There’s been a bit of a flurry in the media about this and, what the heck- I’m going to jump in too! As some of you know, I’m a TLC addict and have been watching My Big Fat Fabulous Life this season. There are some things that Whitney says and does that I really don’t agree with, mainly because I think she can do better, but one thing that I completely agree with is her “no body shame” message. Ultimately, how you choose to live your life is up to you and you should be proud of yourself and love yourself regardless of what other people think! Personally, I always think there is room for improvement with me, but that’s me! I cannot and will not decide other people’s lives.
To recap the episode in question: comedian Kerryn Feehan was appearing on the radio show that Whitney works for and Ms. Feehan made a point of remarking how “we coddle people with food addictions,” and went on to make a few disparaging remarks about overweight people, including how “bullying” would be good for them. When one of the show’s hosts, Roy, who is a “bigger guy,” asked if she meant that bullying him would be good for him, she said yes. The look on this guy’s face simply said “I can’t believe she is saying this to my face.” Whitney told Kerryn that she was assuming that all overweight people had food addictions, and making other unwarranted assumptions, to which Kerryn replied that if Whitney were honest with herself she would admit that she had a food addiction and was unhappy with her life. Later on, Roy gave Whitney tickets to Kerryn’s show, and in the interest of fairness, Whitney and her roommate Buddy showed up to hear Kerryn make a few more other generally negative comments about overweight people and Whitney, although she didn’t mention her by name. After the show, they had another “discussion,” which kind of turned into a shouting match. Kerryn (who is also a smoker) revealed in her show that she is an alcoholic (about 1 year sober at the time) and had lost loved ones to problems related to obesity.
I think I can see part of the problem already! I think Kerryn genuinely was trying to help Whitney, but I think she’s doing it in a remarkably unhelpful way. A lot of times people who are newly recovering from their own addictions try to force recovery on others, whether they actually have an addiction or not. I don’t think my problems with food actually qualified as an addiction. I think it was a coping mechanism that I abused but as far as an actual addiction, I don’t think so. I’m not sure Whitney’s problem with food is an addiction either, but admittedly, I don’t know enough about her eating habits to make any kind of assumption. And therein lies the problem: Kerryn barely even knows Whitney but apparently feels qualified to make blanket assumptions about her life and the lives of everyone who is overweight. I think she wants to help, but I think her method, aside from actually hurting the ones she wants to help, only incites anger and shame, not a desire to change.
While I am not an alcoholic, I have family members who are. I have also lost loved ones to obesity and body shame. One of my cousins was 600 lbs and actually died during gastric bypass surgery. I lost an aunt to complications from the same surgery. She was barely 200 lbs at the time of the surgery but was embarrassed by “being fat” so she had the surgery even though everyone in the family thought she didn’t need it.Essentially, attitudes and behaviors like Kerryn’s cost my aunt her life. I suppose under Kerryn’s philosophy of “bullying for positive change in others,” I can send her an email letting her know that a lifetime of bullying by others ended up with my aunt losing her life trying to live up to society’s standards, and incidentally, it killed a friend of mine from high school as well who also died from complications from the same surgery. And, while I’m at it, I can let Kerryn know that I don’t appreciate having to breathe in her second hand smoke and she’s going to die from the cigarettes. I really don’t think that would spur Kerryn to make any positive lifestyle changes, do you? (FYI: my best friend is a smoker, so I’m really not all hot about the topic like some people can be!)
All of that is just hurtful and not helpful and it would involve me making some unwarranted assumptions about Kerryn’s life. I’m not going to do that. I choose to think the best of her and from what I can gather about the ongoing media flurry, people are jumping all over her about her treatment of Whitney. I think she was a little out of line but I think Whitney also handled the situation badly. ( I know Buddy Expletive Deleted certainly did!) Whitney tried to change Kerryn’s mind and insisted on arguing with her. I think both of them are so firmly entrenched in their own beliefs that it would be impossible for either of them to budge. If Whitney felt the need to stand up against a bully (which I believe is a good thing), she would have been better served calling attention to the fact that Kerryn is not qualified to make blanket assumptions about people she doesn’t know and no one needs Kerryn’s permission to live their lives, and to leave it at that. I suspect that Whitney is hypersensitive to bullying and fat shaming. Sadly, I am no stranger to it either. (On one occasion, I was followed through a produce market by some jerk who kept making pig sounds. When the owner ignored his harassment of me, I left without buying anything.) I can understand Whitney’s desire to fight back and refuse to be embarrassed by how she chooses to live her life. She needs no one’s permission to do so; neither does Kerryn, but I think both of them need to remember how easy it is to see the flaws in others and how painful it is to look for them in oneself.