Rachel Frederickson was doing exactly what we asked of her.
April 19, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Roxane Gay on The Biggest Loser: "My body is wildly undisciplined and I deny myself nearly everything I desire. I deny myself the right to space when I am public, trying to fold in on myself, to make my body invisible even though it is, in fact, grandly visible. I deny myself the right to a shared armrest because how dare I impose? I deny myself entry into certain spaces I have deemed inappropriate for a body like mine—most spaces inhabited by other people. "
posted by ambrosia (31 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you.
posted by divabat at 2:21 PM on April 19, 2014


I can't, shouldn't, and can't dispute most of this, but I'm bothered by how the author glibly seems to remove even any possibility of agency from Frederickson at the end of the piece.
posted by ftm at 2:40 PM on April 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure what this article is even talking about, sorry. The woman admitted she lost the extra weight for the money, even though she knew it was unhealthy. In the few weeks since the finale, she gained more than 20 pounds of it back.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:51 PM on April 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what this article is even talking about, sorry. The woman admitted she lost the extra weight for the money, even though she knew it was unhealthy.

Maybe the larger point is that we only have this televised contest in which participants starve themselves for a quarter of a million dollars in the first place because we really, really, really hate fat people?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2014 [40 favorites]


I thought it was well written and she talked quite movingly of her sense of shame and self-punishment. But it was a pity she ended with
"She has explained that she lost so much weight because she was trying to win the $250,000 prize, but those of us who deny ourselves and try so hard to discipline our bodies know better"
No, you don't know her better than she knows herself.

But it's an interesting thing to see, as she says, the swing in judgement from someone being deemed too fat and then too thin. The only way to win, etc.
posted by billiebee at 4:16 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe the larger point is that we only have this televised contest in which participants starve themselves for a quarter of a million dollars in the first place because we really, really, really hate fat people?

No. Its because people really, really, really love money.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:23 PM on April 19, 2014 [15 favorites]


This piece seems really whiney. What does she want us to do? I don't watch Biggest Loser. Consider that call to action done. What now? As a fat guy, I sympathize with her as much as I reasonably can, but now what? At a certain point your guilt is personal, and society doesn't care any more. That's when you should start worrying about your health and life span, because no one else will. Right now it just seems like she is trying to convince herself that living longer is no big deal, and it's society's fault if she feels guilty about it. That's fine, I guess, but I can't cheerlead that notion.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:30 PM on April 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


This piece seems really whiney. What does she want us to do?
I think maybe this isn't a call to arms? I think she wants you to understand what it feels like to believe that you literally have no right to be visible or take up space. If you already do feel that way, maybe she wants you to feel a little less alone in that, because that feeling is not something that people commonly discuss, in my experience. And if you don't feel that way, maybe she wants you to feel a little bit of empathy for people who do.
That's when you should start worrying about your health and life span, because no one else will. Right now it just seems like she is trying to convince herself that living longer is no big deal, and it's society's fault if she feels guilty about it. That's fine, I guess, but I can't cheerlead that notion.
I have no idea where you're getting that. I don't think that's coming from what she wrote.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:41 PM on April 19, 2014 [21 favorites]


It always seems to me that "winning" over fat only works if you narrow your focus. Often, the people who have "won" have constant hunger and a near obsession with food, for example, or persistent health problems. Almost always, statistically, people who go on crash diets like this gain back the weight plus more.

There's a growing realization that crash dieting and being "too" thin can be a sign of ill health - and that anorexia nervosa kills (men, too; male models are among the many growing populations of eating disorders. Yay equality?). What this has led to is not tolerance for the wide range of bodies people have, and less judgment for being even slightly "fat" - instead it's led to harsh and cruel scrutiny from five pounds over your "proper" weight to five pounds below your "proper" weight, and harsh and cruel scrutiny both for being "too fat" and for being "too thin".

I remember watching Dancing With the Stars once; there were two contestants who really acted as foils for each other in my mind. One was a model, size zero. The other was a musician, size much larger. The model didn't have the strength to hold her frame or do an energetic dance, and so got middling scores from the judges. The musician did a perfect, high energy dance in one of the early episodes, got perfect tens from the judges, and was eliminated that day because none of the viewers had voted for her. They had a convention that the winner as per the judges reprised the dance the next episode - she came back after being eliminated. Sometime around the same time, the model was eliminated as well.

Sometimes I think it's less about being "too" anything and more about making the barrier for being a woman of note so high that most of us don't qualify, and those of us who do have maintaining the "proper" body as a full time job, and so don't have the time or energy to effect change.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:04 PM on April 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me why I live a happy and fulfilled life without ever watching this kind of crap, or even a commercial for it.
posted by trackofalljades at 5:55 PM on April 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I wish the author had found some way to not be so tough on herself. Like, some self-love, some equanimity, maybe a good yoga session for example. Something to get that bag of chips eaten.

As far as that TV show, maybe it's not hate that draws viewers. Maybe it's a need for inspiration.
posted by surplus at 7:06 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Obesity is overdetermined. That show makes it a problem of the will, and makes thinness seem more achievable. It's an easier story to tell and sell in the US than the politics of food production, etc. And yes, you do basically have to become somewhat orthorexic to lose and keep off weight once it's been gained (and becomes homeostatically compulsive), in part because of the stickiness of the systemic issues undermined by that show.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:14 PM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I’m not sure what this article is even about, sorry
This piece seems really whiney. What does she want us to do?
Gay closes with:
There was a wide range of responses in the wake of seeing Rachel Frederickson’s new body. Her body, like most women’s bodies, instantly became a public text, a site of discourse, only now, because she had taken her weight loss too far. She had disciplined her body too much
That’s what Gay is writing about: “Her body…became a public text, a site of discourse.” She’s whining because she lives with that discourse every day. Gay feels judged for eating potato chips in public. I would whine too, I love potato chips. Publicly.

What does she want us to do? Well it’s not explicit but we could start with not making women’s bodies public texts and not caring if fat people eat potato chips in public. For starters.
posted by axoplasm at 9:01 PM on April 19, 2014 [48 favorites]


Jesus, axoplasm, yes.
posted by MissySedai at 9:21 PM on April 19, 2014


In her latest commercial for Weight Watchers, Jessica Simpson says, “I started losing weight right away. I started smiling right away.” This commercial is one of many weight loss advertisements that equate happiness with thinness and, by default, obesity with misery

Hate. HATE. Jessica smiled when she got married. She smiled when her babies were born, and all the wonderful moments of life. Fat Jessica smiled too, but that doesn't fit the narrative. And all of the diet commercials are like that. I also can't deal with the obesity shows on TLC, Discovery Health and so on. They all frame being fat as this unrelenting misery. I can't stand the assumed discontinuity between the "before" person and the "after" person; it's the same person, equally worthy of happiness, dignity, respect. I will never forget the kerfuffle on a weight loss surgery forum I used to read. When one woman dared to say she liked her body more before and liked a lot of other people's before pictures too. Ran her out on a rail.

I'm afraid a lot of people are fat and unhappy because they're not supposed to be happy in that body, whether the fat body is actually hindering them in that moment or not. I've lost a lot of weight in the past 18 months. I'm still "obese" but I feel much more free to take up space and to eat in public. I can even wear shorts. But I mourn for the me before, who also had shapely legs made for shorts; who also should have sat on the bus a lot more often. And I think about me now, and the things I still deny myself because I'm "not there yet".
posted by Danila at 9:59 PM on April 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


I've said it before, but when we left the US we each lost 5-10 pounds, and we were 'healthy' eaters. Any food that goes through any kind of processing is, in the course of its production, loaded with *more* sugar.
And lots of it tastes delicious. You don't stand a fucking chance.
Which is to say it's an interesting article that misses or avoids the larger point, that the source problem is only barely understood/acknowledged. And if you go out of your way to avoid those foods you're some kind of militant food wacko. It's boring and a weird thing to have so much agita about. Our food is too rich. Making it less so cuts into the profits of those three corps that make all that shit so we won't talk about it. We'll talk about the various symptoms instead.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:17 PM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, you want to talk about how people get fat when the conversation is how the US treats people who are fat.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:22 AM on April 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


What does she want us to do? Well it’s not explicit but we could start with not making women’s bodies public texts and not caring if fat people eat potato chips in public. For starters.

That's what we would like to think, but this is the same person who went on tv so that millions around the world could watch her eat potato chips. I'm pretty sure her real message is:

I'm gonna parlay this biggest loser gig into whatever else I can however I can...the public just can't forget about me.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:00 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The person who wrote the article isn't the person who was on the weight loss television show.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:02 AM on April 20, 2014 [15 favorites]


No, you want to talk about how people get fat when the conversation is how the US treats people who are fat.

They're not unrelated, though. Gay says: "I was ashamed at how I am so terrible about disciplining my body and I was ashamed by how I deny myself so much and it is still not enough."

She is arguably 'terrible' about not subjecting her body to 'discipline', and it is 'not enough', because (it's now thought) of the robust endocrinological systems we have only begun to think about with any care, on one side, and because of the distal causes mentioned above on the other. The punishing responses to her body as a visual object more or less amount to the (probably fear-based) idea that it is 'out of control', driven by the related judgement that she is 'lazy', and justified by the notion that the difference between Gay and the safe/thin observer is something moral. (Well, it is a moral problem, in my opinion, but it's certainly not Gay's to solve, although she's forced to live with the consequences of misguided thinking around it. It's policy that will make a difference, and that's not an acceptable notion when people want so badly to believe otherwise.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:51 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


If I'm already feeling that judged absolutely everywhere I go, then what difference does it make if I'm on television? People absolutely do love money, and yet so far as I know we don't have any long-running reality TV shows about people gaining weight for money. Biggest Loser promises contestants the dream of reclaiming the judgment, transforming it into praise--but it rarely delivers because the formerly-fat get judged, too. In my case, the internet is my safe space where I don't share pictures and therefore don't think about what people think about my actual body. You can think about my theoretical body, you can try to picture it, but you don't have the real thing, and so I have a refuge.

But it's not a refuge I like. I would prefer a world where I could have posted a picture of the new Easter dress. I took one. I then spent most of yesterday having dry heaves about the notion of letting anybody see it, and deleted it. Obviously this isn't all Society's fault--I'm a bit nervy right now about the holiday with family, generally, and it shows up most in my body image and eating--but this notion that it's acceptable and normal to pass judgment on the bodies of strangers has a serious impact on real people. It is not just theoretical. Some of us turn it inward, some of us turn it outward, very few escape unscathed. It is not okay. It is hurting people.
posted by Sequence at 3:07 AM on April 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


my best friend offered me a bag of potato chips to eat on the plane, but I denied myself that. I said, “People like me don’t get to eat food like that in public,” and it was one of the truest things I’ve ever said.

This. If I'm out somewhere by myself I'm always conscious of eating something that'll trigger the "fat cow" reaction in others. Even if it's unsaid, I've got a radar for spotting the sneer on a passer-by's face (and you'd be surprised - or maybe you wouldn't - at the number of times a man or a pair of teenage girls have walked past me as I'm eating an ice cream and made some comment just loud enough for me to hear). On Friday night I was standing eating a pita with falafel and salad outside Maoz and someone called me a 'fat bitch' as he walked past. I am 4ft 11 and a UK size 12, a US size 8.

But the reality for me is that if I ate everything I wanted, I'd be 400lbs. I have to watch what I eat and take regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. So I understand the writer's denial. It's a choice I make daily. Educated, feminist and intelligent I may be, but I'm not immune to the "damn, I wish I looked like that" feeling when I see a woman with the 'perfect' figure.
posted by essexjan at 5:08 AM on April 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


We don't need more articles enumerating the failings of media and popular culture. All of that is well understood already.

What we need is for people to start tuning the fuck out. Stop giving mindshare to awful programs like this. Stop letting them dictate the way you act and how you feel about yourself. Stop acting like people don't have the agency to choose whether or not to consume this kind of media, or to accept its attitudes/norms/ideas. No one is forcing anyone to buy the magazines, watch the programs, or aspire to the beauty standards. Yet people keep doing it, even as they complain about how awful they are.

There are other options. Popular culture is a reeking mass of shit. If you want to get away from the smell, then stop hanging around the shityards.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


What other options? Currently the only option would be to never read a magazine, watch TV, watch movies, or attempt to buy clothes. It's not just popular culture, it's Western culture. Technically every culture has its ideal of beauty. How do we escape the idea that in this one it's thin? (We should escape it, I'm just not sure how to. Like essexjan I know better but I still can't help buying into it at some level, it's internalised so deeply.)
posted by billiebee at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I spent about a decade really carefully avoiding any talk of weight, weight-based appearance standards, etc., because those things were eating disorder triggers for me, and it's actually really hard to do. It's one thing not to watch the Biggest Loser, but it's hard to have any engagement with pop culture at all and avoid fat jokes, ads for weight-loss programs, etc. (And I don't agree that popular culture is a reeking mass of shit, so completely isolating myself from pop culture would be a big sacrifice.) I could tell my close friends that I didn't want them to talk about calories or dieting around me because of ED triggers, but did I want to tell my co-workers about my eating disorder? And would it have made any difference if I did? Diet talk was all over my workplace, some of it officially sanctioned by HR. It's just not that easy to avoid, even when you believe that avoiding it is totally vital to your health and well-being.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:34 AM on April 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


If you are an ally, tuning out does nothing to address the problem. It's like finding religion. You don't just hang out with other true believers; you have to get out there and evangelize. SOME HANDY SUGGESTIONS. Otherwise, your meme dies with you.
posted by radicalawyer at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


From SOME HANDY SUGGESTIONS:

When you announce the plans, put these things in the announcement subtly so that your fat friends will know, without asking, that it’s a fat friendly environment (ie: we’ll be going to Jack’s restaurant – we’ll be at the big table in the back with the comfy armless chairs.)

This practice, to which I have been subject as a fat person, irritates the shit out of me.

At the same time, I'm sure there are fat people who truly appreciate it.

Not every fat person has the same story. When you read about a fat person's experience as a fat person, please remember that.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:46 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can only give you my opinion about how to be an ally to me as a fat person and fat activist... I’m happy to give you my thoughts, but I would also recommend asking other fat activists as well

To be fair, the author of SOME HANDY SUGGESTIONS only claimed to be talking for themselves and made a point of saying there are many different viewpoints. Personally I found it a very useful resource in terms of trying to be an ally to any kind of oppressed group.
posted by billiebee at 12:59 PM on April 20, 2014


Roxane Gay seems to have an interesting thesis with which to start and I wish she had taken it somewhere interesting. And I did completely disagree with her closing line:

Rachel Frederickson was doing exactly what we asked of her.

No, Rachel Frederickson was doing exactly what she chose to do for money, like anyone who goes on a reality show. It's no great secret that this particular tv show encourages incredibly unhealthy weight loss. This show isn't about weight loss and watching unhealthy fat people learn how to eat right and be fit any more than "The Bachelor" is about real men and women meeting and falling in love.

There have reality shows for years where people do stupidly dangerous things for money. "The Biggest Loser" is no exception.
posted by kinetic at 3:54 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


In her commercials for Weight Watchers, Jennifer Hudson shrieks about her newfound happiness and how, through weight loss, not, say, winning an Oscar, she has achieved success.

This is so so good. Women's bodies are our accomplishments. We're not allowed to be proud of the real successes we have lest we get judged. I am loving the undercurrent in this thread that shifts the blame for all of this hurtful awful shit back to women for consuming the media. As though if we opt out the world won't still be run on those terms. As though suddenly I won't get snearing looks and judgement for daring to exist in a body that's not filling the very narrow "ok" spectrum. As though even if you do occupy that space you aren't deemed worthy solely because of it, and the day you slip out of it all your accomplishments are belittled until you come back in line. Yes, all of that would definitely go away if only I just didn't consume media.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:00 PM on April 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Just realized it all comes back to consumption. Either women are at fault for consuming too much or too little food, or we're at fault for consuming media.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:02 PM on April 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


« Older Do your civic doody.   |   Not 21 days Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments