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‘Fatties’ blog post sets off online uproar

Should fatties get a room? It’s a question that one Marie Claire blogger asked — and answered. And she is getting vilified for it.

It all started this week when Maura Kelly, who writes the “A Year of Living Flirtatiously” blog for Marie Claire, a CBS sitcom about an overweight couple who met at Overeaters Anonymous. CBS recently gave the new series a full-season order despite some public criticism that its frequent fat jokes are insensitive.

But “insensitive” is about the kindest description that’s been given of Kelly’s post, in which she tries to answer the question: Are people really uncomfortable watching overweight people making out on TV?

“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,” she writes in her post. “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[sic] addict slumping in a chair.”She adds that she has “plump” friends, and argues that obesity is costing the country real money in terms of the related health problems. Glibly, she also offers her expertise in helping obese people slim down. “I’m happy to give you some nutrition and fitness suggestions if you need them,” she writes.

Plus-sized actors Billy Gardell, left, and Melissa McCarthy star as "Mike & Molly." Marie Claire blogger Maura Kelly criticized the show for "promoting obesity."

At the end of her post Kelly asks: “Fat people making out on TV — are you cool with it? Do you think I’m being an insensitive jerk?”

Well, if nearly 1,000 comments and hundreds of blog posts and tweets over the past three days are any judge, Kelly now knows the answer to her question — and then some.

In an e-mail to TODAYshow.com, a Marie Claire spokesman described Kelly as a “provocative blogger” who was “extraordinarily moved by the thousands of responses she has received following her post about ‘Mike & Molly.’ ” However, the piece is so much at odds with Marie Claire’s oft-repeated goal of boosting women’s self-confidence and image, it begs a question: Was it read by an editor before it was posted?

“Where was the filter?” asked Emme,  founder of the Body Image Council and a former plus-size model, during a segment on the controversy on TODAY Thursday. “Not only with the blogger — I understand that her take is to be very raw — but where was the filter with the editor of Marie Claire? Why was it not pulled back a bit?”

“I am in shock... and my heart hurts because of this article,” writes one commenter. “Maybe next time a fat person crosses a room you're in, you’ll really look at them and see that they are a human being just like you are and that their purpose of being is not to please your aesthetics.”

“This is the most offensive piece of writing I have read in an on-line magazine,” says another.

“You didn’t realize your words were hurtful and this article could be seen as bullying when you wrote it? Do you really lack any sort of common sense?” writes a third.

On Twitter, offended readers are promising to cancel subscriptions under the hashtag The fast and furious response to Kelly’s piece has even led the Adages blog on the Advertising Age site to write about “Marie Claire’s Biggest Loser.” So harsh was the reaction to her piece that Kelly issued a response, apologizing for her insensitivity. [Attempts to reach Kelly for comment were unsuccessful.]

“People have accused me of being a bully in my post; I never intended to be that — it’s actually the very last thing I want to be, as a writer or a person.”

Kelly, a journalist who updates her dating blog daily, explains what may have led her to make such harsh statements and admits in her apology that she has also battled with her weight — although from the other side.

“A few commenters and one of my friends mentioned that my extreme reaction might have grown out of my own body issues, my history as an anorexic, and my life-long obsession with being thin …  I think that’s an accurate insight.”

Apart from Kelly’s insensitivity, it seems she overlooked important data as well. “As writers and journalists, we should be engaging in difficult conversations,” Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large at Mediaite.com, said on the TODAY segment. “But do so responsibly, knowledgably and based on facts… she made claims she didn’t back up.”

Sklar took issue with the fact that the writer’s premise was that Americans don’t like to watch overweight stars, which TV history refutes. “ ‘Roseanne’ [was] the No. 1 show in the nation for four years — that’s a very easy thing to look up.”

In a taped portion of the TODAY segment, Jackie Warner, host of Bravo’s “Thintervention,”agreed that obesity is nothing to joke about without addressing health issues, but criticized Kelly’s approach. “We need to handle this as an addiction. It’s an emotional addiction, and that should always be handled with love.”

“Mike and Molly” creator Mark Roberts joined the discussion, telling Fancast.com that Kelly’s post “seemed like something someone would say when they’re really drunk at a party with their other hateful friends… It’s not something you expect to come from an adult.” And although Kelly has publicly apologized, Roberts isn’t quick to forgive: he intends to include the event as a storyline. “We have this great episode coming up where Molly cancels her subscription to Marie Claire.”

On Wednesday, Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles responded to the controversy, telling the Fashionista blog that the magazine has received more than 28,000 e-mail responses to the piece. “No mid-market women’s magazine wants to present itself in this manner,” Jezebel Executive Editor Jessica Coen told TODAYshow.com. “This has blown up to such a degree that Coles now needs to take over the handling of this as we are talking about issues regarding identity of magazine.”

But others wonder how Kelly, and more notably Marie Claire, could not have predicted the

“How could she think this was acceptable?” questions Sadie Stein, a writer for Jezebel. “It’s that, as much as anything else, that’s worrisome: that at a mainstream magazine with a wide reach and an ostensibly progressive outlook could think, in 2010, this was OK to write and implicitly endorse.

“Marie Claire will probably think before running something like this again — but let’s hope it’s for the right reasons.”

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