16 November 2009

Maya Angelou is a fatphobe?!

No! No! Say it ain't so!

At other times she sounds like the kind of elderly relative who has outlived the need for social convention. Arguing for honesty at every level of human contact, she writes: "When people ask, 'How are you?' have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you..." Sure enough, halfway through the interview she tells me I'm fat and suggests I pay more attention to the size of my portions. "You are going to have to lose that weight. You're too young and too handsome. Don't do it to yourself."

Gary Younge patches up the damage pretty admirably here, I think, even as she slurs him.

Maya Angelou: 'I'm fine as wine in the summertime'


William said...

Now I know why the Cage Bird Sings.....It is asking for a bigger portion from Maya :)

I think that Maya has to be a Fat-o-phobe, the woman has never been one to go with Society's beliefs. If she had a once of Fat Acceptance she never would have said that.


Charlotte Cooper said...

Ho ho!

Miriam Heddy said...

It makes sense to look at fatphobia as many of us look at most other isms and say that, in a culture in which the "ism" is the dominant model and permeates all levels of the culture, it'd be amazing to find anyone who isn't fatphobic (and racist and misogynist and transphobic and homophobic). We, as individuals, may be aware of these messages and how they hurt us, and we may well work to resist these messages, but most of us have still internalized them.

That doesn't excuse anything, because of course it's disappointing to find that someone like Angelou isn't an active ally.

I think I'd have follow-up questions for her, as it sounds like she views fat as something we "do to ourselves"--as a self-infliction that has negative health consequences (but not necessarily is unaesthetic, as she still recognizes the interviewer as handsome!)

So I'd ask what she thinks of studies that show that fat people are paid less and less often hired. Would she see the solution to that inequity (which disadvantages black people in this country moreso than white) as "Go on a diet?" What would she say to someone who can't become thin (or who has three kids to support and a lot on their plate besides food?) Would she say that, being fat, they don't deserve a job as much as a thin person and that their kids should remain on food stamps until mom can get thin enough to be hired?

It's there that we start to see just how internalized the "ism" is.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks Miriam. I'd like to see you ask her those questions.

Jackie said...

Wow, I was really surprised to see this. In particular because Angelou is not a small woman now and in the past has been larger and in her poetry she seems to celebrate her size and others. In one poem she talks about old folks bellies jiggling like tambourines
in a way that seems positive no?
But, of course, I have been fat forever and I have not always been fat positive so I probably shouldn't be so surprised. And, when I have lost weight I have always fallen into the it was ME! I did it! You can too! ridculousness.
But still. . .

JeninCanada said...

One negative comment about fat makes her a fat-phobe?

Charlotte Cooper said...

No! Hence ?! in the title of this post. I'm just surprised.

wonderful woman said...

What gets me mostly about this is that comment was just rude. Being honest and open is all very well but without considering how it will make someone else feel to hear it is inconsiderate and inappropriate to say the least.

We've probably all had people telling us to lose weight out of 'concern', 'care', 'love' and considering it to be 'for our own good'... doesn't make it any easier to hear and just results in shaming and increased self loathing. Who benefits from this 'honesty? No one at all.

Yes we internalize all of this and people say and do the wrong things from time to time. However it is quite alarming that a woman who *has* been all about the fat woman with meat shaking on her bones, and the sexy, luscious fat guys she's loved etc etc should say something so callous and insulting to a stranger! Maybe she has had a change of mind about fat... but what it comes down to is it's none of her sodding business how fat that bloke is and if it's down to eating 'big portions' or whatever.

I'd love the opportunity to honestly and openly say that to her.

Mary said...

To JeninCanada -- actually yes, anyone who says the kind of hostile things that Angelou said to that reporter is a fatphobe. Why does it matter that she only said it once? How many times would she have to say it? If someone attacks you with a racial slur, they're racist regardless of how many times they say it, aren't they? Why is this different?

I for one am not surprised to find out that she is a fatphobe. Back when we were debating "Ebonics" in the US, she made some derogatory remarks towards Black English that showed that she holds some very rigid conservative attitudes. This sort of fits right in.