One to watch: Gabourey Sidibe

Evidently, a new independent film, "Push" is making some noise at Sundance this week. For the record, this is NOT the store-brand superhero movie that's being advertised right now of under the same title. Rather, this is an adapatation of the novel of the same telling the story of a fat teenaged girl named Precious in Harlem in the 1980's. By all accounts, the book handles some difficult material, but generally with a great deal of respect to its lead character. I have not read it, so I hope it was not using fat as visual shorthand for all sorts of negative meanings. Fat is often used as a shorthand metaphor for hostile associations, both when characterizing someone as a villian and as a sympathetic character. Hopefully, someone who has read the book can offer some incite to how the book treats the characters size.

Anyhow, for the movie, the producers made the daring choice of casting an actual fat person in the role rather than padding or feeding a thin actress. Not only does that demean fat people, there is a more insidious aspect to it. Studios usually use such trickier as a necessity because a script demands that we see a character both as fat and as thin. The simple truth is that Hollywood spends very little time telling stories about actual fat people. Just people who are fat for a narrative gimmick. So, its encouraging to see any film tell a fat person's story. I'm especially encouraged by a New York Times interview with the lead actress in the film, Gabourey Sidibe.

"Gabbie" is the daughter of legendary NYC busker and R&B singer Alice Tan Ridley and is the prototypical unknown. Kinda have to be for a role like this as its not like the media has put in much effort in making "known" young talented fat black actresses. Its hard to be known when there is little work for you because you don't look like someone Hollywood tells stories about. The risk of being an unknown in a film like this is that you will disappear into the role. People assume it must be YOU on the screen. She's an "outsider" by virtue of her appearance, so for some critics its not hard to leap to the conclusion that she isn't acting that much. Reading the Times interview, though, its exceptionally clear that she is not her character and is also acting the heck out of this film. A very nice passage closes the interview...

Desk-job ambitions or not, Gabourey Sidibe is not Precious; she is a natural performer. But we all have our insecurities. She used to see Mo’Nique, the plus-size actress and comedian, on television and pray to be like her. Now Mo’Nique is her co-star, playing her mother. What she wanted about Mo’Nique’s life was not necessarily the fame.

“I always thought she was really funny, but also she’s very confident in the way she looks,” Ms. Sidibe said. “She’s very happy in the way she looks, and that’s what I prayed about. At that time in my life, I wanted to be everybody else, but I wanted to want to be Gabbie.”She was speaking in the past tense.

“At this point,” she laughed, “I don’t think there’s anyone better than Gabbie.”
Sounds like a pretty good outlook to me. Keep a look out for this film coming out of the festival. It would be interesting to see if it can get wide distribution and whether anyone else can write a good story for a fat character.


Hungry is my friend and yours!

I accidentally watched a Weight Watchers commercial after noticing an adorable orange monster in a TiVo blur. I went to investigate only to discover that the poor fellow is being called "Hungry" and as an anti-mascot of sorts for Weight Watchers.

I guess Hungry is the bad guy in the spots, but it strikes me as a bit of a miscue by Weight Watchers' ad team as they made the personification of Hungry awfully adorable. I seriously want this as a doll. Me and Hungry would be best friends! And why not?

See, Hungry is totally awesome in the ads. He's always your hook-up for good food. Why would I complain about that? If I had a friendly orange monster who was offering me pizza, cake, pie, etc, I'd be pleased. I'd hug the fellow.

He could sure use the love after watching the commercial. See Weight Watchers, in their continuing effort to totally not be a diet (they pinky swear and everything! For reals this time) keeps being mean to our Orange buddy. The pull out a book he's standing on to make it fall. The trip him when he's trying to hook you up with a hot dog. They crush him a copier machine. He's awfully sympathetic for a supposed villain.

I feel bad for him. I mean, hungry isn't bad. Its natural and healthy. People get hungry for a reason. There is no more pride in "conquering" hunger than in conquering breathing by holding your breath. Hungry is just looking out for us, and I appreciate that.

I hearby suggest the fatosphere adopt Hungry as a mascot. He's being terribly mistreated over at "Stop Dieting. Start Dieting but pretending you're not" Central and he deserves a good and loving home.


Anti-fat Surgeon General?

Well, okay, ANY Surgeon General likely to be nominated in the current political climate from either party is going to be anti-fat acceptance. Still, I hardly see that as a reason to not draw attention to some of the attitudes presented by rumored leading candidate to be the next Surgeon General, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.

Back in 2007, he participated in the "Big Fat Blame Game", making a pitch to blame working mothers for fat children. Feministe rightly noted that his approach seems to absolve fathers of any blame, but there is another problem here. There was no good reason for the theory to begin with. Its just another, "gosh, there are more fat people than in 1970/1980/1960/etc. What has changed in our culture that we can glibly blame?" FatFu listed some of the many supposed vilains subjecting the world to fat people.

Though he has spoken out agains the "Thin Ideal" in Time Magazine, his approach is typical of the mainstream medical establishment. Its trying to thread a needle, as it were, in treating "thin ideal" eating disorders without addressing the fat panic that contributes to them. I regard it as the "Oh, but you're not fat" approach to self-esteem. Its not really about addressing the fears, but rather its about trying to contradict them in specific instances. I should stress that I think a lot of the examples he cites in the article aren't doing that, but I definitely feel that this is the approach Gupta is taking. Barbie is bad, sure, but he doesn't want to actually encourage everyone to feel that their bodies are okay. "Body Acceptance for Acceptable Bodies" is not okay, and it usually just works to subvert Size Acceptance in the same way Weight Watchers does with their "Diets Don't Work" ad campaigns.

This point is driven home in a different article: "Sizing Up Your Body", which puts on equal footing a problem of people thinking they are fat when they aren't, with people who aren't fat when they are. He makes the silly case that the problem with fat people is that they don't know they are fat or that they think this okay. This drives me crazy. Its so divorced from the real world. I'm sorry, but fat people KNOW they are fat. They are reminded constantly. The idea that the problem in our culture is that we're too easy on fat people is simply not credible, so it concerns me that Gupta is explicitly endorsing such a position. He revisits it in an even more absurd article taking doctors to task for not pressuing fat people to lose weight. He doesn't even base this criticism on any study showing that doctors aren't pressuring fat people to lose weight. Just that they don't always note it in their medical charts. He's assuming from this that it wasn't brought up. Again, from the shared experiences of countless fat people, I simply don't find it to be a credible position to suggest that doctors are going easy on fat patients.

Most frightening is Gupta advocacy for a "Fat Tax" proposal in San Francisco. Though most proposals that have gotten a serious airing to date (include the SF proposal) have focused on taxing products presumed to be at fault for the existance of fat people, many in the anti-fat movement have been agitating for even worse suggestions that would institute a direct financial penalty on people because of their weight. Note that Gupta essentially buries the fact that there is no proof that products with corn syrup cause fatness in his report. Isn't that a pretty important point to the matter? He still concludes that the idea is fine and that we should avoid corn syrup without offering any evidence of its faults. He just asserts it. The increasing talk of "Fat Taxes" scare the hell out of me, and I don't want someone who approves of them in any fashion as Surgeon General.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has expressed his dissatisfaction with Gupta on different grounds, but ones which I think have some relevance to a fat acceptance appraisal of Gupta. His complaint is with Gupta's criticism of Michael Moore's film Sicko. Specifically that Gupta accused Moore of getting his facts wrong, but Gupta repeatedly fudged his own facts in doing so. Krugman notes that Gupta seemed to be dismissing Moore simply because he was an outsider. How could his facts be right? He's just a shock-doc director? That strikes me as much of the way the medical establishment treats fat acceptance and especially those scientist who question fat stigmatization. Its usually refutation through assertion. We aren't right because we aren't right. We can't be right, so we aren't right.

Fat Acceptance is not likely to get what they want, though. Even if Gupta is not picked, any likely alternative will surely tow the medical establishments line on fatness. Like I said, though, that's not a reason not to call them out for it.