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Ellen says “Fitch, Please” to Weight Discrimination

I had every intention of writing a blog today about my wonderful weekend at the WLSFA Event. I have so many great things to share, but I am afraid that will have to wait, something more important to our community is on my mind this morning.

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Yesterday Ellen Degeneres weighed in on the current controversy surrounding a public statement by Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries that the brand was “Absolutely Exclusionary” and only “wants to market to cool, good-looking people.”

 

The original comment was made in 2006 interview with Robin Lewis, co-author of a new book, “The New Rules of Retail.” But let this be a lesson that they things we say can often times bite us in the butt later, right Mr. Jeffries? Because he’s now publicly apologizing for the comment nearly seven years later.

There are a few aspects of this issue that I want to address. First and foremost let me say that as a small business owner I believe all business have the right to target to their selected audience and target demographics and to choose who that audience is. There is a big difference between however between a positive message being sent to your selected demographic audience and a discriminatory message that tells other people they are not good enough to wear your clothes. What was inferred Mr. Jeffries comment was not, young beautiful people wear are clothing it was, people of size are not cool or good-looking. The error is in the delivery of the message, and it was a big error that bit him in the butt down the road.

Ellen’s monologue on the topic was great, and in true Ellen style, delivered the positive message that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and has very little to do with how you dress, what you wear or how much you weigh. Which, let’s face it, is a pretty important message to get to our younger generation in a society where weight bias, weight discrimination and bullying and name calling is an often accepted act.

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I want to take a moment to say thank you to Ellen personally for standing up against this sort of discrimination and bullying and making sure to send a more positive message. While I may be able to fit into A&E clothes today if I wanted to, there was a time when I weighed 420 lb. and I couldn’t fit into the seat of airplane or a small car let alone some of Abercrombie and Fitch clothes. There was also a time, when I was that teenager getting called “Fatty,” listening to the fat jokes as I walked through the halls of my Southern California beach community high school, and pretty much being alienated from life because of my size. But more importantly, there was a time that my size 26 prom dress had me sitting in a bath tub trying to slit my wrists because of the hurtful, hateful, mean, and derogatory comments that people made to me made me feel helpless and worthless. I’m not telling you this for sympathy, I am telling you because I feel it’s important that we as a society understand how horrible comments and actions like these can be on a sixteen year old girl. The people who teased me had no idea WHY I was big. They had no clue how bad my home life was. They didn’t know that I had put on weight as a self-defense mechanism to the sexual abuse I had endured as a kid. They didn’t know me at all, all they knew was that I wasn’t “Normal Size” and so of course it must be ok to make fun of me and tease me.

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Of course, now, with her joke about a size 0 and size 00 clothing, Ellen has upset a whole new audience. But hang on a minute folks, you’re missing the point. Ellen isn’t saying there is anything wrong with being small, being petite or being thin, what Ellen is saying is that the way that such things are marketed and labeled are unhealthy to our society. What would you think if I walked up to someone and said “Hey you’re not here, you are invisible, you have no value.” or “You’re nothing,” or “You’re the lowest point or degree on a scale of human beings.” – It’s not the people who wear these sizes that Ellen is speaking out against, it is the clothing industry for the way they are labeling it. You notice she wasn’t joking about size extra-small, size small, or anything of that sort, she is making a point that the clothing industry is taking this too far. Several years ago there was an episode of One Tree Hill where the model stood on stage wearing a shirt that said “Zero is not a size,” The message here is NOT “you are too skinny, there is something wrong with you.” The message here is, “It is not ok for society to pressure you into eating disorders with their marketing strategy because they think beautiful is defined by a big fat zero whether it’s a size, a body fat percentage or part of a number you see on the scale. The message here is NOT shame on you for wearing a size 0, the message is shame on the clothing manufactures for making a size zero.

Now you can defend a size 0 all you want, but let me ask you something, why did they need to make it? Why must there be a size 0 to begin with? Because what a size 1 or 2 wasn’t small enough? Have you been shopping lately? I have, a lot, and you know what, I have clothes that range anywhere between a size 6 and a size 12, and you know what? Because everyone makes their clothes differently, some run big, some run small, some use metric sizes, some use centimeters, some use inches. Then there is Misses, Juniors, Petite, the list is endless. So why do we need a size 0? Why do we need a size NOTHING? Why do we need a size “I Don’t Exist?” Why wouldn’t clothing manufactures just make their smallest size a size one or an XXS? And what is next? When size 0s aren’t good enough will we go into negative digits? Why would anyone want to be defined as a zero to begin with? And why doesn’t our society see how damaging this is to our sense of self-worth?

Obesity is a disease that over one-third of our nation is fighting. It is one of the top killers in our country right now. People are dying every day from obesity related conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cardio respiratory disease, sleep apnea and instead of standing up and battling this disease our society thinks it is ok to call them names, make fun of them, exploit them, and treat them like they are less than deserving and when we allow companies to do things like tell us that zero is a feasible size, and if you aren’t a size 10 or lower you aren’t beautiful or worthy of shopping where the beautiful people do, we are tolerating weight biased, weight prejudice and weight discrimination. I’d like to know how many people would tolerate the sort of behavior that is accepted against people who are overweight towards people battling some of the very diseases that obesity causes. Just think about that one for a moment.

Ellen DeGeneres is an amazing example of a human being and I hope that if I am ever in a position one day to impact so many with my voice and my words, that I am strong enough and brave enough to stand up and send the same sort of message she sent with her monologue “Fitch, Please.” I would buy this shirt in a heart beat if Ellen produced one, and I will always support anyone that stands up in the fight against obesity and size discrimination.

If you’d like to join the fight against weight bias, weight discrimination and help in the fight against obesity, I invite you to check out the following non-profit organizations. The Obesity Action Collation and the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America.
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Ellen Inspires my new Letter to Joan Rivers about Fat Jokes

Yesterday I wrote a blog about WLS Plastics from the Patient Perspective. There was a reference in it to a school yard bully incident that I used to help people understand the psychological stigma that such encounters can have on you even 20 years later…

The hall was crowded, kids bustling around as they rushed to their lockers to get their books for their next class. She stood at her locker with her back against it, cradling her books to her chest as if she were protecting them.  Her right foot moved slightly as she readied herself to leave but it halted as a frown appeared on her face. Standing in front of her, blocking her way was one of the more popular girls; one of the “mean girls” if you will. “Awe look at the little fat girl hugging her books because nobody else wants to hug her. Stop eating Ding Dongs and Twinkies and you might not leave high school a never been kissed virgin.” The blond-haired girl clutching her books as if there was safety in them, took a deep breath and even though her voice cracked as tears threatened to stream down her face, she responded courageously, “I might be fat, but I can lose weight, you’re just ugly inside and out and you can’t ever change that.”

oca-logo-footerShortly after I posted that article I received a notice from the OAC about a Bias Buster Alert they had posted on their website. ( See: Joan Rivers’ Comments on Singer-songwriter Adele’s Physical Appearance ) When the OAC asks me to do something, I usually do it, and so I wrote a letter to Joan Rivers instantly and fired it off.

Dear Ms. Rivers,

I had the most unfortunate opportunity to view your guest spot on the Dave Letterman show and I feel the need to write you and tell you that I find your attitude and discriminatory comments towards Adele insulting, and a far cry from funny. I feel that your attempt at making fun of Adele based on her size is a sad expression of your views on the morbidly obese.

The fact that you feel that your job as a fashion reporter for the Oscars somehow gives you the right to mock people who are battling obesity is morally alarming and in my eyes pretty much equates you to a school yard bully that is using their public figure status to pick on over 149 million Americans that are overweight or obese.

Furthermore Ms. Rivers your inability to apologize for offending your fans with tasteless jokes that make fun of people based on things like weight and religion has insured that I will never again watch, or in any way support anything you are a part of. You were once a woman I respected and admired for the name she made for herself in her industry, you’ve lost that respect and I can honestly say without some sort of public apology to Adele and the people you offended with your weight biased comments, I will never see you in the same light again.

Jaime “Pandora” Williams  – Portland OR

As I sit here this morning I am still disturbed by this. Now I will say, that I highly doubt that Joan Rivers cares that she has offended me or several other Americans that have struggled with obesity on any level with her comments.  Currently she is busy refusing to apologize for a joke she made about the Holocaust on the Fashion Police last week. I’m sure if the star who is Jewish herself and whose Husband she said lost family at Auschwitz doesn’t care that she has offended her fellow Jews, she cares little that she has offended people who are battling obesity. ( See: Joan River unapologetic about Holocaust, Adele fat jokes )

I used to respect Joan Rivers. Her tell it like it is, call a spade a spade attitude and the way she made such a name for herself was always something I admired. If I am being honest, which I try to be, both with my readers and with myself, her twisted and often taboo sense of humor is something I normally find entertaining and amusing. Joan Rivers has grinned everyone’s ax for years, that is just the sort of comedy that she does. I have to say though, when her making fun of someone was targeted at a person, group of people and issue that hit so close to home for me, I resented her for it instantly.

The other day, I had my first experience where I actually felt discriminated against. I won’t go into details, it really isn’t important, but it happened in the context of business, when my definition of something referenced “Gay Pride” and I suddenly had someone’s “People” telling me that they were not comfortable with that wording. It sort of blew my mind. I found myself having to walk away from the computer.

But strangely enough, you know what bothers me the most about it… I’m jealous. How stupid is that? But it is the truth. I look at Joan Rivers, and I’m jealous that this woman who picks on people, makes fun of their weaknesses and behaves like a catty sixteen year old gossip monger rather than a classy well aging lady gets to be on television and deliver that message to millions of millions of people.  I’m jealous that she has a venue I only dream of having, and I am disgusted by how she utilizes it. It makes me thankful that people like Oprah and Ellen came along and started reminding people how important it is to give back and to help others and to show one another kindness.

Yesterday I felt like I had been living in a bubble where I never really experienced any sort of discrimination because of my size, gender, race, religious beliefs or sexual preferences. Maybe that was because I was super morbidly obese, self-employed and surrounded myself with only people who accepted me and loved me no matter what. But as I start to experience the world more, I realize that some days aren’t amazing even when you are thin. I always thought being thin would change everything and turn the world into a place where everyone followed rainbows and founds lucky pots of gold but I’ve learned over the last couple of years as I live life after gastric bypass and massive weight loss, that just isn’t the case. In fact, I think the world I live in now is a little bit harsher than it was before.

After I read my blog to HJ this morning she told me about a clip on www.AfterEllen.com where Ellen talks about bullying. ( See: Watch Now! Ellen opens up to “A Current Affair” ) Ellen DeGeneres is one of my personal Hero’s. I grew up in the era where my Mother watched Oprah and I fell in love with Ellen. Her motto “Be kind to one another,” is something I try to incorporate into my life.  Each day, when I am dealing with other people I remind myself to be kind and to pay it forward. A very wise man once taught me that each of us is on a personal journey, and during each of our journeys we each have the responsibility to do two very important things. We must know when to stop and reach forward to those more experienced than ourselves for help and we must know when to stop and reach back to those behind us and offer them the wisdom of our experience in the form of a helping hand. This is the theology I live my life by. As I listened to Ellen’s interview, I found myself chuckling a little at how much it applied to how I was feeling today.

 

“When I say be kind to one another, I think, umm… I just want people to, maybe it will seep in… I think people are rude sometimes, and I think people are unkind and I think people don’t pay attention to someone else’s feelings. And I think that there are a lot of kids out there that are bullied…and I think that needs to stop, and I think adults need to know that they are doing the same thing, it’s not just kids. There are adults out there bullying and they need to be kind.” – Ellen DeGeneres

In this same interview Ellen talks about her take on how you can’t control everything, how some things happen because they are just meant to be and how all you can really do is be yourself. For her that means living life as a good, kind and gentle person. Is it any wonder she is one of my personal heroes? There is even a little comment in there about Joan Rivers and how mean her comedy is.

After watching Ellen’s interview today I have to say, I think I got this wrong. I forgot to approach Ms. Rivers the way I would have wanted to be approached, with kindness and gentleness, because I was so upset at the group of people she was making fun of.  So, inspired by Ellen I decided to write Joan Rivers a new letter today.

Dear Ms. Rivers,

I wrote you a letter yesterday scolding you for your weight biased joke against Adele on the David Letterman show and demanding an apology. I apologize, because demanding anything rarely gets anyone anywhere. As a Bariatric surgery patient that often has to explain to people why I chose surgery as my tool to fight obesity and a post reconstructive plastic surgery patient who now gets judged for not being grateful enough for the body her insurance paid for and a woman who has battled obesity since my childhood, it hit close to home and my first response was defensive and off mark.

I called your behavior the equivalent of a high school bully, and while I think it was, I did neglect to give you the benefit of the doubt and credit the fact that this sort of comedy is your job, and what you are famous for doing.

It occurred to me today Ms. Rivers that as someone who has often been made fun of and ridiculed for her plastic surgery selections, I am sure that you understand how that can feel. I’m sure you understand how hurtful it can be. That’s why I would love to invite you to show your fans and 149 million Americans battling obesity, that you don’t really think it is a laughing matter.

You can do so by joining the Obesity Action Coalition and by making charitable donations to the Obesity Action Coalition and the WLSFA. I’m sure once you get to know about the WLSFA you will love them as much as I do! They are an organization that helps fund grant recipients for patients that need plastic surgery to remove excess skin after massive weight loss. As someone who was lucky enough to have her insurance cover several of these procedures I know how life changing these plastic surgeries can be. I am so passionate about these two organizations and what they do in the fight against obesity that I am thrilled to tell you about them so that you have the opportunity to show the world that you’re really not as mean-spirited as your jokes can be and that there is a kinder gentler Joan behind the jokes.

I’ve included links to both organizations for your convenience.

http://www.obesityaction.org/ – http://www.wlsfa.org/

Thank you for your time Ms. Rivers,

Have a great day

Jaime “Pandora” Williams – Portland OR

Thank you Ellen DeGeneres, though you’ll likely never know you did it, you helped me put into perspective my first real experience with discrimination and helped me set the paradigm for how I will deal with these types of things in the future with more positivity and a more kind and gentle approach. You’ve taught me how to find a way to stay true to who I am, as the world shows me more of who it is.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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