Leave Paula Deen Alone

The thing about being fat is that you turn into public property. You are an object, not a person, and this makes you fair game for being shredded.

Jan 18, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

So, Paula Deen has announced that she has type two diabetes, after a firestorm of speculation and commentary.

Allow me to show you exactly how much I care about this:

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Wait. Actually, I care a little bit: I care about the fact that many of the articles about this “story” feature a fat person who is not headless, because Paula Deen is recognized as a celebrity in addition to being a fatty, apparently. This is progress! Because I am used to seeing headless fatties from stock images used to illustrate any and all stories even vaguely related to fatness, food and weight.

So, you know, progress there, that someone in the newsroom apparently thought it might be a good idea to leave Paula’s head on in stories about her. Such is the privilege of celebrity, apparently, that when people are objectifying your body and printing rampant speculation about your health and treatment plans, they are least including your face.

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Beyond that? I really have no interest in Paula’s health status, because I am not Paula’s doctor, nor am I a family member or close friend. Her health has absolutely no impact on my life, unless you want to talk about the intermittent rises in blood pressure caused by watching ignorant people spout off about her all over the Internet. Her diagnosis is certainly not worthy of a news story, let alone an above the fold feature, because it's a private matter. 

The thing about being fat is that you turn into public property. You are an object, not a person, and this makes you fair game for being shredded. This goes double if you are a woman, particularly a woman celebrity; by being publicly fat, Paula was already a target for people who loved making classist comments about her food, and by being pushed into a public disclosure of a private health matter, she became an even bigger target.

When you are fat, people feel free to make comments about your body and to speculate about your health, and believe this is some kind of public service. They also seem to be under the impression that you have never heard these insights before and will be incredibly grateful if someone helpfully suggests that you put down the fork, shut your piehole, get off your lazy ass, etc.

Everyone’s got the cure to being fat, and everyone’s got an opinion on being fat, and everyone seems to think they are entitled to share these pieces of breaking news with you. As Kate Harding puts it, something about seeing a fat person turns everyone into a nutritionist and an MD; I had no idea so many people had advanced medical training! And that it’s possible to provide people with medical and nutritional advice from afar solely on the basis of, say, a handful of images or video appearances!

Paula Deen will become a symbol; she’s going to be a spokeswoman for a pharmaceutical company, she pledges to “help others” with type two. And people will point to her when they want to talk about how fatties eat themselves sick, have no self control, don’t take care of their bodies, can’t be bothered to follow basic medical advice, the usual line used to tell fat people they are subhuman. Somehow, the complex factors involved in weight go out the window when people are confronted with an actual fatty, and everything boils down to “eats too many doughnuts and sits on the couch watching television.”

There are a lot of things in this world that would be really, really helpful for fat people. Acceptance would be a good place to start.

Like, it would be really nice if fat people could go out in public without immediately becoming targets of abuse. Public shaming is routine for many fat folks, especially women, whether they’re going about daily activities like walking down the street to the post office or gasp, exercising in public. It would also be nice if people could grocery shop or, like, eat without it becoming an international incident.

It would also be totally awesome if people could access health care without shaming. The fact that many people are afraid to go to the doctor and put off necessary medical treatment because they know they will be abused for their weight is unacceptable. Doctors pressure their patients into discussions about weight loss even when explicitly asked not to, ignore the symptoms of serious illness in favor of attributing it to “fat,” and deny patients needed procedures “until they lose weight.”

Also terrific: Being able to buy clothes without it being a political statement. Not having to order clothes online because no stores stock your size. Not being given “fashion advice” that basically consists of “this makes you look fat” or “wear this, it’s slimming...” with the assumption that, of course, the last thing anyone would want is to look fat.

I am 100% on board with getting more support for people with type two diabetes. To me that means access to safe, compassionate medical care from practitioners who are not judgmental and make sure their patients get the care they need. It means advancing social acceptance for the fat community so that type twos, and everyone else, can go about their business without being judged, lectured, or “informed” about how awful it is that they’re fat. It means supporting all people in their informed medical choices, and making sure that people have access to the tools they need to make those choices.

Paula, I'm sorry people apparently think it's appropriate and necessary to say hateful and vile things about you. Head and all.

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