Saturday, May 30, 2009

Anybody Up For Some Bacon-Wrapped Bacon?

As a former fatty, I could talk about psychological battle of losing weight for months.  It's entirely complicated, loaded with nuances and an infinite amount of talking points.

Thank you, Jan Hoffman of the New York Times Style section.  She successfully writes an entire article without including one of those.

Count the number of times she mentions possible sneers from the public toward a fat person and count the number of times she fails to mention the health risks of being fat.  

Bingeing on Celebrity Weight Battles

By JAN HOFFMAN (Yes.  That Jan Hoffman.)

WHEN Kirstie Alley recently stepped onto the scale for the first time in 15 months, she screamed (If you had fat hoss in the poll, you lose.  If you had sweaty fat hoss, collect your money at the front desk).

When Oprah Winfrey realized she was the “dreaded 2-0-0,” she wrote in the January issue of her magazine: “I’m mad at myself. I’m embarrassed.” (Piffle.  Tip 265 and feel like you should shower every time you take a crap and get back to me.)

In the last year, so many celebrities have shared their body battles with us: Carnie Wilson.  Kathy Ireland.  Valerie Bertinelli.  Marie Osmond.  Melissa Joan Hart.  Up, down. Up, down (It's been a great ride).


The scale said 228 pounds, recalled Ms. Alley, who famously (?) lost 75 pounds on the Jenny Craig diet .  She had gained it all back and then some (Bullshit.  "And then some" would connote 25 pounds max.  No fucking way Kirstie Alley was ever 150.  Us Magazine would have told me).  Earlier this month she told People: “I was so much more disgusting than I thought!”

Really? (Jan's a fattty.)

That view is not shared by Gabrielle Gregg, a 22-year-old from Detroit who writes a fashion blog, “Young, Fat and Fabulous.” (Natch.)

“I’m 200 pounds and I don’t think I’m disgusting,” she said.

In addition to tracking celebrities’ tours of duty in rehab and fashion faux pas, the public has become the official weight watcher, checking the cellulite and food choices of the famous with a gotcha zeal. (No, Jan.  Your little cadre of friends and your little sphere of existence "has become the official weight watcher."  Quit projecting your stupid-ass crap on my world.)

Some celebrities, like Jennifer Love Hewitt, Tyra Banks, Kim Kardashian, Jessica Simpson and Kelly Clarkson, respond to the tabloid finger-pointing with shoulder shrugs or defiance.

But others take part eagerly.  Their weight sagas inevitably include self-abasement as a springboard to their new selves. “Hideous!” Ms. Alley commented about one of her photographs.

How do heavy (Carol word!  "She's a heavy-set woman.") women — many of whom bluntly describe themselves as fat (THE HORROR!!!) — respond to these sagas?  Judging by the Internet applause, many feel inspired and connect to the celebrities’ seeming candor (Candor?  Fat's fat, and that's that.  What?  I have to add 'fat' to the list of words I can't use now?).

But for many, these mortification-of-the-flesh narratives are not galvanizing, but toxic, undermining their hard-won self-esteem and exacerbating the derision they face (Butch up, Sally.).  These celebrity stories can even be counterproductive:  health experts say that many famous dieters flaunt weight-loss goals that are unrealistic for most obese women (Here's an idea.  DON'T TAKE WEIGHT LOSS AND BODY IMAGE ADVICE FROM FUCKING TELEVISION AND PEOPLE FUCKING MAGAZINE!!!!).

It’s not that these women are unsympathetic to Ms. Alley.  Been there, felt that. “You loathe yourself,” Ms. Alley told People. “You hate what you’ve done to yourself.”

But the yo-yo dieting and disparaging comments prompt some women to feel unmotivated and hopeless.

“I can’t believe this is still getting to me,” said Sarah Morice, 31, a doctoral candidate in theology at Notre Dame. “I see what Kirstie Alley says about herself and how easy it is for that to become my script.  It’s easy to lapse into ‘Oh, my body’s ugly,’ and ‘What’s the use?’ She triggers all those messages for me.” (Oh.  Ma  God.  We're talking about a doctoral Notre Dame...seeing herself psychologically on par with...Kirstie Alley.  And actually taking something from it.)

For women who have made peace with their bodies, confessions by Ms. Winfrey and Ms. Alley seem puzzling, even irritating. To them, the “before” shots of these celebrities look pretty good.

(I'm a bad person and going straight to hell.)

“Kirstie looks the same as me, to the inch, height and weight,” said Emily Schaibly Greene, 29, a medical lab technician in Hattiesburg, Miss.  “It took me a long time to get there (You were bigger?  Going straight to hell times 12,000), but I’m feeling good with how I look.  But it’s difficult to keep liking the way I look when I’m reading that it’s gross.” (I'm going to write something:   Larry King is the smartest human in the recorded history of the world and you're a moron if you don't think so.  Now...Emily.  Read that 2,000 times.  


Okay, Emily.  Do you think Larry King is the smartest man in the world?  If you do, I can't help you.  In fact, nobody can.  If you like yourself, like yourself.  If you don't and think you could stand to lose of few pounds, put down the lard-infused lard and do it.  I get it.  The girl world is an infinitely complex one that men can't ever fully know but it's time for women to start crying foul on the stupidity of women.  Taking advice from celebrities is step one.  Step two is liking Sarah Palin because she also sports a va-jay-jay but one step at a time.)

Of course, celebrities, especially those with diet products and books to sell, never intended to make women feel bad about themselves.  In 1988, Ms. Winfrey, emerging cocoon-like from her first major public diet, put on her skinny jeans and triumphantly lugged a wagon loaded with 67 pounds of fat, setting herself up as an inspirational role model.  She could do it; so could they.

When the surgeon general issued a call to action about obesity in 2001, celebrity weight-loss regimens took on the mantle of public service.

Since then, Americans have become increasingly intimate with how famous people transform their bodies.  Some celebrities, like Carnie Wilson and Valerie Bertinelli, invited us to scrutinize their bathroom scales, portion sizes or even gastric bypasses.

Losing weight is also TV entertainment, from “The Biggest Loser” to “Bulging Brides” (“The perfect day is still pounds away!”).

If you can judge celebrities and TV contestants, does that give you license to judge the woman on the street?  Lesley Kinzel, who writes for the blog Fatshionista and weighs about 300 pounds, says she has to brace herself when she goes out in Boston (Yes.  The extreme health problems and infinite complications involved with carrying around so much weight, something that has been studied and documented ad nauseam, is a myth.  The real problem is what Douchey McDouchebag at the corner Starbuck's might say under his breath.).

“When you have famous people turning their weight tribulations into mass-media extravaganzas,” she said, “they’re contributing to a culture where passing comments on strangers’ bodies is considered O.K.”. (Still no mention of the health risks, only what some jag-bag might think.)   

When a celebrity regains weight, it doesn’t have to register as a fall from sylph-grace (Jan really dug into the thesaurus for that one).  Rebecca Puhl, an expert on weight stigma at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said that when Oprah Winfrey is frank about her fluctuations, she has the potential to normalize the conversation.

“Celebrities can show us how complex this problem is, “she said. “Even if you have all the resources at your fingertips, it doesn’t make you immune. So it’s important to see that it’s a battle for everyone.” (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)

But the goals celebrities set for themselves can be problematic, Dr. Puhl added.  Ms. Alley, who is 58 years old (Really?) and 5 feet 8 inches tall, told People, “I have to be below 140 to really look good.” Many experts counsel obese patients to lose about 10 percent of their weight rather than aim for an ideal number.  For a 300-pound person, that’s 30 pounds.

Dr. Puhl worries that many celebrities cast their weight gain as a failure of character. (And celebrities have always been known as the real arbiter of truth and reason.)

Last week, for instance, People magazine featured the actress Melissa Joan Hart, in a bikini and weighing 113 pounds, saying her heavier, post-pregnancy self was “horrifying.”

“The culture rewards that self-disgust,” said Kate Harding, one of the authors of “Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body.”  “Once you acknowledge that your body is not O.K., then people love you, because that’s what expected of fat people all the time.” (Society's fault, not the block of cheese you ate at 3am last night.)

A fat person on a diet sends a social and moral message, said Charlotte Biltekoff, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis who researches food and cultural values.  That is because Americans equate body size with Puritan values (And we get to the impetus of this entry for the SNC.  Puritan values?  Puritan values.  Somebody has a book to sell and desperately wants to make tenure.  Stupid theses usually do the trick.  Like Dr. Biltekoff's forthcoming book, The Terror Within:  Obesity In Post 9/11 U.S. Life.).  Thin means self-discipline and hard work; fat implies laziness, gluttony and lack of willpower (Well...).

A dieter signals publicly that she is “in the process of self-denial, recovery and reform,” Dr. Biltekoff said. “So the pursuit of thinness may mean as much as thinness itself.  Oprah and Kirstie are performing this for us.”

Laura Miller, 28, an unemployed saleswoman in an Atlanta suburb, has been Good Kirstie and Bad Kirstie.  Ms. Miller once lost more than 100 pounds and even worked for a diet center.  She understands well the riveting, schadenfreude appeal of celebrity confessions.  It is no small feat to have arrived at a proud weight and believe that you’ve done something Oprah herself couldn’t.

“While I was losing weight and heard about people gaining it back, I felt so morally superior to them,” Ms. Miller said (Sounds like a personality flaw to me.  Thanks for sharing that, Laura.).

But then she couldn’t stop the weight loss.  She felt physically awful, even as friends told her how lucky she was to finally be losing pounds effortlessly.

In fact, she said, she was gravely ill.  She was hospitalized with what turned out to be Type 1 diabetes. (Don't lose weight, people!  It'll give you diabetes.)

She is healthier now, but is back to 200 pounds.  At the market, shoppers glance from her to her cart (Ugh.  Still.  No.  Mention.  Of.  The.  Health.  Risks.  Just more of this crap?!)  “Kirstie and Oprah help the public to believe that we have only ourselves to blame,” Ms. Miller said. “ ‘You did this to yourself, you should feel bad.’ ” (I totally forgot.  I put the fork in her mouth because I watched E! News a few nights ago.)

That accusation can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, Dr. Puhl said.  People who internalize the stereotypes, she said, “are more likely to engage in binge eating and other unhealthy behaviors that lead to weight gain.” ( there anything that's our fault?  If society bought the two dozen doughnuts and society made me eat them while sitting on the couch for 600 hours straight, shouldn't I be getting reimbursed by the government or something under the American Puritan Values Exploitation Act of 1997?  Or can't we just tie it in to the GM bailout?)

About seven years ago, Dr. David A. Kessler, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (I talked to that dude for a story in 2001.  And it was about an obesity drug.  Weird.), was watching Oprah Winfrey’s show as a woman berated herself for eating even when she wasn’t hungry, calling herself “fat” and “ugly.”

It’s no wonder she ate compulsively, Dr. Kessler said.  His new book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” looks at how the brain, beginning in childhood, is stimulated by foods loaded with fat, sugar and salt. (I'm suddenly craving a deep-fried Snickers bar with ranch dipping sauce.  You?)

“Celebrities perpetuate the idea that we have a handle on this, that we understand what is driving our behavior,” Dr. Kessler said. But resisting certain foods “is not an issue of willpower. This is not about shame and humiliation.” 

Developing new, rewarding stimuli takes time, said Dr. Kessler, a former yo-yo dieter himself.

“No one wants to be fat,” he added, “but I care most that people stop beating up on themselves.”  (We made it!!  Three mentions of society giving shameful looks and not one mention of the health risks!!!  Jan, you are my sunshine.  Now, if we can only find a way to blame society for the plague of baldness.  Where would I pick up my check?


Mate Famber said...

I keep going back to the line in "the Office" when they blame Dwight for Stanley's heart attack and he goes, "Yeah, I'm the one who's been stuffing him with butter and sugar for the last 40 years."

Christo P. Ney said...

If there is one truth in life I've learned from waiting tables, it's that the fatties never turn down dessert.

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