Diabetes is Not a Rad Diet Tip, and Other Thoughts About the Redemption of Paula Deen

Everybody was super mean to Paula Deen when she announced she had type 2 diabetes. But now she's lost weight so we can all be nice to her again! Yay?

Jun 28, 2012 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

Hey, remember that time when famed TV home-cookery chef and butter-pornographer Paula Deen publicly announced she’d been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? And then like 90 percent of the internet was all, “LOLZ, go fail to metabolize sugar efficiently and die, you lard-sucking fatass!” 

Really, it sure seemed like a lot of people felt compelled to announce that chronic illness is some weird form of poetic justice against those who fail to attend to their health in some arbitrarily prescribed manner (or, for that matter, against those who have hereditary predispositions to certain diseases and who fail to adequately see the future and/or defeat their own biology). And people also seemed eager to assert that Paula Deen thereby “deserved” to be sick, and probably scared, and everything else that comes with being diagnosed with a life-changing disease.

It must have sucked to be Paula Deen for awhile there, listening to strangers make snide comments about your buttery physique and cruel jokes about your life’s work. I mean, to be fair, I was never a Paula Deen fan (truth be told I find her terrifically annoying -- sorry Paula), so I wasn’t exactly invested in defending her, except on principle. 

But I do think that no matter the target, making fun of someone for having an illness -- no matter its provenance -- is seriously damaging. And reveling in satisfaction when someone who had previously flouted all the food- and health-related guilt we labor under winds up getting sick? That is messed up.

In the intervening months, Deen has done what many folks do when suddenly faced with their own mortality: She’s changed her diet and tried to take control of her health. And hey, more power to her! It is always a positive thing when people are making choices in the interest of their overall well-being, and are feeling great as a result.

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I am convinced that there is only picture of Johnny Depp taken in the last five years, and this is it.

What’s discomforting, however, is the narrative of weight-loss redemption being built around her. Paula Deen is on the cover of this Friday’s edition of People magazine, alongside a headline that shouts “How I Lost 30 lbs! Exclusive: Paula’s Get-Slim Recipes!” 

Nearly six months after announcing she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the Food Network star, 65, opened up her Savannah home – and fridge – to PEOPLE, and revealed how she devised a slim-down strategy that has worked for her. 

I find all of this very weird for a few reasons.

For one, what the hell right do we have to see inside Paula Deen’s fridge? I remember back when Carnie Wilson had her reality show about ostensibly trying to lose weight (via the power of, like, thinking and complaining about it a lot instead of going the standard route of dieting and crap) and we used to get these ridiculous shots of her fridge and pantry ALL THE TIME, and I got the sense we were supposed to recoil in horror at her choice of breakfast cereal and non-skim milk as though they were murky jars with tiny alien fetuses in them.

Think about what’s in your fridge right now. If someone was coming over to photograph it, you’d probably do a little fluffing, wouldn’t you? (Hush, neat freaks, no one wants to hear from you.) I know I’d probably take all the vegetables out of the the drawers and arrange them artistically on the shelves, and I’d hide the many tupperware containers of cat food and the big squeezy bottle of Miracle Whip, because nobody respects you when they know you occasionally enjoy Miracle Whip.

Oh. Oops.

Moving on, I doubt the intervening six months have really turned Paula Deen into a diet guru. I expect the lady has managed to work out a set of parameters that work for her, but that doesn’t mean her “plan,” if it even is a plan, is worth all this “exclusive” “get-slim” recipes business. I bet I can tell you what those recipes are: no fried food, more whole grains, a larger portion of fresh vegetables and low-fat protein. BOOM. I just blew your mind, didn’t I. Maybe I should be a diet guru. 

Pro tip: Diabetes is not a rad motivator for weight loss, nor is it a great way of ensuring you keep to your diet. It’s a disease to be managed.

Furthermore, considering Deen actually got her diagnosis three years ago, I suspect this story is less about her private decisions about her life -- which, truly, are none of anybody’s business -- than it is about her public redemption. Much of the public commentary was shockingly brutal to Deen following her announcement. It makes sense that People magazine should roll out the classic weight-loss redemption story to give America the opportunity to accept this new, reformed, slightly smaller Deen, whom we can believe we successfully bullied into compliance (whether it's true or not). 

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HELP HELP THE BUTTER'S GOT ME

As much as we love vilifying famous strangers for their choices, we love it more when they come back having taken our vicious advice and present themselves eager for our approval, and on our end, it’s always a bit of a relief to be allowed to like someone again after hating on them for awhile. It’s actually kind of like middle school, now that I think about it . 

I certainly hope that Deen has made whatever changes she’s made for personal reasons, and that they’re making her happier and healthier -- it’s too sad to think she was browbeaten into this new “responsible” image -- but taking them to the cover of People magazine isn’t about selflessly bringing inspiration to the enfattened masses. The cover of People magazine is about public freaking relations.

These famous-person weight-loss-redemption stories are all the same, whether they involve a health scare or a bad swimsuit photo on TMZ, no matter who it is with the full-length picture next to the “I LOST X LBS!” headline: I ate a certain salad, did a certain exercise, smeared myself in chia seeds and sacrificed a jar of Crisco to the diet gods under a full moon at midnight, and now I have a bikini, hooray.  

I’m sure these tales lend inspiration and motivation to some folks but I have difficulty seeing how useful they really are considering all they do is reiterate the idea that people who lose weight are worthy of modern-day secular sainthood. Why is this public information? If people lose weight intentionally, then great. If people don’t, equally fine. Either way, people’s choices about their bodies -- whatever those choices may be -- are none of anyone else’s business, and no one benefits when we persist in making them public property. 

It may be OK to like Paula Deen again, but the defiant part of us that secretly liked watching her cook with great handfuls of butter and zero remorse will probably have to go back to hiding our butter shame in the butter-loving closet for now, because watching her make a salad and bake some fish is probably not going to scratch that itch anymore. And hey, I guess this means there’s an opening in the butter-porn business now. Where might one apply for that?