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.
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.
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