Monday, January 18, 2010

The skinny on SIZEISM

I have been contemplating writing about this topic for a while. It was more on my mind a few months ago, but I still feel like I need to lay out why this particular subject has been bothering me.

Warning to readers: I use the word "fat" a lot. Sorry if this bothers you. I believe that it is just a word and we shouldn't be scared of it.

Back in the days when I had digital cable (le sigh), I was starting to get into a LifeTime show called "Drop Dead Diva". The story line is a bit strange. A beautiful (size 0) but selfish woman dies at the same time as a hard-working and overweight (size 16) but under appreciated lawyer. The "beautiful" girl doesn't want to die, so she tries to go back to earth and her soul ends up in the body of the fat girl. Sorry, but essentially this is what makes it so "hilarious". Skinny mind in a fat body. And the strange thing is, it sort of works.

A lot of points are made in the show of how overweight people are treated verses skinny people. When the diva went out with her friends in her old body, she would immediately have a drink bought for her by the bartender and usually someone else without any trouble. In her new body, she can hardly flag down the bartender to just get a glass of wine.

Unfortunately, this is completely accurate. My mother went through a gastric-bypass surgery when I was in middle school. She was barely 5 feet tall and over 250 lbs. Even at that weight, she barely qualified for the surgery, but with her weight affecting her knees that were already in bad shape from a bad car accident, it was in her best interest to get the surgery. She now about 100 lbs less and has kept it off. (Go Mom! ) She has told me that she is treated differently now that she is smaller. She doesn't have to work as hard for people to pay attention to her as when she was fat.

Drop Dead Diva had an episode that was centered around the issue of Sizeism. A woman had been fired from a bar as a waitress because she had gained about 100 lbs. over the course of a year. According to her boss, it was in her contract that she had to maintain her personal appearance to what was appealing to their target customers. Her new size was not appealing. At first, the law firm that the Diva works for tries to get her to spin her weight as a handicap. She would therefore be protected under disability laws and it would be illegal to fire her. This does not please the client and she has to think of a new way to win her case....

I've heard old bosses of mine talk about being overweight as if it were a handicap. It was quite disturbing. An old employer had been searching to fill a new front desk position and had an applicant come in for an interview. She had all the skills she was looking for, was familiar with the programs on the computer, but
"...her rear end was as wide as this desk."
This employer then went on to talk about how she couldn't expect this woman to be able to "walk or run around"(!?!?) when she needed her to and that she would probably find any excuse to not leave her desk. I listened in completely awe and frustration as she went on about how fat people are lazy, good for nothing wastes of space. Sound at all familiar?...

A few shows and online magazines have addressed this topic of sizeism and how it is becoming the new racism. Tyra addressed the topic and a few actresses on television have received a lot of attention about their weight.

I am frequently compared to the character Joan Holloway from Mad Men. Joan is a pale, curvy redhead played by the actress Christina Hendricks. She has received a lot of attention for being possibly "too fat for TV". She is probably a size 12 or 14. Size 14 is the average size for women in America.

Another actress is Casey Wilson from SNL. She was recently fired for not losing 30 lbs. during the shows hiatus. She is about a size 14. Maybe 16. There is even an EPIC video on Funny or Die about how viewers found her not-funny and that she looks like
"Patton Oswald swallowed a couch."


There are laws in some states against Sizeism to protect people from this sort of discrimination, but it still feels inescapable. There are so many positive examples of healthy, curvy, natural, or "big-boned" (HATE that term) women in Hollywood and onstage like Cate Winslet, America Ferrara, Beyoncé, even Lady Gaga. But the overwhelming majority likes to see these women as "fat". I'm not sure what it will take for people to stop focusing so much on the numbers that are printed into their jeans or dresses and learn how to value people for the beauty of their ideas or their talent or even how they are trying to change and help society.

At least people are starting to notice.

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