While folding my laundry at the mat the other day, I was subjected to the most confounding form of misogyny, the kind perpetrated by women on other women. It is called the Wendy Williams Show. Cheryl Burke, a young celebrity and dancer, was the guest. If you watch the clip, you’ll see Wendy bring up Cheryl’s weight issues. They show a photograph where Wendy says she looks “fine.” Perhaps Wendy meant fine as in “damn, that girl is fiiiine,” but Cheryl certainly doesn’t take it that way. She says she looks fine like she’s wearing a grey turtleneck, sweat pants and white socks in Birkenstocks. Fine. Meh. Soon, the “after” picture pops up, and Wendy excitedly says, “I can see your ribs. You lost a lot of weight.”
At this point, I suppressed the urge to throw my large, fine, folded panties at the screen. The claps of approval from the live studio audience were nauseating. I could just picture some kid with a headset on, raising her hands urging the robotic crowd to clap on cue.
Cheer for the suppression of your entire gender! Yay!
Cheryl looked better than fine in the first picture; she looked absolutely beautiful. As for the second picture, it is a subtle portrait of hate. She is posing in a red suit. She looks hungry. She looks desperate. Each rib screams in succession: “Look at me now Hollywood bitches! I conform! I have an eating disorder called FullFast!” Cheryl really believes in FullFast. Like really, really. It’s a spray that kills your appetite. Just don’t mix it up with RoundUp!
And because Wendy Williams cares so much about her viewers, she’s giving you all a free sample of our national disorder. Like most women, I worry about my weight. Although I love my father beyond measure, I will never forget all the times he’s called me “chunky” or after coming home from an adult soccer league match to watch me play, saying “if you lose weight, you’d run faster.” More damaging still are the hurtful words from other women. I noticed when my abuela stopped calling me flaca, or skinny. No more Cuban bread for me. Solace is not to be found in our mass media either, even on so-called women’s shows. Solidarity doesn’t work on television. Compassion and community doesn’t sell FullFast. Self-loathing does.
Two women very close to me have struggled with eating disorders. They both happen to be empirically attractive. Yet foreheads on toilet bowls are not pretty. Spraying shit in your mouth is not sexy. The media has long upheld a false mirror to women. The media, our parents, our siblings, our lovers, our friends, our own minds are guilty. Yet this particular problem is hardest on women; and the media, as our arbiters of public opinion, are the worst offenders.
I worry the resurgent, media-darling fight against obesity will be co-opted as justification for the media’s brokering of air-brushed images, spray-on bodies. Doctors quoted in the press urge us to get fit or die, yet they leave it to the people without medical degrees to define what fit is. According to trend expert Wendy Williams, Cheryl Burke is a model, one who has overcome the adversity of the image conscious Hollywood, to show us just what a killer collarbone can do. The televised Cheryl Burke is fit–fit for the furthering of gross stereotypes, fit for daytime television, fit for your manufactured applause.