Everyone is beautiful, including Gabourey Sidibe

by CynthiaYockey on May 4, 2010

Gabourey Sidibe at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony.

Gabourey Sidibe at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony.

Fat is a feminist issue.

If you don’t understand that, you can’t call yourself a feminist. Because I say so. Yes, I do so, too, have that power.

I love it that People Magazine included Gabourey Sidibe in its list of the “100 Most Beautiful People of 2010.” I don’t believe they are holding her up as an ideal in the sense that they are telling slim women they should look more like Gabourey. I don’t believe they are sending the message to Gabourey, or other obese women, that there are no health risks associated with obesity.

But I do believe that People Magazine is sending the message that Gabourey’s heart and soul are very much a part of her beauty AND that she is doing the most in her current situation to be beautiful — and lovable — just the way she is. That kind of love and acceptance empowers people — in their own way, on their own schedule — to improve their health and appearance.

Criticism and shame have the opposite effect of love and acceptance in helping people transform themselves for the better. For one thing, when you love and accept other people just the way they are, it means you have healthy boundaries (that means you aren’t constantly judging and interfering with and bossing other people instead of minding your own business and letting them mind theirs the way THEY see fit). For another, someone who is being attacked with criticism and abused by shaming now has two more problems to solve than if they were just left alone to wrestle with their original problem. That is, now, in addition to being overweight, or whatever, they have to set a boundary and push their attacker out of their psychic space AND heal from the wounds the attacker inflicted. Having to worry about future attacks doesn’t help, either.

Women are so bullied and controlled by people who have some kind of power over them — the ability to bestow or withhold love, marriage, approval, career advancement — based on their appearance that that is why fat is a feminist issue.

I understand very well that some people try to make their hatred of fat people respectable by claiming to be criticizing and shaming us for our own good — that we are in danger from obesity and would be healthier if we were slimmer. Gee — why didn’t WE think of that?

The short version of how I got to obesity is that I have obstructive sleep apnea. Oh — and I’m 56. I was taking off the weight pretty well until I had to drop out of Body Pump class last year because when I bend over I feel like I have a hot golf ball where my right ovary should be. (No, I don’t have health insurance or the money for healthcare — why do you ask?)

But I’m very lucky. I had 20 years basking in the loving gaze of my late life partner and she was the most beautiful woman in the world to me and I was the most beautiful woman in the world to her. No matter what aspect of my body and appearance I am working to improve, I guarantee you that I will never settle for anything less from my future spouse than that — and it is certainly what I will give to her.

In college I had a lover who was anorexic. She was very emotionally abusive and since my own mother was emotionally abusive I didn’t know to dump her. She was a gymnast in her teens — when we met I was 21 and she was 23 — and when she wore a leotard and walked through the gym where the University of Michigan women’s gymnastics team was working out, every single one of those young women stopped what she was doing and stared in awe. Well, also, our sex life was so incendiary that to this very day I feel superior to ordinary mortals who know not what I know. Really, at the time I thought we owed it to the world to tour and give classes and demonstrations.

Where was I? Oh, yes — she was emotionally abusive. It took me several years to recover from the abuse and what really helped me turn the corner was the fact that books about anorexia began to be published in the late 1970’s. My opinion now, especially after watching two of my friends make one of their daughters anorexic, is that anorexia is caused by parents who usurp a child’s own choices and impose their own will on the child so that the child’s self never gets a chance to figure things out on its own and develop and grow. Then, when the parent lets go around 13 or 14 — still expecting the child to make only the choices the parent approves of — anorexia, which is about control, tends to manifest, especially if the child has a talent involving performing in sports, music or the stage.

By the way, one of the reasons that anorexia is very difficult to treat is that if the therapist tells the parents of an anorexic teen the truth — which is that their domination of their child and enmeshed family dynamic is what is making their child so sick — to defend their own narcissism they will fire the therapist.

To illustrate my point that eating, obesity and being loved for what you are by people who have healthy boundaries and let you figure out on your own how and when to improve yourself, I want to share six videos — four of Margaret Cho and two of Karen Carpenter. The first is Margaret Cho, from her show, “I’m the One that I Want,” talking about how the producers of her sitcom, “All-American Girl,” nearly killed her by putting her on a diet and exercise regimen in which she lost 30 pounds in two weeks. That sounds great until you figure in the peeing blood and kidney failure (and probable permanent kidney damage and loss of bone density). Do the math on this: to lose a pound of fat you have to burn 3500 calories. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. Probably one-third of Cho’s weight loss was water — thus the kidney failure. She had to burn something like 49,000 calories in 14 days in addition to the 2,000 calories her base metabolism would burn.

In the first clip, Cho tells the story of how she was bullied into the nearly-fatal weight loss regime:

In the next two clips, Cho talks about how she felt accepted for the first time in her life when she found out her show was going to series and what it was like to give her mother this news on Mother’s Day (the good part is about seven minutes into the first clip):

Margaret continues by telling how the tabloids and celebrity magazines bullied her about her weight — and her boyfriend at the time, Quentin Tarantino, correctly told her that her show’s producers were stealing her voice:

Now, moving on, to Karen Carpenter, who rose to fame as a popular singer when I was in high school. Karen Carpenter died in 1983 at the age of 32 of heart failure due to taking ipecac to induce vomiting — the vomiting caused an electrolyte imbalance that made her heart beat so abnormally that she died. Carpenter was both a singer AND a highly regarded drummer. I’m including a video of her singing my favorite Carpenters song, “Top of the World,” and a video of her playing the drums — both to show how talented she was, and how emaciated:

I think the bass drummer in the following clip is John Denver — Karen Carpenter was an amazing drummer:

Now let my friend, Jennifer Lawson, The Bloggess, bring this all home and show you why “Everyone is beautiful.”

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  • Liz

    I’ve always hated when people are bashed on the basis of their weight – it happens to thin people too, as I can attest. You can’t tell if someone is healthy by looking at them. Even if someone is less healthy, that does not mean they lose the right to respect and to be left alone. The idea that Sidibe didn’t belong there because she might be a “bad influence” is just an extension of the idea that we exist for the benefit of other people. She has the right to exist for herself, not to hide so that people won’t suddenly think that fat = good.

    I do, however, feel uncomfortable about the whole “everyone is beautiful” theme. I think it uses “beautiful” as a synonym for feeling good about yourself, confident and happy. The Fatshionista did a really good post about it, called “Uninvested in being beautiful”:

    “Beautiful” is a loaded concept, encumbered with implications far beyond the dictionary definition. It’s a vehicle on which we can put our deeper worries, our fears that we’re not good enough, our insecurities, our sadness. It’s easier to say “I feel beautiful!” than it is to say “I feel confident!” “Beautiful” is a feeling that’s okay for a woman to express; often, “confidence” is not. But that’s a conflation of two discrete concepts. When we use it in this way, “beautiful” becomes a code word we employ when we can’t get at our deeper feelings, or at least when we can’t express them in a culturally-acceptable way. Feeling beautiful is often about nothing so much as feeling accepted, loved, appreciated, respected, and feeling those things about oneself from the inside, as well as feeling them as they are expressed by other people.”

    http://fatshionista.com/cms/index.php?option=com_mojo&Itemid=69&p=272

  • Stinky

    I once heard an interview with the Carpenters, and they said that they had received tons of fan mail thanking them for their song, “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Apparently, many folks who were on the verge of suicide heard that song and stopped.

    I love the Carpenters.

    Now, as for your health, do you qualify for Medicaid? If not, I can tell you that there are good and decent doctors out there who will work with you at reduced rates if you have no insurance. This includes MRI facilities, who will often cut their rates dramatically if they learn that they don’t have to deal with insurance companies. Now, you may have tried all this, but that whole golf ball thing has me worried.

    • Stinky,

      I do qualify for Medicaid but when I talked to someone at the Maryland Insurance Commission about it she told me the state is out of money and turning qualified people away. My plan has been to lift myself up and use my talents to make money since I am a writer and should be able to make a living online. But I struggle with organizational powers — hypoxia (from the sleep apnea) hits the executive function abilities of the brain first. I didn’t know how bad the damage was until the ability to plan and keep two or three things in mind at the same time started to flicker on and off last summer. The blogging has been part of my healing program — I started in January 2009 pretty much the first minute I could stay awake all day many days in a row and work a full day. I’ve been working on coming back from death’s door for seven years now.

      I’ve been frightened and frustrated by the fact that every time it looks like I’m getting close to getting a project going, some big emergency comes up. I was so happy right before the blizzards in February and really feeling like I was on my way and then wham! Same thing with the virus attack — it hit everything I was working on and using to save myself. As a life pattern, it’s life-threatening and crazy-making. I have great tools and many blessings I can use to prevail but I do have to admit now that I’m in trouble and in some very scarey-ass pain.

      Cynthia

  • Abigail Adams

    What about Shepherd’s Clinic in Baltimore?

    http://shepherdsclinic.org/

    If they can’t help you out, they might be able to point you in the direction of someone who can.

    • Abigail,

      I didn’t know about them. I’ll check them out tomorrow — thank you!

      Cynthia

  • Ad rem

    OMG! Your remembrance of the college gymnast did more to wake me up this morning than my two cups of coffee! 😀

    Cynthia, your “psycho-fu” is spot on. I too had the abusive mother thing going. I was always referred to by my mother as “hateful big thing”…even after I dieted down to 110 lbs. Mom saw me as the competition, so I was really only “big” in her mind, as I now see.

    I worry about your discription pain in the side. Do you believe in hormone replacement? There are all-natural therapies out there…..they made my life much easier. There’s a great book called “The Hormone Solution”, by Thierry Hertoghe, M.D., that discusses natural hormone and nutrition therapies. It’s 339 pages, and has everything about a woman’s body you could want to know. Just checked….Amazon has it for ten dollars. I’m sending you a donation now….so go get it!

    • Ad rem,

      My heart goes out to you! It’s amazing, isn’t it, how sociopaths work? They have some secret agenda and to hide it they lie and manipulate and destroy other people. I got my knowledge about them from the School of Hard Knocks, but that’s why I try to educate my readers about the disorders I understand to help them see the abuse and deceptions so they can free themselves.

      I appreciate your telling me about the book and your experiences — and the donation. Would you mind if I use the money toward buying Dr. Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life? Or something else on healing the brain? I know I seem fine when I present the results of a single project, like a blog post, but the black holes in my organizing abilities are a serious problem and I think there are books that would help. For the pain problem I feel certain I really need to see a doctor. With better organizing abilities I figure I’ll be able to get the projects done that will provide me an income that I can use to support myself and buy health care.

      Without a gynecologist or family doctor to consult for specific treatment, I’m using the advice of Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf in her books about women’s health and Maharishi Ayurveda. I’ve known Nancy since she was in medical school and I was in the process of launching a blog on Maharishi Ayurveda when the virus bomb hit and scattered everything I was working on. She doesn’t recommend hormone replacement, but I’m still in the process of working my way through her books.

      I won’t spend your donation until you let me know if you’re OK with my buying a book on restoring brain health instead. Thank you very much for your donation.

      Cynthia

      P.S.

      I’m still chuckling over providing you with so much … alertness … from this post.

      • Ad rem

        Cynthia,

        Please feel free to spend the money as you see fit. It sounds like an excellent book.

  • Cynthia,

    I watched for decades as my mother battled weight. She never got to enjoy her body. When she died I looked at the ashes after cremation and thought that we only have one body. If it is not perfect, what can we do? Trade it in? The best we can do is make the body we have, the best we can .
    .-= Afrocity´s last blog ..Where the White Things Are =-.

    • Afrocity,

      Thank you for your insight.

      African-Americans can have a harder time with weight issues than whites or Asians because more of them have the kapha mind-body type, as it is defined in ayurveda, which is the traditional medical system of India. Kaphas have a tendency to gain weight, especially if they don’t get exercise regularly.

      I think Gabourey Sidibe CAN have a career in acting if she learns her craft, develops a good work ethic and creates her own opportunities if the right ones don’t come knocking at her door. It’s nuts to say she won’t have a career because of her weight. Plus, even if she dieted down to being a skinny minnie, I’m positive the goal would get moved on some other excuse. It’s not being thin, or thinner, that will get her work — it’s being smart and creative and sassy enough to push back on judgmental jerks.

      Cynthia

  • Diane

    re: brain health, have you seen sethroberts.net? (This goes to the blog and the forums. Start with the blog.) The most recent topic has been how eating butter, coconut oil and flax oil has helped the blogger and others with mental focus and health in general. Seth Roberts is a psychology professor at the University of California, and he also wrote the Shangri La Diet, so he’s a very smart guy, someone you should be reading, because he knows quite a bit about how the brain works. I’ve been doing the flax oil/butter/coconut oil thing for a couple of weeks, and I’m totally amazed at how motivated I’ve become. Now I realize that what I used to think was laziness was merely my former diet that was deficient in healthy fats.

    • Diane,

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check him out.

      Cynthia

  • Amy

    Glad to read this. While I must state that I do think PM is being a BIT disingenuous, I don’t for a minute think they are promoting morbid obesity. Various outlets are using this as a wedge to expose liberal hypocrisy, but I think they are also being disingenuous.

    Your point is well made Cynthia. Her heart and soul ARE a big part of her beauty. Witness the following:

    http://jezebel.com/5422480/bully-for-you-gabourey-sidibe-talks-bullying-boy-bands-on-leno

    (H/T hillbuzz commentor Liz L.)

    Didn’t know a thing about Gabourney until this and damn if I didn’t fall in love. When was the last time you saw the real side of a “celebrity”?

    Sorry to hear of your troubles, dear girl. And am impressed by your notion that you should be responsible for yourownself. Truth be told, I say that to myself often, that I have the means to fix it, but I am the easily discouraged sort. You are an inspiration.

    • Amy,

      Thank you for the link — I watched both clips — wow! you really DO fall in love with her. I also love it that she fought back as a child against kids who made fun of her.

      To consider beauty only to be external and a matter of youth and proportions is a loss on an almost infinite scale — I’ll have to write more about what enlightenment is as a physiological state and how perception changes in higher states of consciousness to explain that idea more fully.

      About the health issues — thank you — you helped me make a decision. I started work on a health blog last July but hated admitting my failings and vulnerabilities, so I just froze and didn’t do much with it. Then a couple of months ago I realized that I had to work on my health blog because doing so will help me live all the great knowledge I have about achieving good health, enlightenment and prosperity. I was really digging in when the virus bomb hit. Anyway, somehow I won’t take good care of myself for my own sake, but I WILL do it when it will help others because they resonate with my situation and the knowledge I’m using clicks with them. Also, I intend for my health blog to BE a source of inspiration and a support group. So you’ve really lifted my heart and helped me see the value of admitting where I am so I can get to where I want to go because it will help others, too. If I can get it back online tomorrow, I’ll announce it here. Thank you!

      Cynthia

  • Laura Castellano

    Women can’t win the whole weight debate anyway, and the sooner we stop trying, the better off we’ll be. How many times have you or someone you know lost a bit of weight, only to have every “helpful” friend and family member informing you that you’ve lost too much weight and now you look anorexic. I’ve seen this happen to two friends who lost about 50 lbs and now have perfect, slender but not skinny, healthy figures. I will never understand why people think it is ok to openly criticize a woman’s weight when they have no knowledge of her state of health, etc.

    One of my teachers, in trying to make the point that anybody can lose weight if they just try, remarked that, “No overweight person ever came out of a concentration camp.” My retort was that to the best of my knowledge, neither did any healthy people.

    • Laura Castellano,

      Great retort!

      You are correct about women not being able to win the weight debate — rest assured, once people realize they can control you by denouncing you and holding out their approval as your reward if you do their will, as soon as you’ve reached that goal and try to claim your promised reward, they will denounce you for wanting it, move the goal and promise you another reward for achieving THAT — rinse and repeat, ad infinitem. It’s a fool’s game.

      The better way is to set boundaries and defend them firmly — consult Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, for detailed instructions. And don’t chase ever-receding goals.

      Cynthia

  • Stinky

    Cynthia, a couple other health/book suggestions, since it seems that quite a few of us are trying to deal with the weight/brain fog/fatigue issue.

    Get your hormones checked. If progesterone is low, relative to estrogen, it could cause some of the symptoms you describe.
    Great book: “Natural Hormone Balance for Women: Look Younger, Feel Stronger, and Live Life with Exuberance” by Dr. Uzzi Reiss.

    A couple other highly informative books are by Julia Ross:
    “The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions–Today” and “The Diet Cure.” Ross’s focus is on nutritional approaches to deal with mood swings and disorders. I like her work very much because, unlike a lot of authors, including some well known anti-aging doctors, she does not think you need to get hooked on drugs and supplements for the rest of your life. She has found that people can go off some of the supplements, then return to them for a tune-up if needed. Her approach has had a dramatically positive effect on a family member, so I speak from experience.

    All three of these books are available at my local library, and they may be available at yours, too. I checked them out first and liked them so much that I purchased them and use them as references.

    Finally, I just came across your article on Elena Kagan over at Pajamas Media – I’d love it if you’d post links here to articles that you write for other sites!

    • Stinky,

      Thank you for the book suggestions! I’ll look into them.

      Also, thanks for suggesting I post links here to my pieces at Pajamas Media. Yes, I’ve been remiss about that. I didn’t know they were going to publish it today — so I’ll put up my link in a few minutes. Dad just got up and I have to go make his coffee.

      Cynthia

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