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Eye of the Beholder

So, I may be something of a TV addict, but the fact is, I have to watch most of my shows through the internet.  I have a television, but I don't get any channels on it, not even basic networks.  I'm not up on the latest commercials (boohoo) or news tidbits.

So when I remembered hearing about a show featuring Melissa McCarthy, who I love from her Samantha Who? and "Gilmore Girl" roles, I decided to look it up.  "Mike and Molly," I thought it was called.  I typed in the name and presto!  I got a bunch of hits.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that several of the links that came up revolved around a critical blog of the show.

"Mike and Molly" is about two people who meet and an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, and fall for each other.  Sounds sort of sweet, right?  Not to some people, apparently.  There was a whole post written by a Marie Clare blogger about how seeing fat people try to be romantic grossed her out.  She's been bashed and punished enough for her words (I hope, so that it sinks in) so this is not about her reaction. 

In the days that followed, she received a lot of backlash for her words.  Several other people took the opportunity blog about it themselves.  I read a few of them, just to see what people were saying.  Surprisingly, a lot of people were quite angry with Marie Clare and blogger Maura Kelly for their "size-ist" attitude. She admitted that she has struggled with anorexia in the past and that it may have affected her response.

Well, we all have lenses we look through and experiences that have shaped us.  Here's mine: I've struggled with my weight and body image issues since I hit puberty.  For at least twenty years of my life I have been hearing and receiving a message that how you look determines your worth.  It's been culturally and socially acceptable to mock and deride people for being overweight for decades.  We also encourage and support each other for valuing beauty over character.  We have beauty pageants and rank contestants.  We teach young men that it's okay to only want the prettiest girl, that somehow makes him more manly if he has the hottest woman, but that only women are capable of looking past the surface and understanding that how people look is not who they are

As one blogger's response put it, "Fat people are people, too."  Part of the backlash against Marie Clare was an acknowledgment that there is something wrong with the way the media portrays people.  There's this unspoken reality created that only beautiful people can have romance and adventures.  There's a subtle but dangerous implication that if you are overweight, it's some kind of character flaw, like you're less of a human because you can't get your body into an acceptable size.  Or worse still, that you're actually a bad person, because your excess weight means you are lazy/stupid/unhygienic/a loser, because smart/healthy/capable/important people take better care of themselves, and therefore, are automatically superior human beings.  This of course, does not reflect the reality that some people work really really hard at being healthy with minimal visible results, and for others it comes naturally--or they are blessed with bodies and metabolisms that can handle things that others can't.  Or, in their crazy diets, they do damage to their bodies just as much if not more than people who eat junk food, but because the outcome is visually acceptable, they're rewarded.   This flawed conception is often reflected in the media.  Overweight and less attractive people play the best friends, the comic relief, even the villains, but they're rarely portrayed as the hero or love interest.  Fortunately, with so much backlash aimed against one little post, I think it shows times are changing.

There has been a slight resurgence lately of sorts, of people saying, "Hey, I don't fit in your box."  Or in Christina Hendricks' case, "Sorry, I don't fit in your dress."  There was the short-lived (but well played!) abc family show "Huge," about teens attending a fat camp, and "Drop Dead Diva," which I have not yet seen finally begun to watch and really enjoy.  The second ep, "The F Word," is about this very misconception that plagues our society (the "F" is for "fat," btw).  On Brooke Elliott and Melissa McCarthy's IMDb pages, interestingly enough, I found that there were several comments posted about the "hotness" of these women.  These sincere and serious (if occasionally inappropriate) comments run counter-intuitive to the conventional wisdom that thinness equals love and acceptance.  These are signs that things could be beginning to change, which is welcome news to those of us who have been living daily with the lie that how you look determines your value.

And let's face it: it IS a lie.  NO ONE should be told his or her value comes mostly from how they look.  We can't all be Brads and Angelinas, but that doesn't mean we have less to offer.  As I said, I've wrestled with this message for years.  I thought it was The Reason why I am still single, that no guy could ever find me attractive if there was a skinny girl to compare me to, that guys were only attracted to the outside, and that the only way I'd ever find love was if I lost a lot of weight.  I thought I had to apologize for it, hide it as best I could, and feel duly penitent and ashamed of my weight.

The truth is, from a health standpoint, I know I need to take care of my body.  And over the last few years, I've made a LOT of changes to my diet.  I eat really good most of the time.  Do I need to exercise more?  Yes.  I am, by nature, a very sedentary person.  I like activities that involve a lot of sitting and thinking (like watching TV, reading, and writing, for example).  I know I need to be more active, and it's one of those things I keep trying to stay motivated about.  But there is this part of me that resists--that has always resisted.  I can't even fully explain that, though I know I can't let it have the final word. 

But you know what else I can't do?  I can't keep letting Hollywood and the rest of society decide that I need to look a certain way in order to be beautiful.  I feel like some of us women have to go to rehab or boot camp or something to remember what it's like to feel pretty and confident in our own skin.  We need to have the opposite message drilled into our heads--this is why I love Superchick.  In addition to writing empowering songs like "One and Lonely" and "So Beautiful," they have started this thing called "Operation Beautiful" and you should check it out. 

I don't know what it's like to be a man, or if they struggle with their looks as much as women do (though a recent ep of "Glee" touched on it briefly...no pun intended).  I would imagine that the sword is beginning to cut both ways; I remember in college there were some camp counselors I worked with who were concerned about having too much chest hair--you know, because models and actors are usually (and unrealistically) well waxed.  But I DO know what it's like to be a woman and to feel hopelessly depressed after seeing some hot young actress kick ass and then make out with the male lead.  And I gotta tell you something: I'm tired of that feeling.  I'm tired of feeling like I will never measure up.  I'm tired of feeling like I'll never be attractive enough.  I'm 31 years old, and I'm ready to be okay with who I am.  Yeah, maybe I have to shop in the plus sizes.  And yeah, I still have to take care of myself.  But I'm not going to let my numbers keep defining me.  I'm not going to keep letting that voice in my head have the final word--the one that negates every compliment with the idea that I might be pretty, but only if I lost some weight.

I'm also not going to stand by and let future generations face the same torments without offering any help.  This isn't just about me.  This is about the women in my life who are reading this and have felt the same way.  You know who you are.  And you know what?  You are beautiful.  I don't value you because of how you look, but you need to know this: You are beautiful.  And the people (like me) who really know you, they see it.  The people who see your smile and your kind heart, they see it.  The people who hear you laugh and sing and see your creativity, they see it.  Hollywood and popular culture doesn't get to have the last word on this.  You're beautifulWe are beautiful.  And we're going to change the world.


Green Grandma said...

Nice, Jessica. It's funny...I haven't seen you in a few years, so I was trying to remember what you looked like and all I can remember is your beautiful face and sense of style. If you were overweight when you worked at the PCC, I don't recall that.

Randi said...

Wonderful post!! I meet with a group of teen and pre-teen girls every Wed night and we talk about boys, dating, etc. I want to buy each of them a Superchick CD. I am *ahem* 37 years old and STILL need that encouragement. Rock What You Got is my favorite album ever. I actually did buy the CD for a 23 yr old friend of mine just last week!!

Anyhoo...we all struggle with our looks/bodies/flaws and need to learn to love who we are and be willing to be healthy, but not obsessed with weight.

Thanks for sharing!!!

Carol said...

Well said, dear! I try to lose weight for health reasons. Being 51 and carrying around extra weight is much harder on the body than your age. But I think females in general do struggle more with image than males. However in the last decade or so males are getting a taste of this too. I wrote a paper about it for an English class. Society puts too much emphasis on appearance and virtually none on character!!