The Soapbox: Melissa McCarthy, Rex Reed & Hippo-Gate

I shook my head recently when I read about New York Observer film critic Rex Reed’s personal insult toward actress Melissa McCarthy. In a review of her latest offering, “Identity Thief,” he called her “tractor-sized” and as big as a “hippo.” Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that a man, who himself is part of a marginalized and often supressed segment of society [Reed is widely believed to be gay.] wields his pejoratives so freely when directed toward another similarly ill-regarded community, the “un-thin” or “un-commercial.” The part of our population that still hides in a closet of self-hatred. The part of our population, fearful that they won’t be accepted or seen for anything other than their physical appearance. You don’t have to be overweight to be part of our collective; you just have to have a self-loathing of some physical feature you feel you possess. Surely, this is something that everyone can relate to at some point in their lives and certainly, unless he was blessed to have grown up amongst royalty, Rex Reed himself must have had to deal with.

And that’s when I realized that Mr. Reed‘s subjugation of Ms. McCarthy could only come from his own self-hatred. Think of the little boy who is constantly bullied in the schoolyard. Done often enough and without appropriate correction, that bullied little boy internalizes the hateful words spewed toward himself and those words becomes part of what I call his “life tape”: subconscious lessons we learn about ourselves from the outside world. Negative, untrue messages like these, left unchecked become the villains to our self worth. Sometimes making us strike out against others in order to ease the pain of our own misperceived failings.

This gave me some compassion toward Mr. Reed, for it must be monumental self-loathing that gave him license to personally attack another based on her appearance. And to do it in a such a public forum. Only another person who had not processed the misfortune of being so inelegantly treated himself would have the capacity to do the same thing in such a righteous and flagrant a manner. But this incident brings up a deeper issue. Those of us with self-esteem or body issues. Those of us who have been through years of therapy, read the latest self-help books and prayed for self acceptance at the local house of worship. Are we ever really free from the self-judgement? Does the “life tape” ever get erased or does the sound, though faint and scratchy, still remain buried in our psyche?

Recently, I went out to breakfast with my good friend Evan. It was a cloudy and cold L.A. day and I was feeling emotional and depressed. PMS had reared its ugly head and I was using all my emotional energy to keep the hateful thoughts in my brain from permeating my day and my time with Evan.

Evan and I dated briefly and soon decided that we made better friends than lovers (well, friends that occasionally kiss with tongue). Since then, he has been a trusted confidant and steadfast supporter … everything you want in a buddy. Even though we were platonic, Evan always treated me like a sexy, desirable and smart woman. It felt good to go out with Evan. We’d do movie nights and dinners and though we were chaste, he always made it known that he thought I was hot. What girl wouldn’t love that?

By the time our eggs arrived, we were engaging in silly and entertaining conversation. Pop culture trivia, favorite movies, cool hangouts, teenage angst, and then Evan posed this question to me: “Who would you want to play you in the movie of your life?” Hmmm, I’d never thought about it. Evan thought for a minute and then an almost visible light bulb appeared over his head, “I got it! That chick from ‘Bridesmaids’!”

Awww, bless his heart, I thought, he thinks Kristen Wiig should play me. I was flattered. Kristin Wiig was one of my favorites on “Saturday Night Live” and I loved her in “Bridesmaids.” She was funny, talented and cute. My heart warmed. Evan added, “You know … that woman on ‘Mike & Molly’?”

My heart sank. He, in fact, did NOT mean Kristen Wiig, he meant the very plus-sized Melissa McCarthy. In a nano-second the realization that the man across from me who has seen me naked, has equated me with a “fat girl.” I started to cry.

Now let me be clear, Melissa McCarthy is every bit as cute, talented and funny as Kristen Wiig, however Melissa McCarthy happens to be a woman of size. I was angry with myself for being so upset. I was a self-proclaimed, body and sex-positive advocate. One of my biggest causes has been for women of all shapes and sizes to integrate self-esteem and realize their inherent sexuality (and worth) regardless of shape or weight. Yet here I was, apparently feeling slighted that Evan viewed me as a “fat chick.” He immediately felt horrible that he made me cry and I was more than ok with that. I was offended and hurt and my ego was bruised. Evan back-pedaled, and in an effort to stop my tears he grabbed my hands across the table and said he thought of her because she’s so “funny and sexy and pretty.” “Oh, you did not,” I snapped. “You thought of her because she’s big. I’m not as big as that!” Evan was speechless. I groaned and excused myself to go to the bathroom to gather my fat self.

I stood in front of the streaky diner mirror and reviewed myself in vile self-loathing. I felt ugly. I felt worthless and I felt like a fraud. I was embarrassed that I had automatically reacted this way when being compared to an extremely talented woman who happens to be fat. Closing my eyes and holding onto the sides of the sink with my head hung low I took some deep breaths and started to do some quick inner self-examination. “What are you really feeling? Where is it coming from? And is it true?” I asked myself.

The first thing that entered my mind was that I was feeling shame: indignant, unlovable, undesirable and unworthy. I immediately remembered all the boys is elementary and middle school that commented on my big butt and preferred to date the tanned, athletic surfer girls to the pale, soft theater nerd that was me. Ahhhh, that’s where it was coming from. I lifted my head and looked in the mirror again. “Is it true?” I asked myself. I squinted and took a long breath. From deep within my self I heard a tiny, barely audible voice say “No. It’s not.” It surprised me that even after many years of criticism from the opposite sex and myself, that this little voice could even be heard. I guess the 20 years of therapy had sunk in.

I could feel the truth of the little voice. I could understand her intention. The reality is that I really am beautiful regardless of the size of my hips. I have had proof of this on a subjective level from ex-lovers and boyfriends but more importantly I’ve had proof of this by what I saw in myself. For in that bathroom, looking into my mascara-stained reflection, I realized that even though my ego had a flashback to old feelings and modalities that I had identified with for so long, that in this diner bathroom feeling pre-menstrual, emotionally taxed and having just had a surprising crying-jag, I came to more fully understand in that moment that as bad as I felt at the time, I still felt sexy. I did! I couldn’t believe it. It was possible to be healing an old wound while at the same time recognize a newly realized truth.

I re-joined Evan at the table, refreshed and much more cogent than when I left. He was a puppy with his tail between his legs until I explained the catharsis I just had. Evan’s body un-tensed and he became energized, jubilant and seemed oddly proud that he had something to do with this “satori.” Nothing had changed. To Evan, I was always smart, funny, sexy … no matter what size I was. That’s how he saw me (subjective) because that’s how I saw myself (objective). I saw myself that way because of a lot of good therapy, hard work and self-inventory that proved to me that those features were indisputable.

Nothing’s perfect, there will always be people (and sometimes even myself) who don’t see that in me (subjective) and that’s fine, it doesn’t mean it’s less true (objective). And there will always be times when something someone says or does will trigger old wounds with a repeat reaction. But, the point is, it is just a reaction from times long gone and just like when Craig Michaels called me a “lard-ass” (subjective) it has nothing to do with who I really am (objective). Who I really am is a woman with flaws, but those flaws don’t make me any less worthy or any less lovable or any less beautiful or in Ms. McCarthy’s case any less talented. It’s those flaws that make me the special package that (at least when I’m not PMS-ing) I realize I am.

Which brings me back to shaking my head as I read Rex Reed’s review of Melissa McCarthy’s physique. I’m human and I can’t say I don’t harbor some displeasure toward Mr. Reed, but it’s more like the exasperation you feel toward a child when they throw their Spaghetti-O’s across the room for the third time. You can’t dislike a child for his actions because he’s just a child. He’s not working with fully developed facilities. I feel the same way toward Mr. Reed. After reading his review I just click to another screen and remind myself of a quote by French writer Andre Malraux: “The attempt to force human beings to despise themselves is what I call hell.” In my perception, this must be the place that Mr. Reed wrote his review from. I just hope that in the future he might move to a brighter location.

This post was crossposted with permission from Smut For Smarties [NSFW].