Episode 44: SELF Magazine’s Weight Issue–This is Big TRANSCRIPT

TRANSCRIPT: Episode 44: SELF Magazine’s Weight Issue–This is Big


Hello, welcome to the Fat Lip, the podcast for fat people, about fat people. I’m your fat host Ash, and I’ve got a really quick episode for you today! I know I promised a Dietland chat, but we’re going to save that one for next time because I wanted to quickly talk about the Self magazine digital Weight Issue that came out this week.

I don’t want to start with the cover because I have some things to say about that, so I’m going to save the Tess stuff for the end. For me, it’s the least important anyway.

The first thing I do want to talk about, and the thing that I think is most significant about this issue is the letter from the editor and the magazine’s new style guide that immediately follows. Now, Self is a magazine with a very long history of shitty fatphobic blurbs, often on its cover. The fact that a Weight Issue even exists is pretty huge, but this letter from the editor and the follow-up piece, called How Should a Health Brand Talk About Weight are honestly more than I could have dreamed from a mainstream health publication.

The first thing and most important thing that these pieces do is take responsibility for the reckless way that Self has talked about weight and how it relates to health throughout its history. They admit that, throughout its 40 year history, Self has contributed to a culture of weight stigma and unrealistic body expectations. And then they declare that the guidelines by which they operate have changed.

What follows, then, is a style guide that lays out the way Self’s editors and writers will talk about weight going forward. And it’s pretty good. They acknowledge that diets often fail and that weight stigma is a public health issue. They’re not going to stop talking about weight loss, but they vow to do so without assigning any value judgement. They will report on specific diets, but they will provide context up front about potential risks and sustainability.

And I think this is all really great stuff. Ultimately body autonomy should be our number one goal, and some people do want to pursue weight loss. We know that the science says that sustained weight loss is effectively impossible for the vast majority of us, and that information should be shared in health publications. Ultimately, though, people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies.

I think it’s important to acknowledge here, though, that Self’s pursuits are imperfect and that their content is still informed by their 40 years of weight vs. health slant. Even in this new style guide there are links to quote “sustainable” weight loss approaches. And sure, maybe these are sustainable for 5% of the population, but that’s hardly a statistic I’d lean a “how to” article on. They’re trying, though, and they seem to be listening to fat activists, so hopefully they’ll continue to learn.

The rest of the Weight Issue was edited and curated by Ijeoma Oluo and features some of fat activism’s most cherished champions including Sonja Renee Taylor, Lindy West, and Jes Baker among others. There is some hugely important writing here, and Your Fat Friend’s piece about weight stigma in healthcare hits particularly close to home for me this week.

But I do have one major gripe with Self’s Weight Issue, and thats its cover model. Now first I want to say that the interview with Tess was written by Ashley C. Clark, a woman of color, and the interview itself was good, for the most part. However, in fat positivity, Tess Holiday is a controversial figure, and for good reason. She has a history of racism and fraud.

Now I keep seeing people question the racism claim (not the fraud, though, I guess because it’s so well documented.) A few years ago in an interview, Holiday made some off-the-cuff remarks about black men cat-calling her. And I think a lot of fat white women don’t see why this is racist, which is the entire problem. A comment like this characterizes an entire race of men as deviant in some way. It depicts them as lecherous and out-of-control. When fat white women flippantly suggest that all black men like us, we are implying that ALL black men are one thing. It’s reductive. Black men are not a monolith, and even the suggestion that they are–that they all behave one way, unchanging–is actually the kind of kind of thinking that leads to all black men being seen as a threat. It’s dangerous and it IS racist.

So when this happened, Tess apologized but in a way that demonstrated that she 100% did not understand that what she did was wrong and in a way that showed no interest in learning and growth. And if you listened to my last episode, I said that I think it’s important to hold the people with platforms in our communities to account. People in the fat community have been trying to do this with Tess Holiday for years, and she has, on the whole, been unwilling to admit to the things she’s done wrong, to meaningfully apologize and commit to learning and growing. Do I think that she is hopeless or incapable of changing? No. But thus far I don’t think that she’s show that she wants to change. And because she has not been willing to do these things, I don’t think Tess Holiday is the roll model that fat positivity needs or wants.

Plus I think it would have been much more powerful if the cover had featured a fat woman of color. I’m just saying.

But I think all in all Self’s Weight Issue was a huge step for fat positivity. This was the biggest move we’ve seen in the mainstream, and it feels like it could be the spark that ignites a flame. Here’s hoping.

One other thing that I wanted to draw your attention to if you haven’t seen it is a twitter thread by Dr. Cat Pause’ of the Friend of Marilyn podcast. Her twitter handle is @FOMNZ (for Friend of Marilyn New Zealand) and last week she posted about finding a primary care doctor after four years without one. I found this thread so empowering and timely after I went to urgent care for an allergic reaction and got the weight loss surgery talk last week. Cat’s thread laid out several steps that she took, though, and helped me get my head together for undertaking this search for myself. It’s such important reading, so if you have doctor anxiety or are looking for a doctor yourself, I highly recommend you give it a read.

Okay, that’s all I have for you today! I told you it would be quick. And stay tuned: That Dietland episode is coming soon!

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Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Enjoy the episode and I’ll see you next time. Bye!