I live in a part of the world where Meme Roth has no currency as a media pundit. This could change at any moment, all it takes is one journalist to give her a platform, and she'd be away, they'd all be calling her up because she provides what they want: colour, sound-bites, antagonism, and outrageous opinions. It doesn't matter that her claims are spurious, her expertise a sham, her organisation a front. The war on obesity is fashioned by mainstream media as a duel of twirling show-offs. Though Roth is no friend of mine, and there is nothing about her message that I support, I think she is really good at what she does within this context. Wannabe media-jammer fatties could well take a few tips from her. Fat activists might think about developing a critical approach to media too, why not criticise these dumby 'debate' formats? Or the system that creates and supports unsatisfying mass platforms for discussing fat?
A few of us are noticing a trend in the way that people talk about Roth. Again and again she is dismissed as mentally ill, and as someone suffering an eating disorder. These diagnoses are handed out by such experts in mental health as law professor Paul Campos; Jezebel.com contributor Jenna Sauers; and approximately 5,000 (give or take a few) angry bloggers and commenters, such as those adding their words of wisdom to Ruth Davis Konigsberg's profile of Roth for Elle in 2008, or those that turn up if you Google "MeMe Roth" and "mentally ill".
Such pop diagnoses are worthless, but act as shorthand for: I don't agree with you, I don't understand you, I wish you did not exist. These sentiments are valid, but why wrap them up in accusations of mental illness? Demonising someone doesn't make them stop, it doesn't solve any problems.
Historically speaking, "You must be mentally ill" has been used as a slur against women and against dissidents, a way of shutting up those of us who are angry and unruly. Perhaps some commentators will only be happy when Roth has finally been lobotomised or had her brain zapped in some Frances Farmer scenario. Lock her up in a secure unit from which she can never escape. That would stop folks from listening to her say mean or stupid things about fat people! That would remove the onus on people like us to just switch her off whenever she comes on the TV, to stop adding to her mythology.
I'm angry about how accusing Roth of being anorexic and mentally ill adds to the stigma and shame that makes life extremely difficult for people with these conditions, as well as those who love them. Mental illness is a tough ride, I've been there myself, and people experiencing it deserve compassion and support.
I'm furious, too, that people who call Roth mentally ill are saying that so-called crazy people, or people with eating disorders, supposedly have nothing to contribute to anything and should just crawl away and die. Has no one ever heard of Mad Pride or the psychiatric survivor movement? And what if Roth responded to her accusers and said: "Actually, yes I do have an eating disorder, yes, I am mentally ill." What then?