Friday, January 27, 2012

hey Paula

photo accompanying People poll
I haven't written about the Paula Deen story here because, well, I haven't wanted to. Something about the way this story revealed just how wide and fucked-up the landscape of people's relationship with food, health, fat, and celebrity is took the wind out of my sails.

What's to say? She has diabetes. Kinda awful. The story, like all of these news stories with huge amounts of traction, represents a challenging test case of our feelings. In this country we really love issues when they are attached to one person, preferably in some intense form. With all the variables ratcheted up. That's how we like to shape our discussions of issues. We think we can solve them if we crack the dilemmas one person embodies. Except of course, they're not solvable that way--you don't "solve" issues looking at individual people.

Anyhow, I saw this today on People's home page (what, was I not going to click on it?):

It occurs to me that what is so wrong with this may not leap out at everybody, but the reason I'm finally blogging about this little chapter in the whole PD story is HELLO WE DON'T AND IN FACT SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY INPUT IN WHAT SHE OR ANYBODY ELSE EATS LAY OFF WHO CARES NONE OF OUR BEEZWAX.

She is a person engaged in the ugly business of money and celebrity, and that makes it hard to see where the boundaries are, and yes that Krispy Kreme burger she made on her show sure looks gluttonous, and yes it's all kinda sticky, but that question above shouldn't be asked. It scares the hell out of me in some ways to see it put as baldly as that.

When you click on the poll, these are the two options:
--which at first make the whole thing look better, but there is ultimately no difference between the two. Either way--she shouldn't eat hamburgers or she can enjoy the occasional burger--we're telling her what to do.

Plus--are we saying if she gorged in private then it'd be okay? (Since this is about appearances and setting examples.) Or if she starved herself? How will we be sure she is only occasionally enjoying a burger? Are we planning on photographing her every time she eats? Will we know by whether or not she is thinner? Are we getting her A1c numbers and fasting glucose levels?

Modern celebrity being what it is--we might see those numbers. She might show us these numbers. And she will from now on probably get photographed every time she eats in public. She may involve us in all this รก la Kirstie Alley and Wynonna Judd and people like that--make us complicit via the media in her weight guilt or struggles or angst or do the opposite and dive into a chocolate trifle on TV (although I think Deen actually has some decent boundaries in amongst all this murkiness, weirdly). But you know what, we don't get to tell anybody what to eat. We just don't.

I think the issue in this case is a lot about seeing her eating. It's one thing to talk about it, but to actually see it seems to spark visceral reactions in people (and in People!). To me this reaction feels instinctively connected to the way fat people are often effaced and desired to be invisible in public and in the media. Because if a fat body is Wrong, then you're just kinda supposed to hide until it's Right. Kind of like--you go home and fix that, and then you can come back. You may be begrudgingly allowed out in the meantime, but if you're seen doing something to make it Wronger, especially eating--something that people are dead sure is making it more Wrong--then you are violating an unspoken contract with the world.

I know this sounds melodramatic, but think about it: If your body is wrong, and you caused it, how are you allowed to exist--to be seen, which is the same thing in the media--right now? In what way? Eating what?  The only way you're 'allowed' to be fat with any approximation of autonomy is if you are shown to be trying to change it--or if you at least aren't seen doing things that everyone is quite sure make fat happen (like eating a hamburger). Then the criticism is held off just a little. At a fundamental cost, of course, because you must always make it clear first you don't like your body either. But if you don't do this...all bets are off. The world's going to go get the belt.

The other day somebody posted this comment by her sister on her Tumblr page: "I think people who don’t actively try to lose weight should be euthanized." People have posited that fat children should not be given food stamps, because "they've already had enough food." That's what I'm talking about. These horrible sentiments are nothing more than the usual thinking--all the much nicer, concern-trolly versions--taken to their logical ends.

Anyhow. I certainly won't solve anything by writing about her either, but I do wish people would back off.

As of right now, by the way, these are the results of the poll. I guess if one of them has to be 84%, might as well be #2.