An Open Letter To James Corden From A Fellow Fat Person

James CordenHi James, or maybe you’d prefer Mr. Corden? Can we talk about your response to Bill Maher?

Actually, before I get into that, I want to say that I’m a fan of your work. I have watched your Tony openings repeatedly, crying as you sang “You could be in this show…” thinking of all the little fat kids who were getting this message from someone who looks like them for the very first time. You are incredibly talented, and you’ve done amazing work around representation for fat people. I have no idea what the emotional/psychological cost of that might have been for you, and I appreciate it.

I don’t agree with you that Bill Maher’s heart was in the right place when he used his considerable platform to try to convince as many people as possible that they should bully fat people. I wouldn’t bet the farm that he even has a heart, but he certainly has an ego and he is happy to feed it by bullying any group he thinks he can get away with and, really, I’m just surprised it took him this long to get to us.

I do think your heart is in the right place, which is why, despite making some good points and being well meaning, your response ended up hurting me far more than Bill’s fatphobic yammering  because I felt that in your response you, a fellow fat person, basically bought into and reinforced every single one of Bill’s negative premises about fat people, and punctuated them with stereotypical fat jokes.

It’s understandable. We all live in a world that is chock full o’ fatphobia and diet culture, we are ceaselessly bombarded with the idea that being fat is bad and automatically unhealthy, that fat people just existing in the world constitutes some kind of “epidemic,” and that jokes based on stereotypes about fat people are hilarious.

This culture has consequences – fat people are hired less and paid less than thin people, we are given suboptimal healthcare by doctors who prescribe diets for everything from strep throat to severed limbs, we have higher rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicide. And that’s not hilarious. We’re all steeped in this culture and, as fat people, it’s easy to internalize that and start believing the negative press about us (press, I might add, that makes the diet industry $60 billion a year.)

Plus, I know that the entertainment industry is absolutely steeped in fatphobia and I imagine that one of ways fat people in the industry deal with it and succeed in spite of it, as you have, is to join in with self-deprecating humor.

But here’s the thing: Fat-shaming directed at ourselves is still fat-shaming. A fat person repeating and reinforcing stereotypes about fat people, food, and exercise, is still fat-shaming. Repeating the idea that being fat is bad, and that fat people’s existence is a problem to be solved is still fat-shaming, even when a fat person is the one saying it.

Saying “fat people should be eradicated from the Earth, but let’s try not to stigmatize them while we do it” is better than nothing, but not by much.

Suggesting that people shouldn’t fat-shame us because it won’t make us thin ends up backfiring terribly, because it suggests that if someone believes – as many fatphobes do – that fat-shaming does make fat people thinner, then it’s all systems go for fat-shaming! And that’s bullshit. First of all, because bullying results in negative health and wellbeing regardless of body size. But more to the point, even if someone sincerely believes that bullying fat people will make us immortal it still wouldn’t be acceptable behavior. Bullying is always wrong, even if it causes the victim to temporarily change in the hopes that it will stop their abuse.

As a speaker, writer, and fathlete focused on Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size, I just want people to have information and options. Too many people pursue dieting because they think it’s the only path to health, so I let people know that, understanding that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control, the truth is that dieting fails almost all the time, and most of the time results in long-term weight gain (the experience you talk about having with dieting is the same experience nearly everyone has with dieting – we lose weight short term, and then – no matter what we do – we gain it back in 2-5 years, often gaining back more than we lost. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.)

Dieting does not meet the criteria for ethical, evidence-based medicine. But as studies like Matheson et. al, Wei et. al., and the Cooper Institute Longitudinal Studies show us, focusing on our actual health, and allowing our bodies to settle at whatever weight they settle, is a far more evidence-based health practice than trying to feed our bodies less food than they need in the hopes that they’ll eat themselves and become smaller, and that somehow the result will be improved health.

Too many fat people hate their bodies because they don’t know they have any other choice, so I try to make sure fat people know that instead of trying to change our bodies to appease our bullies – essentially giving the bullies our lunch money and hoping they stop beating us up – instead of joining our bullies in shaming and hating our bodies, we can say “enough,” and we can say “I want a world without fat-shaming, and I’m going to create it, starting with myself.”

Just waking up in a fat body and not hating ourselves is an act of revolution in this culture, so imagine what happens when we stop apologizing for existing, stop thanking concern trolls for mistreating us “for our own good,”  and instead give our bodies our full-throated support, and pursue our dreams in the bodies we have – with no self-deprecation, no fat jokes, no apologies.

There’s a whole community of us – we are gaining people and power. Tomorrow they’ll be more of us. And James, I hope you’ll join us.

Of course, you don’t have to agree with me. And regardless of what the research says, or what harm it may do (and whether or not we ever battle about it on Drop the Mic…) you are allowed to keep buying into diet culture and trying to manipulate your body size – that’s your right. You are allowed to continue to think that being fat is a problem to be solved, or to keep making jokes that reinforce stereotypes about fat people. But if you want to make an argument against fat-shaming in the future, I hope you will consider this one:

Fat-shaming is wrong, full stop. Fat people have a right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression, period — no exceptions.

Thanks for reading.

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15 thoughts on “An Open Letter To James Corden From A Fellow Fat Person

  1. I’m so glad you addressed this – I knew Corden’s response made me uncomfortable but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the deeper issues. I feel so much better know Thank you 😊

  2. Wonderful writing – just shared to my page on FB. For the record, Bill Maher has ALWAYS spoken about fat people with contempt – this is not a recent development.

    1. I have watched Bill Maher in the past and he is so fat phobic. I just wish a panel member on his show would respond in a negative but teaching manner to him when he is making his “fat” jokes. I have thought about writing enlightening him about why people are fat or are NOT FAT. People are so ill informed or maybe an education from the beginning in school as simple as everyone is unique, different and none of us look the same. No matter what we look like, we are all the same inside. Teaching respect, empathy, inclusion…to me, is one of the most important things. There are fat phobic people everywhere. Again, it is a bias which is handed down from your parents, relatives, friends (YES, even families which contain FAT people). I am offended by Bill Maher very often. The medical community, and I am 63…do not have a clue what to do with us because Each One of us is DIFFERENT.

      1. You can’t force feed compassion, common sense or facts to anyone determined to hold on to bias, bile and bs. If he needs to point and laugh he NEEDS it. And in this society, he is not gonna get slapped down for it. All kinds of bigotry became A-OK again in the US, Abusing fat people is low hanging fruit and held like a birthright for millions of people.

        1. “Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion which by reasoning he never acquired.” – Jonathan Swift

  3. I hope to hell he reads this. And as long as I’m hoping, I also hope he thinks about what you’ve said, comes to the conclusion that you’re right, and smacks the (metaphorical) shit out of that idiot Maher.

  4. Absolutely brilliant piece! I think you and I are 80% on the same page on this topic, and the 20% where we may differ is iffy. I am glad you wrote to him. Very respectful letter!

  5. Thanks, Ragen. I get too worked up and can hardly do more than curse when I hear fat-bashing, especially if I feel they are not well-intentioned. Thanks for such a cogent reply.

  6. Totally agree Regan. When I heard about it, I looked at the clip and thought, Jesus, it isn’t even swimsuit season, what the hell hell?! Did I miss something? It stings at first then I remember I am not a ten-year-old on a school black top. Bullying fat people, is so, fifth grade. I always thought Bill Maher was pretty spot on about a lot of things, but I will call total bone head move here Bill, on this one. Who is he angry at really? He has made a career out of “sticking it to everyone”, so why wouldn’t we be on the list, but he is pretty stupid to not know why he has the knee jerk reaction to fat people the rest of the populous has. He probably considers himself woke, but this is a big blind spot. If he is not hungry, making money from the Billon Dollar Diet Industry, secretly attracted to fat people, he might have issues with his mother. I believe there is a literal ton of woman hatred beneath all the fat shaming in society. Deep down inside. This last couple of years with @metoo, among others, with women coming forward about men’s mistreatment, maltreatment and out right abuse of one half of the population since the begging of time. Yes, that long. This horde of angry, intractable women coming forward and demanding simple human respect, saying NO to being raped out of “love”, having employment be contingent on sexual favors, told to shut up and put up with it boys will be boys, the calling out of and demand the perpetrators be held accountable for sexualized violence, child brides/victims, date-rape, the ugly history of women and girl children being hunted by men in packs ahs really put men out of joint. There is a lot of blow back. Not sure there has to be really, in macho, chauvinistic societies around the world women and girls are still treated like trash. Rape and murder happens in countries where a woman isn’t allowed out of doors on her own. Women are hated in countries where they represent little of the out of home work force.
    Women can’t win. When we “stayed at home and took care of the children” men complained what a burden and financial drag we were, they chaffed at being “trapped” by women and made to give it all up to look after a family. When women left the home and took jobs to support themselves and their children, men complained they took jobs away from men, didn’t know their place, became un feminine, competitive, unattractive.
    If you hate women, in the Wets there is no better way to “Smack Yur Bitch Up!” or down actually, than to turn it into a “body size/health argument”.
    It’s not woman hatred, it’s just a simple, well meaning concern for your health! It’s not sexism and men’s terror at being laughed at/beaten by women, it the size of your ass. A man isn’t trying to keep you silent and under his thumb, he isn’t trying to shame you into non-existence while you try desperately to appease his appetites’ at the cost of your own personhood. It’s wellness and concern.
    When it is a woman spewing the fat hate bile, look at her. Is she trying to “WIN” the no-win scenario game? Trust me, it’s sexism beneath it all. If it wasn’t sexism, it wouldn’t be so obviously sided an argument. You wouldn’t see TV commercials featuring chubby, fat, even sloppily “obese” men being presented as viable characters, lovable and even attractive. There is no comparable “Mom-Bod” sitting beside the “Dad-Bod” chic of today. A woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes to create human life, but she must return to looking like a sixteen year old beauty queen in mere weeks to be of social value again. Meanwhile, a man can “let himself go” and not lose his personhood.
    Why did James Corden apologize for being fat after years and years of trying to not be fat? Cause he is a man and he has a job and advertises who want him to at least acknowledge that his body is a failure, all the while let him remain being one. He “should change” but he doesn’t really have to. He’s a man. He’s fat, but he’s a good boy. Rosie O’Donnell, gone, Rosanne, gone, Kathy Najimy, thin then gone, Lizzo, here now… For how long? My God the crap that woman is taking! Her very flashy existence is pulling in all kinds of doodies. Because she is attractive she is getting the “…but you are not/can not be healthy!, argument. I won’t let you be healthy is more like it.
    These professional haters are SO ANGRY, and they have been told for SO long that they may indeed despise /dispose of any fat body they see. Racism, not gone, homophobia, not gone, woman hatred (open) not gone. The body is all people can see and “know” of a person on sight, if they really have to hate you, they will.
    Health as a barometer of social value has long been oozing alongside humanity and currently fat equals unhealthy, which of course equals Death. What is everyone afraid of? Death. So you got social value “woman as less than human” and the deepest of human fears Death. None of this obsessive fear and loathing of fat women is out of place. It makes sense, it is ill meant, illogical and never ending. If fat haters had to give it up, I honestly don’t know what they’d do with themselves.
    This may just be a 21st Century phenomenon. By 2200, we will probably have fiddled with the human genome to the point where we don’t have to be faced with any trait we deem unacceptable, less than, damaged, failing, ugly, sick, costly, un wanted. You only have undesirables when you have undesirables. Someday, we will all be perfect. Won’t that be wonderful?
    My God, what will they do for comedy, what will advertisers do if nothing is better than what you are/have now? Who will we find to blame for our own appetites’ and hang-ups? What will talk show hosts have to talk about. There will be no drama when “we’re all living the Dream.” Maybe they’ll just sit around and talk about how bad the “Good Old Days” were. When people had to apologize for not being what other people want them to be.

    Must be a rule about writing more than the original post. Well, it’s serious and seriously annoying.

  7. Just a general observation: I think a lot about the unfair expectation that, before a fat person criticizes a thin person for anything, we must preface our criticism with reassurance that we support the status quo, are not criticizing them to challenge it, and don’t think they’re bad people. I can’t help but marvel at the irony that the same folks who think they should be allowed to call us fat bitches and tell us to kill ourselves because it’s “tough love” they don’t have to “sugar coat” and we need to “learn to take a joke” and “grow thicker skin” expect us to put a silk pillow under their heads and give them a back massage before making a simple critical statement like “you made a mistake.”

  8. Thank you for writing such an articulate response. His video made me both happy and sad. That he can acknowledge that genes affect weight and in the same breath say he must keep trying to lose weight was incredibly hard to hear.

    I’ve always hated being teased for being short because I certainly didn’t set out to be short. Being teased for being fat is worse because nobody expects me to get taller.

  9. Thank you for this. So much of what happens in the realms of Bill Maher, and clumsy response to it, is treated by my mind as negative nonsense noise (NNN tm) to ignore. I could feel the wrongness of what James Corden had said but I am not good at articulating it. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

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