NOTE: This article originally ran in the May 11, 2018 issue of the Pasadena Weekly. Ellen is now the recipient of the LA Press Club’s award for “Best Columnist — Daily/Weekly Newspapers” in her category via this submission. The Judges’ comment: “A deeply personal column with humor and insight. Terrific writing.”
I adore Amy Schumer’s talent and colossal clanging ovaries. I need to chime in regarding the kerfuffle over her latest movie “I Feel Pretty.” Please go see it.
Ms. Schumer is currently experiencing a backlash from fans and critics, which actually started when the trailer came out. They accuse the star, as well as the writer/director team of Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, of fat-shaming and inconsistent messages. Excuse me? Did these people see the same movie I did? I want to know what size those critics are.
Are they fat people? I wonder. Or are their reviews an attempt to make up for their own bigotry toward fat people by using the “best defense is a good offense” technique?
I speak from having been an obese woman in this society, and it’s no — pardon the expression — picnic. And, if at that time I was at a picnic, I would have gladly eaten everything I could find and other people’s leftovers as well, all for the fleeting comfort of stuffing myself.
I have toyed with writing a book titled “Behind the Fat Curtain,” because I know from experience both what it’s like to conform to society’s ideals for a woman’s body, and what it’s like to be called a pig to my face and behind my back. At one time, I had clothes in my closet that ranged from a size 4 to a size 2X. At my heaviest at 5’4” I weighed 240 pounds and as light as 120, which on me looks like death with a pulse. My ideal weight is 150-ish. That ideal is set by me; not impossible standards that other people lay on me.
I also have the unique experience of being a semi-athletic person. There are advantages to being heavy that rarely get acknowledged by men or even known by most females. When I teach self-defense and hit someone with 240 pounds behind me, that “mock” assailant goes down — and stays down. It’s not an accident that the combat sports have weight classes.
On the other hand, I’m also powerful as a smaller person because what I don’t have in weight I make up in flexibility and speed. I have credibility in the close-quarter combat world which few females have.
I am what they call in the recovery world a compulsive eater and dieter. There’s probably not a diet in the US that I didn’t try before I finally learned to manage food in a program that “friends of Bill and Lois” would recognize.
Of course, I took Phen-fen. What self-respecting compulsive eater/dieter didn’t? And it worked! Except it could have also been fatal. I got a letter from the pharmaceutical company informing me that I was at risk for heart damage, and would I accept their complimentary heart test with a cardiologist?
“You need open-heart surgery to repair the damage,” my “gift” cardiologist said.
“(silence) Why?” I gasped in one of those moments — cliché as it is — where my heart was in my throat, presumably making it easier to operate on there.
“You have mitral valve prolapse.”
“Is there a way I could avoid open-heart surgery?” I croaked.
“Yes, you could lose 80 pounds,” he said while looking me over. He then spat back, “And you’re obviously not going to do that.”
Gauntlet thrown. Surgery avoided. I lost the 80 pounds safely and never looked back.
The reviews of Amy’s film are rife with fat-shaming by critics pretending to know what fat-shaming is like “as lived.” I’m critic-shaming here.
Indignity after indignity: on the street, at school, on the playground, in stores, in my own mirror, in bed, all day, all night, in restaurants, AT HOME! The family can be the bedrock of fat shaming. My parents raised 3 daughters; we’ve all had a lifelong struggle with obesity. My parents were both slender and never missed an opportunity to warn or tease us while serving us plate after plate of delicious food. We were warned! Men would never want a fat woman. No one would ever want a fat woman. I didn’t want myself.
Watching “I Feel Pretty,” I had the experience of being understood and “gotten” for the first time in a mainstream movie. Fat-ism is real, people! Some of you may remember the book, “Black Like Me,” by John Howard Griffin. I could never “un-see” what life was like for my black sisters and brothers after reading that book. Same here.
Schumer has the comedy chops, intellect and standing to make a movie like this. If it’d been Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, that would be fat-shaming. And if people could stop ‘policing’ who should say what about whom, and let themselves experience what it’s like to be in someone else’s size 22 pants, we’d all be a lot better off.