pressed by a blogger for Fashionista, Coles said, “Maura Kelly is a very provocative blogger. She was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about.”
“Provocative” is new media language for “cha-ching, cha-ching page views.” Maura Kelly may technically have recovered from anorexia in the sense that she’s no longer starving herself, but calling plus-sized people “disgusting” and saying she doesn’t even want to look at them sure sounds like the woman’s got some “provocative” body image issues to me. That’s not surprising: Mental illness is not exactly something you “recover” from like the flu, but more like something that’s with you always and you learn to cope with, like diabetes. The plus-sized supermodel Crystal Renn, for example, said she has only recently started exercising at the gym because she doesn’t want to fall back into that mindset. An alcoholic is always an alcoholic, even if they are sober. A depressed person’s bouts with depression will always be with them even if their brain chemistry is currently under control. An anorexic can be eating healthy, but those same beliefs that once made her drop half her body weight are still very much imprinted on her mind. Are we really surprised she feels this way? She even acknowledges it in an update she wrote on her original post yesterday:
” … for whatever it’s worth, I feel just as uncomfortable when I see an anorexic person as I do when I see someone who is morbidly obese, because I assume people suffering from eating disorders on either end of the spectrum are doing damage to their bodies, and that they are unhappy. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge based on superficial observations.
To that point (and on a more personal level), a few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin. As I mentioned in the ongoing dialogue we’ve been carrying on in the comments section, I think that’s an accurate insight.
Obviously, Maura Kelly should have had the good sense to not write these nasty things online and impugn her reputation. But the woman had a freakin’ eating disorder. I feel compassionate towards her because she just laid all that crap that goes on in her own head on display for the whole world to read and, despite her protestations to the contrary, yes, she looks like a “size-ist jerk.” A better question for Marie Claire would be: Why are you giving someone with a known history of an unhealthy — even poisonous — body image the platform to criticize other people’s bodies? That strikes me as not only exploitative, but poor editorial judgment.
Let me be clear: I disagree with everything Maura Kelly wrote about plus-sized people and think she deserves every bit of bad fallout that rains on her head for this gross insensitivity. I also don’t mean to sound paternalistic, protective or imply she didn’t know any better. She should have known better, both to think these things and to write them. But I still can’t help but think it’s a bit tragic for Maura Kelly that her own neuroses are so deep-seated that she doesn’t see how any of this was not only offensive, but sick.