I'm feeling a little queasy and it’s not because I just remembered one peanut butter pretzel too late that there is a salmonella outbreak at hand. My bout of nausea began yesterday morning when I indulged the rare craving to listen to the radio while getting dressed for work. Admittedly, that 1995 throw back maneuver was likely my first mistake. But what happened next, no one deserves during that sacred time in the morning when you’re trying to center yourself for the day. Cue some horrified sounding radio DJ. The exact wording escapes me, likely a suppression response, but it went something like this: So, wow people! The New York Post ran a picture of Jessica Simpson today and she looks ginormous! She must have packed on 40 pounds! What has she been eating? What was she thinking? End fake quote, now read promo for weight loss supplement. Seriously - true story.
I tuned out when "unflattering" photos of Tyra Banks and Jennifer Love Hewitt surfaced on vacation, or when Britney Spears weight gain inspired teams of professionals dissecting photos, but never has this beloved pasttime of over-zealous armchair weight watching felt more out of place. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the recent culmination of a year of 24-7 “change” rhetoric being piped in to my ear, or the soberness I feel on the heels of record job loss numbers, but for some reason, today was the day when I could no longer stomach the particularly mean-spirited headlines and zings thrown around with reckless abandon accompanying someone’s appearance. The line of absurdity was definitely crossed for me on this one, and not just because I feel a little robbed of what could have been a celebrated moment since I do tend to believe (as friends of the singer allege) she wasn’t very happy keeping her weight at a rib-popping low.
Thankfully, upon further "Jessica Simpson Scandal" research, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the world had not completely gone to sh^%#t. Some web sites covering the concert that inspired the buzz didn't say a word about her appearance or simply duly noted a fuller figure and moved on. Yet several major media outlets went full throttle with the "porker" puns and there was the comic strip in the New York Post today. I’m speechless. The need to get on some sort of blow horn and call Yahtzee on this one overwhelms me. I briefly considered posting a YouTube video, hysterically ranting to “leave Jessica alone” ala Chris Crocker’s infamous YouTube, “Leave Britney (Spears) alone” sensation, but then decided my sore throat would impede dramatic effect and my video really would need to be, "leave the young fans of Jessica's who are trying to convince themselves not to lock themselves in their room till they reach their ideal weight and have to overhear this conversation alone!" I also contemplated writing a “Celebrities Are People Too” thesis and posting it in its entirety online, but again, I worried that wouldn’t really capture my sentiments and something sounded funny about, "People Are People Too." So I guess I'll just have to rely on the plain written word, no gimmicks.
Our President reminded us recently in his inauguration address that "our country is in crisis." It has been noted by many smart people - several pay scales above mine - that the upside to the challenges our country faces is that it will force us to take a closer look at the way we live our lives and with greater ease see what has served us well, and discard what has held us back. This sounds pretty good. I would say, "Sign me up!" but I guess I already am, I guess we all already are. I will be the first to admit my life is chalk full of hypocrisies, ironies, and contradictions, but my hope is that we can collectively make an oath to strive to be better about the big things in life as well as the small things while the door of change is propped open. A simple shift in tone would perhaps be a place to start, and an opportunity to admit that we're not really sure where funny ends, and mean starts, where an obligation to say what we think will sell crosses the line from harmless entertainment to something far uglier and more dangerous.
What I do know is that in terms of one manifestation of a societal mean streak, we've used the same excuses to dodge forward movement for a long time. "We're just covering the news," "celebrities are rich, self-centered, generally suck, and signed up for this so therefore they can just shut their little yappers and take one for the team while we all point and laugh that they're not so perfect after all, ey?!" "She is a star. It is her JOB to stay in shape and look good." And an oldie but goodie, “It’s just not healthy to be fat, that’s why it’s ok to call her x, y and z.”
Americans are better than this. Allow me to gently point out the irony of talking passionately about the desire for health and happiness for ourselves and loved ones out of one side of our mouths, and playing a judgmental bully fat (and otherwise) police to our fellow citizens out of the other side of our mouth. Women are definitely better than this. Who among us has not gazed longingly at their "skinny" jeans and opted instead for their "I had a little too much fun on vacation slightly dumpy jeans" and just prayed not to run in to any exes before they can get back to their regular gym routine?
Maybe this can be our moment of liberation where we accept that the truth of being human doesn't need to be danced around, nor conversely presented like a page out of the script for “Mean Girls: Part Two.” People (and by people, celebrities fall under that general category too) gain weight and lose weight. They also happen to read their email (Yes, I know. I was quite surprised to find out that there was no such thing as a bomb-sniffing “Robo Dog” that ensured that Anderson never got within a 10-mile radius of his email). Some people gain weight when they're in emotional distress, some people lose weight when they're hurting. Some people gain weight when they're in love, some people lose weight when they're in love and on and on and on. So show me pictures of celebrities’ weight range all day and night – just leave out the toxic remarks, kindly. I'll relish the opportunity to see someone I think is pretty and "has it all" going through the same roller-coaster ride of life that I do.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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