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That was the question tackled on last night’s Nightline, as four outspoken forces in the arenas of weight, body image and health convened at NYC’s Cooper Union. The players:
Crystal Renn, reigning plus-size model and author of Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves.
Marianne Kirby, a leader in the fat acceptance movement and co-author of Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere.
MeMe Roth, anti-fat crusader and president of National Action Against Obesity.
Kim Bensen, author of Finally Thin, who believes losing 200+ lbs saved her life.
Watch the face-off here.
Each woman had a chance to answer the question “Is it OK to be fat?” in her own way; other topics included the Health At Every Size movement, whether obese individuals should be forced to pay for two airplane seats (a debate recently reignited when director Kevin Smith was booted by Southwest for being “too flat to fly”), and MeMe Roth’s contention that thin people are “subsidizing an obese culture.”
As you can probably deduce from their mini bios above, Renn and Kirby rallied against our culture’s obsession with all things scrawny and emaciated, while Roth and Bensen spoke out against the numerous physical, emotional and financial burdens of obesity.
Some of my personal favorite tidbits included Kirby’s observation, “We look at health from an incredibly narrow standpoint,” and her assertion that “I am this size because I dieted for 20 years. I gave up dieting because it was a loser game for me. It made me fatter...incredibly unhealthy...full of self-loathing." Props to Renn for calling Roth out on her self-described 1300 cal/day diet (1800 calories on days when she runs 4 miles.): “That’s really interesting – that’s just about 300 calories off where I was about , oh, four years ago when I was sick [with anorexia] and my hair was falling out of my head I’m not saying you have anorexia, I definitely believe there’s something going on because you’re quite passionate and, I believe, a little fat-phobic.”
Roth had some valid points when it came to statistics about childhood obesity and the physical ravages of obesity on a person’s health ("There is hardly anything that will benefit you by being obese. There are reams and reams and reams of data that tell you about the chronic illness that is the destiny of the obese."), but she lost credibility when she started spewing out ridiculous claims about research proving obese people have small brains, or when she suggested that parents should be required to sign special permission slips saying their kid is allowed to indulge in birthday cake at parties.
Bensen was the quietest of the bunch, likely because everyone else was trying to nail their points.
It was fascinating to watch and I think some valid points were raised all around: True, there are people who are a size 18 but run every day and eat well, just like there are skinny people who chow down on fast food three times a day. It is possible to be healthy at different sizes, thought the preponderance of evidence suggests that either extreme – morbid obesity or anorexia – is dangerously unhealthy. Let’s take a cue from Renn, who said she focuses on health rather than weight, and remember to try and be compassionate, empathetic and nonjudgmental.
I urge you to watch the segment and come back and share your opinions – it’s a discussion worth having. Also, am I the only one who was shocked at how small Renn seemed? I was half expecting her to be Kirby’s size from all the hoopla about her curves but in reality, she just looks like…well, like a model.
PS If you haven’t had your fill of depressing social commentary today, click here to read Ozzy’s daughter Kelly Osbourne talk about the fact that she "took more hell" for being overweight than for being addicted to drugs.