No One, Including Kelly Clarkson, Should Get Fat Shamed

Pop singer Kelly Clarkson is getting apologies from two media personalities for “fat shaming” her—and she should.

In an interview Friday, Fox News’ Chris Wallace said that Clarkson “could stay off the deep-dish pizza for a little while,” after radio host Mike Gallagher said of Clarkson, “Holy cow, did she blow up.”

Wallace—who, to be fair, initially (and wisely) demurred from discussing Clarkson’s weight, instead talking about her “lovely voice”—issued a statement of apology:  “I sincerely apologize to Kelly Clarkson for my offensive comment. . . I admire her remarkable talent and that should have been the focus of any discussion about her.”

Gallagher also apologized, writing, “Tubby Mike is the last person in the world who should bring up anyone’s weight. I couldn’t possibly feel any worse than I do for making an observation that led to the conclusion that I ‘fat-shamed’ this talented and classy entertainer.”

It’s easy to write off fat shaming as just another type of catty comment celebrities should just deal with, just as they face vicious critiques of their outfits or nasty remarks about their intelligence or belligerent dismissals of their political statements.

But here’s the catch: America has a problem with fat people.

That might seem incredible. After all, nearly 7 out of 10 adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet studies have documented that overweight men and women (but women especially, which makes the criticism of Clarkson even more egregious) face real consequences because of society’s views on weight.

“Women, the data showed, are increasingly less likely to work the higher paying jobs and increasingly more likely to work the lower paying jobs as they become heavier. Men, on the other hand, see no such gradual effect,” reported the Washington Post on a 2014 study released by Vanderbilt University.

According to advocacy group Obesity Action Coalition,

“Female job applicants who are affected by excess weight are less likely than male applicants to be recommended for hiring. . .  [W]omen who are affected by obesity tend to earn salaries that are 6 percent lower than thinner women (for the same work performed), whereas men who are affected by obesity experience a smaller wage penalty: 3 percent less than thinner men.”

Clearly, Clarkson—who can point to a number of hit songs and successful albums—has done just fine. But mockery of her weight suggests that it’s OK to judge people based on their weight. And that’s a problem.

Why? After all, it’s true that being overweight can be bad for your health. It’s also true that for many people, being fat is a result of eating too much—and gluttony is no newcomer to the list of vices. But knowing someone’s weight doesn’t mean you know that person. Gluttony is a peculiar vice—no other bad inclination is so public. (And of course, some overweight people aren’t overweight because they eat too much, but because of medical problems.) Selfishness, narcissism, cruelty, meanness—none of these changes a person’s body. But eating too much does.

A person’s weight doesn’t reveal what his or her character is. It doesn’t reveal a person’s willpower capabilities. (Would you say a person has no willpower because they talked about binge watching TV?) It doesn’t reveal laziness or stupidity.

And no, fat-shaming doesn’t work to spur overweight people to become healthier.  According to a 2014 University College London study, “In a study of 2,944 UK adults over four years, those who reported experiencing weight discrimination gained more weight than those who did not.”

Overweight people potentially face real health consequences. But they shouldn’t face fewer employment opportunities or lower wages or more societal censure than their average weight or underweight peers, just because they have the misfortune to have a bad habit that people can know about from their appearance.

Kelly Clarkson didn’t “need” Wallace and Gallagher’s apologies. But for Americans watching, those apologies sent a message: it’s time to rethink how we treat and judge people on the basis of their weight alone. And that’s something America could benefit from doing.

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