An Open Letter to Queer Eye - Re: Fatphobia

Dear Fab Five,

I love you guys.

Whenever I watch the show I laugh, I cry, I try and figure out how much it would it cost to hire Bobby to redesign my apartment...

I’m so happy to see a TV show that is genuinely positive and making a difference in people’s lives. And not just for those on the show, but for the millions of viewers who feel validated by the honest experiences shared by those who identify as queer; and for those viewers whose hearts and minds are being opened to realizing that every human being is worthy of love, respect, and belonging, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

I admire how you have all vulnerably shared to some degree your own personal experiences with homophobia and racism. This display of courage is needed in the world right now. Too many people still view vulnerability as weak and something to overcome or hide.

You know all too well the pain that is experienced at the hand of discrimination. It’s because of your experience of this, and your ability to open your hearts showing compassion and support to others, that I want to address a discrimination and stigma that you are perpetuating (innocently, I believe) on the show: Fatphobia.

Fatphobia is so woven into the fabric of our culture that it’s difficult to even see. However once you see it, you can't unsee it. 

As a Body Acceptance Coach, I help people to live lives true to themselves - in the bodies that they have. Through this work I have developed a keen eye and can often spot Fatphobia a mile away. In our culture, if you are fat or in a larger body, it’s seen as a bad thing, and that can have a deeply negative impact on how people feel about themselves and how joyfully they live their lives.

As soon as I saw the displays of fatphobia on the show my heart sunk. I was naïve in thinking the show would be free of weight stigma, considering how inclusive it aims to be, but that’s how insidious weight stigma is – we often don’t even realize when it’s happening. What makes it even harder to detect, its that we’ve internalized this stigma - believing it to be true about ourselves and our bodies.

The most common displays of fatphobia appear during the dressing segments of the show with Tan. Of course this makes sense – it’s about appearance and “looking good” and in our society looking good means slim and “fit”.

But this is conditioning. The idea that only bodies that are muscled or slender are attractive and beautiful is not a fact - it’s a learned belief. If it were a “fact”, we would see a slender and muscled beauty ideal that is uniform across the globe - but we don’t. Sadly, due to the spread of Western culture across the globe, this beauty ideal is changing, bringing with it poor body image and an increase in eating disorders.

The reality is bodies come in all shapes and sizes naturally. And because we humans aren’t robots, our bodies will fluctuate in size over the span of our lifetime, depending on a myriad of biological changes and life circumstances. If left alone to do their thing that is. Meaning that if we just went about living our lives, eating and moving how it felt good to us, our body size would fluctuate, but not a whole lot. And in the end, some bodies would be thin, some would medium-sized, and some would be fat.

Of course the next argument is “well what about health?” Since that is a BIG topic, I will sum it up by saying this: weight is not an indicator of health. You can read more about that here, here and here.

So, how does all this relate specifically to the show and how can it be rectified? Here are some examples of where removing weight stigma and fatphobic remarks can help bring the show up to next-level inclusiveness (and awesomeness!)

1. Sharing height and weight. In the opening car scene you’ll give a run down about the person you’ll be working with, and sometimes you’ll list their height and weight. Stop listing their height and weight. It’s not necessary. Unless for some reason their height or weight is something they proudly define themselves as, or they are looking for specific help with (such as dressing for a very short person or very large person), it draws unnecessary attention to weight. Especially in season 2, episode 1 when you made a point that you wouldn’t share the woman’s weight, further perpetuating the belief that women in particular should be concerned about their weight. 

2. Using words like “slimming” and “flattering”. Very often Tan will dress a person and comment how “slimming” or “flattering” the outfit makes them look, reinforcing the idea that one should always aim to hide any indication of roundness or size. This not only increases insecurity about natural fat that exists on a body, but perpetuates the idea that any amount of fat is ugly and unattractive and should be covered up. Once again – the idea that fat is unattractive is a belief, not a fact. I love seeing women like Virgie Tovar and Anna O'Brien unapologetically wearing clothing because it makes them feel good, not in order to cover themselves to look smaller. 

So what to do instead? Focus on how the cut of the outfit feels for the person, and how well it fits them. Do they feel empowered? Does the length and size fit their body? And what if the person expresses they want to hide their belly or roundness? You are the kings and queens of helping someone feel amazing about themselves just as they are, I know you can do it!

3. Fitness as a mean of weight loss. In season 2, episode 6, a young guy was complaining about his beer gut (and why wouldn’t he based on our culture’s hatred of fat), and the focus was on exercising to lose that belly. Exercise is great and moving the body not only has a positive effect on overall metabolic health, it also makes us feel great (thanks endorphins!) So change the focus of exercise to feeling good and being healthy – not appearance and weight.

4. #QEHipTip – Jelly Belly. Yeah, this one was blatant. The end-of-show tips you give are great – except this one. Not only was it specifically about covering up bellies, but it perpetuated a common misunderstanding, as well as shaming at the end: a) that eating too many doughnuts is what causes weight gain and b) that one should be ashamed of eating X number of doughnuts. Neither is true. We all know that some people can eat as many doughnuts as they want and never gain weight. And if it wasn’t for fatphobia and food shaming, why would the number of doughnuts one ate matter?  If once again you’re thinking “because health (and sugar)”, read this blog I wrote about sugar here. In the end - their doughnuts, their business! And if doughnuts makes someone happy, all the power to them (which is the point of the show anyways, right? – to be happy?)

So that’s what I wanted to share, guys. I love you all and think what you’re doing is awesome, and I want to see the show be even more awesome. With your reach and influence, you can continue to help people feel good – no matter what size. 

PS: Jonathan – you have inspired my boyfriend to go to a barber instead of cutting his own hair (like he’s been doing for over 15 years), and Tan you have up-leveled his fashion choices, so a personal thank you ;)

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Photo Credit:  The Fabulous Five … Queer Eye. Photograph: Gavin Bond/Netflix