Marie Claire‘s Joanna Coles Responds To Controversy Surrounding “Fatphobic” Post

Bitch magazine, which has been following the recent controversy surrounding a Marie Claire post by sex and relationship blogger Maura Kelly, linked to an article on featuring a response from the magazine’s editor in chief, Joanna Coles.

A little background: Kelly wrote a post titled “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” about “Mike & Molly,” a new CBS sitcom revolving around an overweight couple. Kelly recounts how her editor asked her to weigh in [Ed. note: Do I even need to add that no pun is intended here?] on backlash to the show — apparently, people are having issues with watching an overweight couple be affectionate and intimate on their TV screens. Kelly put in her own two cents thusly:

My initial response was: Hmm, being overweight is one thing — those people are downright obese! And while I think our country’s obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it’s at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny. No one who is as fat as Mike and Molly can be healthy. And obesity is costing our country far more in terms of all the related health problems we are paying for, by way of our insurance, than any other health problem, even cancer.

So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

The post inspired hundreds of comments, most of them not exactly agreeing with Kelly’s excuse that she isn’t fatphobic because she has “a few friends who could be called plump.” Coles was asked her thoughts on the issue at a fashion event, and she seemed supportive of Kelly’s decision to post such controversy-stirring thoughts: “Maura Kelly is a very provocative blogger, she said. “She was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about.” Furthermore, added Coles, “I’m concerned about a show that makes fun of large people.”

Kelly, for her part, has since added an update to her article, posted after the jump.

UPDATE: I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I’ve said in this post. Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much. A lot of what I said was unnecessary. It wasn’t productive, either.

I know a lot of people truly struggle to lose weight — for medical and psychological reasons — and that many people have an incredibly difficult time getting to a healthy size. I feel for those people and I’m truly sorry I added to the unhappiness and pain they feel with my post.

I would like to reiterate that I think it’s great to have people of all shapes and healthy sizes represented in magazines (as, it bears mentioning here, they are in Marie Claire) and on TV shows — and that in my post, I was talking about a TV show that features people who are not simply a little overweight, but appear to be morbidly obese. (Morbid obesity is defined as 100 percent more than their ideal weight.)  And for whatever it’s worth, I feel just as uncomfortable when I see an anorexic person as I do when I see someone who is morbidly obese, because I assume people suffering from eating disorders on either end of the spectrum are doing damage to their bodies, and that they are unhappy. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge based on superficial observations.

To that point (and on a more personal level), a few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin. As I mentioned in the ongoing dialogue we’ve been carrying on in the comments section, I think that’s an accurate insight.

People have accused me of being a bully in my post. I never intended to be that — it’s actually the very last thing I want to be, as a writer or a person. But I know that I came off that way, and I really cannot apologize enough to the people whom I upset.

The post, or, rather, people’s reaction to it — ranging from angry comments to boycotts of Marie Claire until Kelly is fired — calls to mind several other opinionated members of the media who have quit, been fired, or have been called on to be fired by an angry public. Juan Williams, Rick Sanchez and Dr. Laura Schlessinger being just a few examples.

And this isn’t the first time Marie Claire has found itself threatened with boycotts over a blog post relating to health and body image — earlier this very month, the magazine found itself in the midst of another controversy over a post on how six fitness bloggers may be promoting unhealthy attitudes towards diet and exercise.

Which brings us to a couple of questions: What do media outlets owe its subscribers / viewers / readers / listeners? To what extent does conflict of opinion and resulting discussion it inspires need to take a backseat to the opinions and sensibilities of the outspoken majority?