Tag Archives: Huffington Post Articles

“I have no sympathy.”

Social media reactions to celebrity death have taken on a predictable pattern: an outpouring of shock with expressions of grief, followed by a ghoulish need to know all the details, to see the scene of the death and the family in mourning. Then a post-mortem dissection of all the perceived flaws the celebrity had. Things along the lines of, “I always hated his band, anyway,” or “his movies were all crap, I’m glad he’s dead,” begin popping up on Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps these insensitive comments are made out of frustration over the constant bombardment of,  “R.I.P celebrity, gone too soon,” and “OMG crying right now guys, celebrity died,” across every available platform. Maybe they’re just poor attempts at appearing tough or edgy. In the wake of a celebrity’s death from addiction, these comments invariably take on an insidious tone of condemnation.

The tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman this weekend elicited just such a response. The actor died of a presumed drug overdose. Less than an hour after the news broke, Twitter and Facebook were swamped with comments saying, “I have no sympathy,” and “he did it to himself.” “He knew the risk,” some asserted. Words like “weak” and “selfish” were used to describe and dismiss the man, dehumanizing him as an “addict.” A filthy, immoral less-than who deserved his fate, by virtue of his failings.

What causes this reaction? Is it an impulse to distance one’s self from mortality? It’s far easier to brush off death if the death in question seems impossible or improbable as a personal threat. Or is it that our societal discomfort with anything that falls outside of the puritanical norm– alcohol, drugs– renders us unable to see addicts as human beings deserving of empathy and understanding?

Perhaps the most dangerous component of these outpourings of social media censure is the affect that these words, “weak,” “selfish,” “totally avoidable,” have on people struggling with addiction. Reaching out for help is difficult and embarrassing, and made harder when one sees a trusted friend or family member denouncing all addicts as filthy drug users who deserve to die. It’s easy to pronounce addiction “totally avoidable,” but what help is that sentiment to someone who is already suffering the physical and mental compulsions of the disease?

How do we measure our sympathy, if one can “have no sympathy” for a man who was robbed of his life by a debilitating, demoralizing disease? How much does sympathy cost, how difficult is it to harvest, that no one has any to spare? The figures are written on overwrought Facebook macros: this many soldiers died today, and all you care about is some drug addict. It’s a cheap and offensive ploy to shame those who do genuinely care into reserving their precious sympathy. The belief that a person can and should only feel grief over one sad event at a time is a truly disturbing estimate of our emotional capacity. It also fails to honor its subject by ignoring members of the armed forces who struggle with addiction. Are they less worthy of our attention and our sparingly given sympathy because they “knew the risks” of both their jobs and the substance they abuse?

No one can deny that the toll taken on the families and friends of an addicted person is a deep and painful one. We see their humanity, we see something being done to them. We see no humanity in the person who made poor choices. When one of these individuals has a fatal relapse, the resulting feelings of superiority and intelligence gained by others are similar to what we feel rehashing the coulda-woulda-shouldas of a sports event. It’s a morbid version of armchair quarterbacking, in which everyone boasts about which plays they would have run to turn down that first bump at a party.

Whatever motivates us to blame and dehumanize an addicted person, it is a cultural view that must be shifted. As long as the public perception of “addict” is a selfish, immoral person who acts out of unprovoked malice, we will never break out of the cycle of shame and discouragement that prevents alcoholics and drug abusers from seeking treatment.

Perhaps demystifying the experience of drug addiction is the key to creating a more productive national dialogue. We must retire forever our expectation that every addicted person will enter rehab and, like the movies, exit without risk of relapse due to the noble, purposeful change of heart they had during treatment. We must stop embracing narratives that tell us addicts are dangerous reprobates whose recovery exists only to inspire others, and that any expression of caring feeling toward their predicament will ultimately enable their destructive behaviors. But to escape these misconceptions, we would have to listen without judgement to the voices of people we consider “weak” and “selfish.” We would have to have sympathy.

Why our exclusionary attitudes toward self-publishing must change.

This afternoon, I read a piece in The Guardian about John Green, and some remarks he made in a speech to the Association of American Booksellers. Most of his statements, overall, are inoffensive. He gives the reasons he would not self-publish, despite his large internet following, and all his reasons are fine. Writers generally get into writing because they want to write, not because they want to be independent publishers, and you can’t really fault someone for saying, “what I’m doing right now works, so there’s no reason to change it.” The only statement Green made that seemed at all controversial was the following:

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Jennifer Lawrence body shames you more than you might have realized.

An alternate version of this post can be found at The Huffington Post. To save my inbox, comments on this version of the post are closed, but feel free to move discussion to the HuffPo version.

Here are some quotes Jennifer Lawrence has made over the years, regarding her weight:

“I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.”

“In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress that doesn’t have anorexia rumors! I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I’m invincible. I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner!’ That was something I was really conscious of during training. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed.”

“If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself.”

“What are you gonna do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”

Tumblr celebrates her in .gif as a paragon of quirk and body acceptance:

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One thing that may have escaped your notice, in the orgiastic celebration of JLaw realness that is the internet, is that Jennifer Lawrence looks like this:

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Let’s concede the point here that she is, perhaps, a size or two above the Hollywood accepted norm. Let’s also concede the point that it’s admirable, being the star of a movie franchise aimed at teens, that she is concerned about the effect a too-svelte appearance might have on her audience, who are already bombarded with negative body messages every day. I’m not making this post to attack Jennifer Lawrence. I’m making this post to attack the rabid fandom that has grown around her.

I’m not going to cover the fact that it’s fucked up that a girl like Jennifer Lawrence has to justify her perfectly gorgeous body to every single media consumer in the world. We all know that’s fucked up. Let’s focus instead on the fact that in order to appease our own self-doubt about our weight, we, the internet, have decided to ignore how body-shaming the entire image of JLaw, “Spirit Animal” to fat girls everywhere, really is.

First of all, consider her quotes. She would rather look chubby on screen, but like a person in real life. This is a message of positivity only for people who consider themselves chubby, and it comes at the expense of women who are thin. Maybe they’re thin because they’re sick. Maybe, they just like being thin, or they’re naturally slender. What this quote is saying is that these women aren’t people. I want to know, internet: at what percentage of body fat do women earn the right to be people?

I’m certain that a lot of my fellow fatties looked at that quote and rolled their eyes. We know that being fat doesn’t grant one personhood, because our alleged lack of self-control and dignity are directly linked to that body fat percentage. Fat people are not people. They’re fat people. So, what does that quote do? It’s not empowering to anyone but women who look like Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not a coincidence that she just happens to be the Coke-bottle standard we’re told men should prefer.

So, consider all those .gifs at the top of this post. The ones where she talks about how much food she eats, how she loves McDonald’s fries. Would the internet have embraced those quotes coming from, oh, I don’t know…

melissa mccarthy

I’ve noticed a funny thing about Melissa McCarthy. Well, besides the obvious, that she’s funny. But I’ve noticed that when Jennifer Lawrence talks about her weight, she talks about how much food she eats, and how she’s never going to diet to be thin. And when Melissa McCarthy is quoted about her weight, this is what she says:

“I don’t really know why I’m not thinner than I am.”

“I want to be healthy.”

“I just don’t lose weight easily.”

“Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give it a single thought.”

Because Melissa McCarthy actually is a fat woman, she isn’t allowed to make brash statements about body acceptance. She has to apologize for her body. Every single one of those quotes might as well have just said, “Sorry I’m fat and you have to look at me, everyone.” But it’s all she’s allowed to say, in the confines of our culture. If Melissa McCarthy had said, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself,” the response will most assuredly not be, “How brave! How strong! What a good role model!” The response will be, “What a bad example, encouraging people to be unhealthy! We have an obesity epidemic! Open your eyes, fat is not healthy, sexy, or acceptable! How very dare she!”

Imagine if Melissa McCarthy had made so many public comments about food and McDonald’s. It wouldn’t be cute or funny, it would be schtick. Look at the fat woman, being human and hungry for something bad for her! How grotesquely humorous it is when fat people eat! When Jennifer Lawrence makes these comments, it’s acceptable, because her body is still pleasing to our cultural expectation of voluptuous, slim-waisted, long-necked female beauty.

Comments about how much food Jennifer Lawrence loves to eat further builds the unicorn-like mystique of actresses who maintain cultural expectations of slenderness while claiming that they eat whatever they want and never work out. Is it more damaging to a fat woman’s self-esteem to see a thin woman on a movie screen, or to see that thin woman calling herself fat and claiming her celebrated figure is the product of eating McDonald’s and hating exercise? I’m fat. I eat a lot of McDonald’s. I do exercise, though I sometimes hate it… so, why then, when I admit to these things, am I a public health crisis, and slender, beautiful women who say them are positive role models? I’m pretty sure you know where this is going.

When Jennifer Lawrence says it’s “dumb” to go hungry to make other people happy, she’s saying it with the carefree attitude of a woman who probably will never have to make that choice to conform. Yes, she might be asked to diet for a role. But a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t have to shop for her clothes in online stores only, because no physical storefronts carry her size. A woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence probably isn’t going to have a stranger try to stage an impromptu intervention in a Pizza Hut because they’re so, so concerned for her “health.” If a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence goes to her doctor to complain of an ailment, she’ll be offered diagnostic tests instead of a diet plan. Jennifer Lawrence can say it’s “dumb” to go on a diet, but Jennifer Lawrence might not be facing weight-related prejudice or illness. Jennifer Lawrence may never be forced to make the choice between going hungry to lose weight versus having a knee and hip replacement at thirty-five.

I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence has body issues. She is a woman in the U.S., after all. Body issues come pre-installed at birth. But simply feeling bad about your own weight doesn’t give you license to shame the bodies of women who are thinner than you are, or the choices of women who are fatter than you are.

What’s even more troubling is that this mythos of the body-image warrior that the internet has created for Jennifer Lawrence has allowed her to say some pretty shitty things without much consequence. As long as she’s the down-to-earth, quirky, “body positive” weirdo, we can let bisexuality erasing and transphobic comments slide?

The reason Jennifer Lawrence is allowed to be a body-positive role model to young girls and “chubby” women is because she is representative of conventional beauty. She is a thin woman, exhibiting the thin privilege (and I know how much people hate that phrase) of making self-conscious body remarks while the rest of the world rushes to assure her that she’s gorgeous. Jennifer Lawrence’s public image has been built on a foundation of fat girl drag. She can call herself fat in interviews. She can actually believe she is fat, if she wants to. But she is not a fat woman, and her experiences do not speak to the experiences of actual fat people, no matter how strenuously Tumblr works to make it seem so.