This American Life: #589: Tell Me I'm Fat
June 20, 2016 6:59 PM - Subscribe

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it's time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West's book Shrill.
posted by misfish (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This whole episode reminded me of a series of commercials here in Japan for some diet pill or other, where there's a flashback to high school and then they show today, and one of the main lady's classmates Got Fat. The thing is, the fat one is depicted as being just really happy with life in general, and yet the message is clearly that she's somehow undeserving of love or happiness or… something. The thin classmate does a knowing glance at some point, and we as the audience are very obviously supposed to side with her.

The basic takeaway is that it's better to be thin and I guess emotionally distant than to be fat and very clearly happy (and there is zero subtlety in this) and honestly it's pretty off-putting not just as a commercial but as a pretty unambiguous declaration of social mores.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Granted, Japan gives America a run for its money in terms of amount of entertainment media predicated upon the notion that a fat person is the single funniest thing that can be imagined, so
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2016

This was just a whopper to listen to. Particularly Elna Baker's story of having to trade off being her old happy self for getting what she wanted (better career and a husband) and how she feels like she couldn't be loved while fat. I debated mentioning it to a friend who's had weight issues, but I don't know if that would just make it worse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:12 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this, I would have missed it otherwise. Parts were hard to listen to (the Oral Roberts thing, Elna Baker talking to her husband), but it was really worthwhile. I'm an overweight, sometimes obese white man, which means I've encountered a sliver of what's going here, but not really the whole thing, and getting that perspective is good.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

"When you come out as gay, most people accept it"

fuck Ira Glass and the bubble he lives in
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:15 PM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

I found this really enthralling, as I've read quite a bit of Lindy West online and love her bravado and observations. Luckily, we were on a long drive and heard it all.

That story about Elma's skin surgery issue made me physically gag. I'm impressed that the ep went so far to depict the physical and psychological horror of being simultaneously invisible and hypervigilant about your supposedly shameful looks 24/7. If there were any reasonable country where this weren't true, maybe fat acceptance could actually happen. But with so many cultures harping on it as a health issue (and hey, no point in avoiding it as a talking point -- obesity does have medical implications for SOME people, not ALL people) -- I just don't see it happening anytime soon.

Would love for heavier people just to have access to well-made, attractive clothing. Just, seriously, fuck the whole fashion world and Hollywood while we're at it, too. It sucks to be limited to what you can maximize out of your looks for social success and profit; that's just so fucking unfair. You'd think a gay boss would snap himself out of it after multiple call-outs (public and private), but damn. I'm super-disappointed in Dan Savage's responses to her pleas for a microaggression-free workplace.

I've never even been obese (yet) and people have fucked with me soullessly and abruptly over gaining weight. My heart breaks for everyone like Elma who realize they can never re-gain the weight without literally losing their current identity and possible relationships. Also, FUCK HIM for not remembering borrowing her hammer. Like, really???? I am semi-convinced they won't stay married. :(
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:23 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think Elna's husband is a different guy form the man she dated who didn't remember meeting her when she was fat. The conversation she has with him about whether he would have married her if she was fat is heartbreaking. It must be awful to feel like you have to keep taking speed forever in order to live your life and have your job and your relationship.
posted by misfish at 6:40 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

I really appreciated how much this just let Lindy, Elna, and Roxane speak for themselves and their experiences. I'm "Lane Bryant fat" (as Roxane puts it) and my feelings on this subject are so complex.

It feels radical for these perspectives to be aired on a platform as big as TAL. I want more.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:32 PM on June 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

This was a great show in so many ways. I'm so glad Lindy West called out Dan Savage. Totally not surprised that he didn't have the courage to discuss his comments re fat people on TAL.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:24 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

With any luck the reason why is because he eventually figured out that he, as a gay man, has roughly zero right to play Love The Sinner Hate The Sin, and is rightly embarrassed to death by the entire episode.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:14 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

fuck Ira Glass and the bubble he lives in

Every other comment in this thread demonstrates why that comment is so fucked up. I haven't heard the episode yet, but if Glass said something kind of clueless about coming out that doesn't even begin to tip the scales against all the good he's done with this series.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:31 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

The arc of acceptance is heading in the right direction, but yeah, I suspect Ira does live in something of a bubble here. That kind of “f u!” response is wildly unfair though.
posted by pharm at 3:50 AM on June 22, 2016

There is an FPP about this episode now, also.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on June 22, 2016

longdaysjourney, it is worth noting that Savage responded at the time. Among the things he pointed out was I'm not Lindy West's "boss." I didn't hire her, I don't have the authority to fire her, I don't edit her.

None of that is to dispute West's main points, but I do think that some of the heat Savage is taking for this is overblown.
posted by ent at 8:58 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm glad I listened to this because it meant I bought Lindy West's book, and it is fucking hilarious. I wasn't sure I'd like it because I'm not actually a fan of a few of the people who blurbed it but I'm laughing out loud in a quiet car dealership right now reading it. I expect to finish it before they finish replacing my spark plugs.
posted by town of cats at 10:53 AM on June 22, 2016

That kind of “f u!” response is wildly unfair though.

Strongly disagree. Being an ally or even a force for good doesn't give you a get out of shit free card when you fuck up.
posted by phearlez at 10:53 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

longdaysjourney, it is worth noting that Savage responded at the time. Among the things he pointed out was I'm not Lindy West's "boss." I didn't hire her, I don't have the authority to fire her, I don't edit her.

You might enjoy reading the 489 responses to this, many of which point out that Savage's response missed Lindy's point completely and included some of the sorts of comments that West had been critical of. And he admits that even though he's not her boss, he could probably get her fired if he wanted, which sort of undermines his whole point.
posted by maxsparber at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel I should clarify my previous comment now that I'm almost done with the book. Not all of it is hilarious (it starts off hilarious, I swear) and a lot of it will make you really sad or angry. But it's great and important, and you should read it.
posted by town of cats at 2:08 PM on June 22, 2016

"I think the real you is the skinny you." Good lord, man.
posted by redsparkler at 11:16 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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