Fatphobia in Hollywood: My Twitter Conversation with Jennifer Aspen
Before I begin this blog, let me state upfront that I live in Toronto, not Los Angeles. I have no idea what it must be like to live in a culture where being thin is the ideal and fatness is looked down upon – at least, that’s how the culture seems to me, a fat feminist from Canada. I’m sure it’s hard. I’m sure there are all kinds of fad diets out there, and if you’re a star, the least little bit of fat is photographed and plastered all over People Magazine or some other publication. That would be horrible, and probably is horrible. Just another indication of what’s wrong with today’s culture, that fat is such a menace.
I had an interesting, albeit short, conversation with Jennifer Aspen, one of the stars of Good Christian Belles (GCB) and Glee, over Twitter this afternoon. It went like this:
So, keeping in mind that Aspen has an incredible push in her line of work to look perfect, I guess I can sort of understand what kind of mindset she must have towards nutrition and fatness. And I agree with her – sugary drinks should be given sparingly to young children, and they often aren’t. But her assumptions as to why the children she saw were fat, and her subsequent fat-shaming, are why I’m writing this blog today.
Did you know that in Los Angeles, 17% of people live below the poverty level? That’s a lot of adults and children living on little to no money. It’s also a lot of people living on welfare, maybe, or having to get food stamps. Add onto that the fact that many people who live in poverty face unique stresses when it comes to food, and you have people giving their kids what they can afford, and what they think is good for them. That can include Capri Sun, which touts “vitamins” and “nutrition” right on the package.
Another issue in L.A. are food deserts, a problem that’s worldwide in many cities. This happens when the nearest grocery store or supermarket selling fresh food is often miles away, causing families without cars or access to public transit to rely on the stores in their area, which could sell food that’s overpriced, rotten and unhealthy. If Capri Sun says “natural juice only”, then is it so hard for someone not educated in nutrition or able to afford good food to choose it for their children, thinking it might do them some good?
Aspen makes an assumption in her tweet (I don’t know if she really feels this way or believes it) that children are fat because of what they eat and drink. That’s actually not always true. Fatness can be caused by genetics or slow metabolisms. It can be caused by medications and health conditions. It can also be caused by eating unhealthy food, too. There are lots of reasons why someone is fat, and especially, why a child is fat. Shaming them for being “4 going on 200 lbs” doesn’t help the rampant problem in today’s society of focusing on body image. As a child who was bullied, though not for my weight, the words I heard about myself stuck in my brain for a long time. Aspen may not have said them outright to the children she saw, but saying them publicly puts them out there for young fans of hers to read.
As a fat woman, it may seem like I’m getting up on my high horse about nothing. But Jennifer Aspen has an opportunity here to spread awareness and education about nutrition. She has an opportunity to talk about food deserts, about how hard it is to afford healthy food in today’s economy, and about fatness. Will she? That’s up to her, but as an actress in Hollywood, she knows exactly how much pressure there is to look perfect. And she has a child of her own, a child she likely wants to keep healthy and safe and educated.
I’m not trying to shame Aspen for her words, though they did make me initially angry. I think her words are at the root of a problem that I try to fight every day. Fatphobia doesn’t help anyone choose foods that are healthy or exercise. It makes people feel hopeless, worthless, and unbeautiful. And that isn’t teaching people to take care of their bodies. Often, it teaches them to cut them, or starve them, or binge-eat. Young people are extremely vulnerable to what’s said regarding food, weight, and body image. We need to be careful what we say about children and their weight.
I’d like to see a world where good food is cheap, plentiful and available to everyone. That’s not the world we live in, but hopefully, by talking about it, we can get there someday. Fatness doesn’t mean ill-health. It doesn’t mean ugliness. It doesn’t mean imperfection. It’s just another body type in this big world of ours.
If Jennifer Aspen reads this, I’d like to thank her for giving me the opportunity to talk about fatphobia again. I don’t think we can talk about it enough. Because those 4-year-olds she talked about are going to be our next generation of adults who need to make choices for their children. Let’s help them make good ones and leave the shaming out of it.