Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uh, Ashley?

Many women I know have reposted the Ashley Judd piece in The Daily Beast in which she takes the media to task for pouncing all over changes in her face due to steroids and attributing them to whatever wild range of judgements about her life they felt like. I'm glad Judd wrote it and happy to see it get so much attention.

I can't help remembering, though, her involvement in her sister Wynonna Judd's bizarre and boundary-less public discussions of her weight, which started with a couple episodes of Oprah in 2003-2004 that made my skin crawl. Their family "finally" (their word) talked about Wynonna's Weight--on TV, in a weird quandrangulated Oprah-led discussion, a few months after Wynonna broke down about it in Oprah's office (also on TV). The episode with her family as I remember it (it was eight years ago) was humiliating and attention-seeking all at once, a kind of public apology and excoriation for her size, the Oprah show clearly the perfect place to find complicity in all the shame. These discussions were just one example of how this family overshares in the media, and Wynonna, who instigated the Oprah chaos, has gone on to overshare about her weight (loss, gain) for years since. But those shows felt especially grotesque.

Ashley said on Oprah about her sister at the time:
Her current effort [to lose weight] is different because of how deeply she's investigating the roots of her extra weight and why all those previous efforts did fail. I think that doing it publicly with Oprah as her supporter will be really helpful. I hope that I've made it clear over the years, I love her however she is, as long as she's healthy.
That last line there is the usual sop in these situations, and stands in for the unending world of judgement that fat people experience. I'll love you as long as you're healthy--with the unspoken end of the sentence: but as long as you're fat you're not.

That is--would there really have been a show if Wynonna had been struggling with eating disorders but "normal"-sized? "Healthy"--how we understand "healthy"--is why people will not see the public shaming in Wynonna's case as the same as Ashley's. Because being fat is a mandate for public disapproval, it's okay to be up somebody's ass about it. To put it another way, fat people deserve whatever criticism they get for their puffy faces, because it's their own fault.

The fact that what Ashley Judd wrote is garnering so much attention is great. It's extremely pleasing to see her take one day, one set of observations (which I wish had been quoted in context, rather than restated in Judd's voice--it undercut the power of the piece), compare them, and point out the absurdity of it all--call the media out on its crap. I just think it's interesting who women listen to about these things--and how--and who they don't. As she rightly says in her Beast article, the constant public conversation about women’s bodies "affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways."


  1. Poor Wynonna. Such a lovely, talented woman, and her life is made miserable by self-hate. Of course her mother and sister have no understanding whatsoever of what it's like for her, as they've never been heavy. "Well, we're thin, why can't she be too?"

  2. Good lord. I had no idea about the whole Oprah debacle. Gross. Just gross.

    It just feels like yet another example of folks who almost get it. Almost.

  3. Do you think it's maybe possible that she may have learned better in nearly 10 years? I understand bringing it up if she did it last year, but this? Yeesh.

  4. MK:

    Yes, you're right--it is possible she learned better. I spent time looking for articles where she might have expressed this--discussed her involvement in the Oprah stuff, which was a particular and lingeringly egregious example of body-shaming--and found none. I'm always open to links about it.

    The other thing to note: The point of my piece was that 9.5 times out of 10 in this world, being fat isn't seen as a valid area of defense in the spectrum of this discussion of women's looks/women's bodies -- it's terrible to trash women for their ____ (wrinkles, spots, age, whatever) but if they're fat, well, you are just worried about their health. That is the split I'm trying to point out. And honestly, I would guess that AJ doesn't see the disconnect. I mean--if I had to put money on it. But I could be wrong. I haven't seen evidence of it yet, either way. WJ is very invested in the weight talk - selling weight-loss drugs, etc. - so that would seem to make it more difficult to AJ to speak to it. I don't know.

    I hope somebody does ask her what she thinks of the Oprah hoo-ha!

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