Marie Claire urges its readers to be “more than just a pretty face”, but the magazine’s recent editorial decisions indicate that there is a limit on just how much “more” a woman should be. Maura Kelly’s article, “Should Fatties Get A Room? (Even on TV?)”, for MarieClaire.com revealed the author’s personal prejudices, and in turn alienated a significant portion of the brand’s demographic. When readers used social media to voice their objections, Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles exacerbated the situation with her comments. This can be viewed as a brand management failure in the already uncertain world of print magazines – or a viral media success story.
Maura Kelly’s article begins when she questions if anyone would want to watch overweight people kiss, as seen in the new show Mike and Molly. The most controversial portion of Kelly’s article occurs when she expresses her displeasure at simply having to see overweight people out in public:
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.
Kelly is quick to clarify that she isn’t “some size-ist jerk.” She has, after all, “a few friends who could be called plump.” This particular statement has been heavily mocked in the media, drawing comparisons to racists who point out that they have minority friends. Is it fair to equate obesity with ethnicity in terms of discrimination? Perhaps not, but it has also been noted that such an article probably wouldn’t have been published if it said similar things about a specific race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Many of the objections to this article are based in Maura Kelly’s tone – she comes across as patronizing and even a bit smug. She states “obesity is something that most people have a ton of control over. It’s something they can change, if only they put their minds to it.” If a person can’t achieve weight loss with the simple act of putting their minds to it, not to worry – Kelly is “happy to give you some nutrition and fitness suggestions if you need them…”
After the unsurprising backlash to the article, Kelly added a personal note at the end expressing her apologies. The statement appeased few, in part because she clarified that she was referring to morbidly obese people – not the average overweight person. This may have eased the minds of some average overweight people who initially objected, but it raises a new concern. Is it right for an international publication to marginalize anyone who suffers from the medical condition of morbid obesity? Regardless of whether it is self-afflicted or indicative of a greater physical or emotional issue, it is nonetheless a medical condition.
The author seemed to be concerned that a prime time sitcom was encouraging acceptance of obesity. Since it is a dangerous (and apparently aesthetically horrifying) affliction, Kelly doesn’t think it should be glamorized in the media. She seems to think that the unlikely scenario of two overweight people being attracted to each other will somehow encourage other “fatties” to hope for love. The glamorous setting where the two lovebirds first meet? An Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Kelly should really consider supporting the show; if it is as influential as she purports, it could encourage people to get their fat butts into treatment!
If Kelly is indeed concerned with the media presenting a rose tinted view of self-destructive behavior, then perhaps she should address some of the other issues regularly shown on TV. Promiscuity, drug use, alcoholism, infidelity, betrayal, murder and violence – flip through the channels on any given night and you can easily find them all. She might even begin with her own magazine. The magazine shown at left was on newstands when Kelly’s article was published on Marie Claire‘s website. It could be said that Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham is just as poor of an influence as any fat TV character. Her body cannot be achieved by the average girl – it was not even possible for Posh herself without assistance. Most cover girls have their images edited, correcting skin tone and shaving off a few pounds. Marie Claire might or might not do this, but Victoria Beckham required a strict (some would say unhealthy) diet and breast implants to look this way. Do women viewing the cover recognize that, or do they feel inferior with their own normal, natural bodies? Which is more detrimental, seeing people that are overweight and trying to become healthy, or seeing people that are healthy and trying for perfection?
Regardless, Kelly has taken it upon herself to champion this cause, and we eventually found out why. Maura Kelly is a former anorexic who freely admits that her personal history with eating disorders has given her a skewed view of health and beauty.
Does Kelly’s background excuse her words? No – but it doesn’t have to. Maura Kelly was well within her rights in composing this article. Her views may be hurtful and offensive to many, but she has the freedom to express them as she wishes. Beyond that, Kelly did at least issue a formal apology for her article. The fault can truly be placed on Marie Claire, and EIC Joanna Coles. Why would a successful magazine publish an article that offends so many of its readers? Weight is naturally a sensitive topic for women, and there has to be a demographic overlap there. If you consider how many of Marie Claire’s young adult to middle aged female readers struggle with their weight, and the high percentage of overweight Americans overall, it is easy to see the potential for disaster.
Coles’ glib responses to criticisms haven’t helped with the fallout. When asked about the reader reactions to the article, Coles commented that she was “excited and moved by their responses.” Maura Kelly and Joanna Coles both stated that they had never even seen Mike and Molly, but Coles was quick to note that she is “concerned about a show that makes fun of large people.” Apparently it is fine to express your disgust with large people, so long as you aren’t making fun of them. Other brands have turned similar negative experiences into positives, by encouraging dialogue, expressing sincere regrets, and actively trying to make amends. It seems to be the logical next step, but as of yet Marie Claire has not gone in this direction.
By most standards, Marie Claire magazine has committed an editorial faux pas by publishing Kelly’s article. With the increasing value of social media, though, it can be argued that Marie Claire has actually made a strategic move. It is well known that controversy sells, and in the online world that includes page views, incoming links, and traffic on Facebook, Twitter, and Digg, among others. The magazine’s Facebook page has particularly benefited by requiring people to “fan” their page before they can post a comment. Each angry commenter became a new contact who may not choose to “un-fan” once they’ve posted their thoughts. If these people then check back for comment responses or new posts, they are adding value to the company while protesting it.
It remains to be seen whether the magazine will issue an official apology from the editors. Marie Claire invited readers with opposing viewpoints to submit their own articles, but there have been allegations of censorship and dishonesty. In a critical era where online presence is paramount, one magazine has shown both the incredible draw and the polarizing risks of controversial content. After the proverbial dust has settled, the brand will have to determine if the cancelled subscriptions and decreased newsstand sales outweigh the value of increased traffic and online mentions.
(despite my total lack of interest in promoting this magazine or author, I feel I should include the original link to reference: http://www.marieclaire.com/sex-love/dating-blog/overweight-couples-on-television)