Tag Archives: Michelle Obama

You look great! …

… I recently told a friend who had lost weight.

“Not to be sizist about it, but you do, you look terrific.” She thanked me and talked about the time she had put in at the gym. And she did look great. But then, she looked great before she lost weight, too. And as you can tell from my smartass qualification, the exchange had me thinking — mid-exchange — about fat shaming and how to respect one person’s goal for her body while equally respecting other bodies of different shapes.  I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I stumbled on the a blog called Dances with Fat.  (Motto:  “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not size dependent.”)

It’s easy: just respect every body.  Everybody and every BODY.

This concept is at the core of the disability rights movement. That bodies of all shapes and functionalities — and the people inside them* — are equally deserving of respect. Hell, it’s at the core of the civil rights movement: that people, regardless of the color of their skin or shape of their privates, are equally deserving of respect.

But it seems like the last group of people it is respectable to out and out ridicule — besides lawyers — are fat people.  From Conan’s mocking of Kirstie Alley and a female Olympic weightlifter (who pwnd his sorry behind), to Jiminy Glick a/k/a Martin Short in a fat suit, we hear and apparently tolerate jokes about weight that we would never, in a million years, tolerate about, say, race or religion.**

And we’re supposed to “fight obesity.”  In one of many examples, the Denver Post reported in July

A 2011 state law requiring 30 minutes of physical activity a day for elementary students was supposed to mark a new tool in the fight against childhood obesity . . .

OK, that’s not a report, it’s a sentence fragment, but in that one fragment, you see the problem:  can we encourage physical exercise without “fighting obesity” — which is really asking us to fight against someone else’s body?  Why on earth is the shape of your body any of my business much less something I should fight against?

Health risks?  Everyone gets to take their own risks.  Health care costs?  If that’s the real worry — and not our judgmentalism —  then encourage healthy eating, not fat shaming.

Here I have to take issue with the First Lady — on whom I otherwise have a totally embarrassing girlcrush.  I’m very sorry she decided to label her cause “the epidemic of childhood obesity” rather than keeping the focus on kids eating a lot of stuff that’s really bad for them. You can be a healthy fat kid and you can also be a scrawny kid who eats only poptarts, peanut butter, and microwave pizzas. Though I doubt that either Lady Bird Johnson or Pat Nixon could have gotten me to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Moral:  Be happy with your body; don’t judge other people’s bodies; eat more fruits and vegetables!

For example, from a website about my favorite fruit, I <Heart> Coffee

Graphic featuring 3 red coffee beans that reads:  "Coffee is technically made out of FRUIT!  HECK YES!  That takes care of that food group."



*Assumes a duality that we could argue over — from a philosophical, religious, and/or identity perspective — for days, possibly millennia.

** Outside the fringes of the Republican party.



We need a Language Police.

Of which, of course, I’d be Chief.

Our jurisdiction would be broad:  grammar; punctuation; semantics.  But our most important task would be punishing language abuse.   Today’s perp:  The NYT.  The charges are based on a sentence fragment in today’s Times that is superficially just crappy writing, but is in fact stunningly offensive.  In an article discussing Michelle Obama’s white ancestors, the writer makes clear that the family of the First Lady’s white great-great-great-grandfather owned her great-great-great grandmother.  At the time their child — Mrs. Obama’s great-great-grandfather, Dolphus T. Shields — was conceived, the white slave-owner was 20; his slave only 15.  The article continues:

Such forbidden liaisons across the racial divide inevitably bring to mind the story of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Mrs. Obama’s ancestors, however, lived in a world far removed from the elegance of Jefferson’s Monticello, his 5,000-acre mountain estate with 200 slaves. They were much more typical of the ordinary people who became entangled in America’s entrenched system of servitude.

Just a bunch of random, ordinary people of, you know, a couple of different skin colors, who — passive voice! — became entangled, you know, like you do when you are charging too many electrical devices and the cords end up on the floor, or your dog puts one too many rope toys in front of the back door and, you just, you know, become entangled.  No one’s fault.  That lethal system of violently-asserted racial superiority, oppression, and death was just lying around entangling ordinary people.

Rachel L. Swarns, you are under arrest for First Degree Language Abuse.

Ms. Swarns — who has apparently written a book about Ms. Obama’s multiracial ancestors — goes on to perpetrate this egregious sentence, which may form the basis of a referral to my colleagues with the Journalism Police or possibly the History Police.

[Ms. Obama’s great-great-great grandmother] had more biracial children after the Civil War, giving some of the white Shieldses hope that her relationship with [the white slave-owner] was consensual.

W.T.F.  There is no universe in which the sexual relationship between a master and a slave can be consensual.  Nor did the end of the Civil War magically turn former slaves and their former owners into free agents.

I get the motive for this:  we don’t want to offend the tender feelings of Mrs. Joan Tribble — “a retired bookkeeper who delights in her two grandchildren and her Sunday church mornings” — by suggesting that perhaps some of her distant ancestors were, um …. how can I say this delicately yet factually? … slaveowners.  Because of course “[s]ome of Mrs. Tribble’s relatives have declined to discuss the matter beyond the closed doors of their homes, fearful that they might be vilified as racists or forced to publicly atone for their forebears.”

How the hell can we teach history if we’re unwilling to just tell it like it is?