She has spoken out against Jordin Sparks for serving as an unhealthy role model for young girls. She has asked for parents of overweight kids to lose custody. She has actually used rape as a metaphor for our culture’s (perhaps over-) enjoyment of food. Born Meredith Clements, MeMe Roth, 39, is president of the one-woman National Action Against Obesity, a campaign she runs out of her Manhattan home. And it’s not exactly shocking that she has been called everything from the C-word (“and they don't say 'cute'") to Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Stalin.
In an excellent new profile in The Guardian, we learn a number of things about the woman who’s on a mission to end obesity and does so by “call[ing] people fat”: Her diabetic mother, 300-lb father, grandmother and uncles are all obese, and while she acknowledges that her crusade is "hurtful" to them, they are "highly supportive." Though I wonder how supportive Mom will feel when she reads this anecdote:
"When I was in kindergarten, no one taught me to be ashamed of obesity, but the day, on my birthday, that my mother was to bring cupcakes to my class, I put my head on the table because I knew that within minutes my mother would be there and everyone was going to know that my mother was fat. I felt ashamed. I was grateful that down the block there was another mother who was fatter than my mother."
Ann Coulter-esque in looks and personality, Roth takes no prisoners. She snarks to the Guardian writer, when speaking about Jennifer Love Hewitt cellulite-bikini cover, "She'll be doing some serious squats from now on." Discussin Angelina Jolie, she says, "Every picture of Angelina Jolie shows her children eating a bag of Cheetos. How dare the richest, most educated people who have access to everything do this to their kids?"
Her mission is to, in her own words, piss people off about things like hormones in food, artificial sugar and one special kind of sugar that I won’t mention here, for fear MeMe might track me down and whip me – but it rhymes with nigh bluctose town stirrup. When Jordin Sparks won American Idol, Roth announced that she needed to lose weight, saying “When I look at Jordin I see diabetes, I see heart disease, I see high cholesterol. That’s what’s so sad about this — she is not the vision of health — she is the vision of ‘unhealth.’” (For those inspiring words, Roth received hate mail and death threats. Check out an interview on the subject with her here). On Fox's Mike & Juliet, she appears alongside Joy Nash (creator of the poetic and inspiring “Fat Rant”), talking about the normalization of obesity (like how nowadays, if we see someone who is “only” 20 pounds overweight, we think, “Oh, she’s normal.”) Her take on body image in the segment sounds good at first blush- “We’re like, ‘I love my body, I love my curves,’ and loving ourselves isn’t just saying those words. If we want to instill positive body image and avert any eating disorder of either extreme, we want to teach our kids from day one how to take care of themselves. That’s really loving your body, not eating whatever you want, only occasional exercising and then saying, ‘I love myself’” – but she got totally upstaged by Nash and author Kelly Bliss who clearly see this is just lip service covering up her real, discriminatory, anti-plus-size thoughts. I love when author Bliss calls her out, saying, “There is a basic assumption…that anybody who eats healthy and exercises daily…is going to be lean and you happen to be looking at a cute little chubby woman who exercises 10 hours a week, because I teach five aerobic classes a week…I eat meticulously because I’m in the midst of ameliorating my epilepsy with an amazingly excellent diet, and I still happen to be a cute little chubby woman.”
Oh, and Roth’s hyperbole shines in this recent Elle interview, where she says of McDonald’s, “They call them Happy Meals, but they won’t be so happy when they get juvenile diabetes.” And on CNN, she called for a mother of an obese child to be charged with child abuse.
While she’s right about some things – obesity has been, over and over, scientifically proven to contribute to heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes and more – her tactics seem mean-spirited, discriminatory and completely lacking in empathy. As I mentioned above, she uses rape as a metaphor for our enjoyment of food, saying that “the defence has been made in the case of sex criminals that there is pleasure on the part of the victim. The same is true with what we’re doing with food. We may abuse our bodies with food, but it’s incredibly pleasurable. From a food marketer’s point of view, when your quote unquote victim is so willing and enjoying of the process, who’s fighting back?”
This makes me want to vomit…all over her and her tiny little post-baby waist. For anyone – let alone a woman – in insinuate that sexual assault survivors could actually enjoy the horrific, life-shattering violence is stunningly ignorant and wholly victim-blaming in its sentiment. And then to go on and compare that to the soul-warming feeling we get when biting into a gooey, melty slice of deep dish? It’s beyond comprehension.
Most telling is the way The Gurdian feature ended, and we basically learn that the way Roth has “escaped” her family’s obesity doom is by abstaining from eating almost entirely. Check it out:
“So I ask her what she eats in an average day. On this, Roth is reticent. She now runs a private nutrition counselling business, she says, and because of that, ‘I don't spend a ton of time telling people what I do personally. What works for me may not work for other people.’
That's fine, I say, but just as an example?
‘I eat beans like nobody's business,’ she says hurriedly. ‘I eat more black beans than anyone else I know.’
I try to pin her down to something more specific. Let's just do a sample day, I say. What about breakfast? Roth grimaces. ‘I hate to say this, because I think it's counter to what most people should do, but I never in my whole life have enjoyed breakfast. For me, it doesn't work as well as other things.’
Right, I say. So how about lunch?
She squirms visibly. ‘You're taking me where I don't want to go ... What works for me doesn't work for a lot of people.’
Well, you've said that, I insist, so taking that into account: lunch? Roth hesitates. ‘I discovered when I was in college that I work best when I get a workout in and eat after that. Sometimes I'll delay when I eat until I get a workout in. But I don't let a whole day go by without running four miles.’
OK, I go on, but supposing you couldn't work out until four o'clock in the afternoon - would you not eat until after that?
I look at my watch. It's 3.30pm. Alarm bells start to ring in my head. How about today, I ask. Have you eaten at all today?
Roth is a little quiet.
‘No,’ she says.
There is a pause.
‘But I feel great!’”