Speak for Yourself Alton Brown

I saw an episode of Next Food Network Star. This is an elimination-style reality show where hopeful celebrity chef wannabes are put into teams lead by actual celebrity chefs and put through challenges with the chance to win their own show on Food Network.

One of the coaches is Alton Brown, and one of the competitors on his team had recently lost a lot of weight. The competitor was being criticized by the judges for not being authentic and sounding too “salesy” and Alton tried to stick up for him to the judges by saying:

Being heavy, I was heavy most of my life, is painful and you learn to create a different version of yourself to project to people you have to sell yourself because you’re not attractive and and you’re heavy and you’re clumsy and you’re all of those things.

Alton is doing a perfect job of demonstrating 4 common mistakes here:

1. Stereotyping fat people

Stereotyping is bad, mmmmkay? Many fat people are very graceful (although sometimes people can be unable to see it due to their own prejudices.)  Many fat people do not create an inauthentic persona. Perhaps Alton was a clumsy and inauthentic fatty,  and if so then the use of “I statements” would be a dandy option here.  Also, pretty often people who lose a lot of weight, especially rapidly, become clumsy because they aren’t used to the changes in their bodies.  Then when 95% of them gain it back within 5 years they can go through another clumsy period.  Of course, that’s not everybody because it’s basically impossible to make a single statement that applies to such a large group of people – which is why you should refrain from doing it.

2.  Blaming things on fat that may have nothing to do with it

There is nothing inherent in a fat body that causes people to want to create a different version of themselves.  If a fat person does create a different persona in order to deal with being fat, it’s likely due to the cultural stigma that they are dealing with, not the size of their body.  People of all sizes can be clumsy or graceful and it does not have to have anything to do with their size.  In a society where fat people are under constant and intense stigma, oppression and shame, it is often impossible to separate that which is due to their body size and that which is an outcome of their poor treatment.

There seems to be a pressure on celebrities who’ve lost weight to then claim that their lives before the weight loss were awful (despite the fact that they had their own television shows, were Grammy winners, Oscar winners, pop stars and famous in a way that millions of people want to be but very few actually are.)  Many times this life improvement has nothing to do with the change in body size, but is because they have, (at least temporarily) moved out of an oppressed class.

3. Failing to recognize that the fact that we live in a place and time where fat people’s beauty is not appreciated by everyone does not mean that fat people aren’t attractive.

There are plenty of people who find fat people attractive (unfortunately many of them don’t find the courage to admit it due to the previously mentioned shame and stigma of a culture where it’s acceptable to where a shirt that says “no fat chicks”.)  And let’s not forget that I can get on a plane right now and, within hours, be considered a the social standard of beauty in other cultures.

4.  Assuming that his experiences of being fat are everyone’s experience.

Covered this yesterday.

The idea that Alton Brown is an expert on fat people because he used to be fat is like saying that I’m an expert on babies because I used to be an infant.  His experience is not mine, he does not speak for me, and his stereotypes do not apply to me so I wish he would speak for himself or not at all.

Book Update!

The initial book order has been shipped!  When that shipment arrives the pre-ordering will end and we’ll move to regular ordering including both the hard copy and the e-book.  If you want to get an autographed hard copy with free shipping then, according to UPS, you have 1-3 days left to preorder.  If you’ve already pre-ordered then thank you for your order and your patience, I’ll get the book to you asap!

Fat: The Owner’s Manual – Navigating a Thin-Obsessed World with Your Health, Happiness, and Sense of Humor Intact, with foreword by Marilyn Wann, is now available for pre-order.   This is a book about living life in the body that you have now, making decisions about what you want in the future, and how to get there.  Whether you want to change your body, fight for size acceptance, just live your life, or understand and support your fat friends and family, this book was written to provide the insights, aha moments, humor, and hard facts to help.

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14 thoughts on “Speak for Yourself Alton Brown

  1. I used to watch Good Eats, but after hearing about a derogatory comment to the effect that some of his viewers must have eaten their TVs I couldn’t enjoy it the same way any more.

    It’s weird, I can ignore a fictional character in a fictional program saying negative, false, and/or insulting things about weight either in general or in reference to a specific character on the show. Even when I know there is an extremely good chance that the actual person feels the same way.

    But when someone who is purportedly being themselves on their show does it even when it’s not on the show, I just can’t stand watching the show anymore.

    This leads to weird situations like not watching Good Eats, but enjoying the TV series Bones… even though the former hasn’t had nearly as much blatant fat shaming as the latter. And even knowing that the main actress in the latter, being in Hollywood and having a sister who is also an actress, probably holds the same views on the subject as her fictional character.

    And of course, I can watch Star Trek on Netflix, but seeing seeing my friends share anything from George Takei’s Facebook makes me want to immediately hide the post even if I agree with the content of that specific post, just because I can’t stand how he’s all about social justice and not being a bully… but consistently fails to recognize when he himself is promoting stereotypes that lead directly to the bullying of fat people.

    Apparently I’m inconsistent or something. I guess I’m ok with fictional characters being jerks without it ruining my enjoyment of that fictional world, but actual people actually BEING jerks ruins everything they do as real people for me.

  2. And the fact is that, considering I have seen Alton for many years on tv (I won’t watch a show he is on anymore), he has never really been fat, but was convinced he was, & decided to live a restrictive lifestyle to keep him looking somewhat gaunt, which he seems to believe is desirable. He has no idea of what he is talking about, & for someone who made his money & fame being all ‘sciencey’, Alton knows nothing about the real science of fat/health & likelihood of permanent weight loss for most people & the negative effects of trying to be thin. One thing he does know is that he HATES fat people, to the point where seeing fat people lined up at a book signing makes him almost physically ill, to the point where he has said that he wants to yell at these fat people, especially fat families (where they are all fat not due to genetics, you know, but because they all sit around all day eating lardburgers & never exercising) that they should not be standing in line at a book signing, they should be out walking or running, apparently the length & breadth of the whole country.

    Then, of course, in a perfect example of how schizophrenic this culture is on the subject of eating, he also appears regularly in a show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, where the various Food Network chefs talk about the places they love to go & the rich, decadent foods they love to eat, doing what the Food Network most loves to do, alternate food porn with ‘healthy eating’ & dieting propaganda. I watch less tv than I used to & very little Food Network because I am tired of people, some of whom have a high school education (such as Rachael Ray) telling me how I should eat & what foods are good for my health & alternately presenting delicious foods with warnings about why I should not eat them. Alton Brown is a hateful, mean-spirited man who feels hatred & derision for the very people who made him rich & famous & he has nothing worthwhile to say about anything.

    1. As someone who is fat and lives (quite successfully) with a serious mental illness I am extremely aware of stigma. The use of the word “schizophrenic” here is, by one of it’s definitions, correct. I wish that I would see it used (and understood) this way more often, but unfortunately it is often merely used to describe “crazy” behavior which often has little to do with the actual symptoms of the disorder. Thank you for using it appropriately.

      1. No kidding, me too!
        I don’t live with schizophrenia, but I do live with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and OCD. I use the word “crazy” to describe patterns of thought like those that are used to brainwash people into believing that dieting will work THIS TIME. As in, crazy is trying to do the same thing that never worked before and believing that it will work now.
        You and me aren’t crazy, but there sure is a lot of craziness out there!

    2. Right on, Patsy! Well written! Alton Brown is a pretentious pr*c* who hates who he is (a larger person who feels the need to be skinny and achieves that goal by living a life of deprivation, being miserable about it every step of the way) and hates everybody who is daring to live life the way he wishes he could. What a sham!

  3. I think that Alton Brown has been brainwashed in the same way that so many others have been brainwashed. However, his comments are perpetuating size prejudice, which is no good at any time.

  4. I, too, was once a fan of Mr. Brown. He lost his allure a few years ago after that nasty bit about fat people at his book signings. I was shocked to find out how hateful he was.

    It seems to me he lost his weight, approx 50 pounds, about two or three years ago now. So… it shouldn’t be too much longer before his body overcomes his restrictive diet and returns to its normal size.

    I wonder how he will cope with that.

    Orthorexia is an interesting word for a sad disorder that appears to be becoming more and more prevalent in our society. I think Mr. Brown may well be an orthorexic.

  5. I knew he started dieting after he apparently had a slight scare with his heart (which OF COURSE was caused by whatever he weighed & not stress or genes or anything else), but didn’t realize he lost that much weight, partly because I dislike him so much that I don’t research anything about him, partly because he never really looked fat to me, though he certainly does seem very thin now. I know that he believes every damn stereotype about fat & is on the bandwagon with anything anyone calls a ‘health initiative’ or whatever. There is a lot of that all around Food Network these days, cooking foods while they repeatedly inform us how ‘healthy’ they are, which, as far as I can tell, means, especially to Rachael Ray, anything which is considered ‘waistband friendly’ or ‘figure friendly’. As much as anything, the banal assertions of these people that ‘everyone’ does this or that or likes this or that gets really OLD. Rachael is obnoxious enough in her own right & has had her ups & downs with weight over the years, assumes that staying thin is ‘simple’, as I once heard her say, & that ‘we girls’ ALL want to make sure that we are ‘in shape for bathing suit season’, etc. However, Alton Brown is the worst & most blatant fat bigot I have seen around that network in the time I have watched, though Guy Fieri does seem to feel it necessary on Triple D (Diners, Drive-ins & Dives) to make the occasional remark about something he is trying being ‘real health food’ or ‘the diet special’, but that may likely be as a sop to the all the orthorexics out there who may be watching. NO, as far as I can see, in the world of Food TV…well, aside maybe from Gordon Ramsey, whom I have never watched but about whom I have heard plenty (such as that he is a professional chef & he is around food all the time & he can stay thin, so everyone else can as well)…old Alton is the biggest prick around.

  6. I love to dance with my husband. We used to ballroom dance a few times a week. I would get the compliment “Oh you are so light on your feet.” Let me translate, ‘I can’t believe you can move like that being so fat and all.’ I hated it when people would say that. Why couldnt they just say I was a good dancer? Well, I guess those who feel fat people are awkward and clumsy would be suprised a fat person can dance, or even get up off the couch. What a bunch of half idiots!

  7. I watch this show each season (I just like watching people being tortured in cooking ways I think, because I am up for most cooking reality shows) and I was annoyed and not at all surprised about Alton’s choice to bring on two diet pushing contestants. But I was just as pleased as punch that both of the contestants were kicked out for their concepts. It gives me some sort of happy feeling that people SAY they want diet shows but then they kinda hate the people who want to present such shows because they come off as fake and mean and pushy. I tell myself that they don’t do well in the challenges because they are too starved to think clearly.

  8. I created a persona for myself when I was a teenager. I did it again as a 20-something. It’s only LAST WEEK at 37 years old I finally stopped and went, oh hey, why am I doing this? I’m polite naturally, everything else can go to hell. A lot of my persona has to do with coping mechanisms for a very severe anxiety disorder (that’s why we didn’t end up meeting in Chicago Ragen – having to pick a place to eat gives me a total panic attack every time) but now I’m trying to give myself a little anxiety back so I can have the creativity that goes with it. Thanks for another great post. 🙂

  9. I love when formerly fat (especially celebrities) people explain how they know ALLLLLL about being fat as if there’s only one fat experience and it’s theirs. I used to really like Good Eats but after hearing some of his comments about his fans and seeing the show after he lost weight I just really started to dislike him. He comes off as a very cruel and hateful man.

  10. Alton Brown FAILS at the Underpants Rule. If he’d been talking about himself and how he felt, fine. But he projected more than Regal Cinemas, and that’s not OK.

    I actually love “Good Eats”. I’m a recipe junkie and a science nerd, and I love how he draws it all together in such an interesting way. But Kittendaddy works in television and knows people, and I’ve heard for many years that Alton Brown is Really Not A Very Nice Person, At All. And this was before his dieting and all that. I honestly think that he’s a very unhappy person, and that’s sad. I feel bad for him.

    But that doesn’t give him the right to make everyone else miserable too.

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