Last year, we received an email from a reader who asked that for 2008, we step back and consider cracking down on body snarking comments in Snap Judgment posts. And we agreed with her.
The crackdown was confusing to many readers: "What am I allowed to say?" people asked, "What's okay and what's not okay?" For the most part, we explained it as such: making a funny comment regarding someone's fashion choices, the scene around them was okay, but taking shots at people's bodies was not. This, contrary to popular belief, was not an invitation to be hateful to celebrities based on their clothing choices; there is a difference between a genuinely clever comment and a totally nasty one, as we all know.
And so people tried to obey the rules. Commenters who made cracks about veiny hands (oh no! Not the circulatory system! How last season!), cellulite, thighs, etc., were promptly dealt with via disemvoweling, a Hortense warning, or, if bad enough, a banning. And though most people seemed to understand the negativity attached with calling an overweight celebrity "fatty" or some such, it still seemed like fair game for people to type the most hated phrase in the Jezebel commenter catalog: "Eat a cheeseburger!"
Now listen. I understand the concern when posts go up featuring celebrities who are quite thin or thinner than we've seen them in the past. As a recovered anorexic, I am perhaps more sensitive than most when it comes to weight issues. However, there is an undercurrent of hate that comes with a comment like "Eat a sandwich"; a type of angry response to what is perceived, by the reader viewing the picture, to be a serious mental illness. As someone who was sick for 7 years, I can tell you straight up: having people angrily tell you to eat, when all you want in the world is to eat, but you just can't, due to the sickness in your brain, is perhaps one of the most painful experiences a struggling eating disorder patient can go through.
On the flip side of this: I often get letters from readers who have always been naturally very thin, and teased their whole lives for being "sick-looking" or "anorexic" when, in reality, they just have a very slim body type. It is just as painful for these women to read comments like, "Eww, she's so gross," as it is for an overweight woman to read, "What a fatty," and such. It is surprising to me that in posts where someone challenges being overweight as being "unhealthy and gross", people swarm to the defense, to point out that women of all sizes can be healthy, but when an underweight commenter protests about "eat a sandwich" comments, they are dismissed or, in the worst cases, mocked. Though I would agree that certain celebrities do not always carry a picture of health, weight wise, there are some instances where women who are naturally quite small are screamed at in the comments, as if an angry cheeseburger command will solve any perceived issues.
Now, I understand the concern that springs up for certain celebrities who seem to be shrinking and falling victim to Hollywood's "be thin or gtfo" machine. And that is a fair argument, and one that I think can be discussed in the threads without tossing out unfounded accusations or screaming at a celebrity to eat a damn sandwich.
My point here is this: everyone you meet, regardless of their size, is most likely confronted at one point or another with self-esteem issues regarding their weight. I was in the hospital with women who were extremely underweight, extremely overweight, and of average size; the battle we were fighting was an internal one, something shared regardless of the number on the scale.
I also just want to point out that the editors are not trying to mess with you when putting up photographs; at times, there honestly are only a handful to choose from, and it comes down to a picture of say, Jennifer Connelly, who is currently on a publicity blitz for her new film vs. a picture of that guy who played the third lead on Newhart 20 years ago or some such. The editors are lovely people who are extremely pressed for time and do not have sinister motivations when posting certain pictures.
Perhaps in 2009 we can approach these issues in the threads in a more thoughtful manner. Body image is something that affects everyone, and it wouldn't hurt for us to see beyond the exterior, body wise, and consider that perhaps we don't fully understand the reasons or motivations behind someone's size. So farewell, "Eat a sandwich!" Goodbye, "Eat a damn cheeseburger!" You are hereby banned from this site now and forever. Should you choose to reappear in any form, you shall find yourself sad and vowelless. From here on out, we're all going to try to be a little kinder to one another.