This week’s crapdate: “Paula Deen has no one to blame for diabetes butter self.”
The short answer: “Hahahahahah! I love it when people reveal that they are suffering! HILARIOUS!”
The Paula Deen/diabetes cracks have been fast and furious. She loves butter! She apparently has a recipe for a hamburger between two donuts! She is an indication of everything that is wrong with America today, and she deserved/asked for/should have expected/is being punished with/has been deceitful about diabetes! Paula Deen (plus) diabetes (equals) high comedy!
But it doesn’t. Diabetes isn’t funny. It just isn’t.
Diabetes patients can look at a possible future of eye problems, including blindness; foot and leg amputation; pain and itching everywhere; heart attack and stroke; nerve damage; digestive problems; kidney damage; infections.
HAHAHAHAHA! Oh wait, that’s the opposite of funny. I don’t care who is diagnosed with diabetes, it isn’t funny.
So why is this open season on Paula Deen? Why are people finding the diagnosis hilarious?
In order to justify the mocking of a sick person, there are two basic premises that are taken for granted:
Premise 1) If somebody’s actions lead to poor health, it is okay to shame them for it.
Premise 2) Being above a specific BMI and eating fatty foods leads to type 2 diabetes.
Conclusion: Paula Deen, as an “overweight” person who advertises fatty foods, is responsible for her diagnosis, and is therefore fair game for mockery. The conclusion only works if you accept both premises, but both premises are full of shit. Which means you’re just an asshole who wants to make fun of a sick person.
Let’s look at the premises individually. First, if somebody does something that makes them sick, everybody else has the right, nay, responsibility! to make them feel bad for it.
Like how the first thing anybody says to a woman with osteoporosis is, “HAHAHA, you shouldn’t have borne children!” Or how, when somebody has heart failure, it’s totally fine to roll your eyes and say, “I told you that would happen when you signed up for all those marathons.” Or when the teacher who works 60 hours a week trying to make a difference in a low-income school district comes down with heart disease, everybody has a good chuckle. It’s funny, right? I mean, they should have known better.
It isn’t funny, and people don’t make those jokes. The fact is, what’s happening to Paula Deen has nothing to do with Premise 1, which, if it were true, would be true all the time. Something else is happening.
Before we figure out what, let’s take a look at Premise 2: Having a certain BMI and eating fatty foods leads to diabetes.
Being “overweight” is correlated with type 2 diabetes. This is true. But correlation is not causation, no matter how convenient it is to ignore that fact. From a recent article on thedailybeast.com:
“It is true that there’s a strong correlation between higher weight and diabetes. This does not, however, mean that higher weight causes diabetes. Rather, it appears that both higher weight and higher diabetes risk are caused by the same underlying genetic mechanism: the so-called thrifty gene that leads some people to store caloric energy far more efficiently than others.”
Paula Deen is bigger than most of the celebrities we see on TV. Why does this give us any right to speculate about the reasoning for her diagnosis?
Because, people say, her diet is clearly, 100%, all butter. And butter gives you diabetes, even if you aren’t fat. But not really. The article goes on:
“The best demonstration of this is provided by an eight-year-long, randomized, controlled dietary modification trial involving nearly 50,000 American women, which cost $415 million, making it one of the most rigorously designed (and most expensive) health studies ever conducted. Nearly 20,000 of these women followed a strictly monitored low-fat diet, while the rest continued to eat the typical diet they were consuming before entering the study. The former group ended up consuming about 30 percent less fat, 40 percent less saturated fat, and 25 percent more fruits and vegetables than the women in the latter group. They also ate an average of 364 fewer calories a day than they had been eating prior to the study. After eight years, there was no statistically significant difference in the rate at which type 2 diabetes occurred among women in the two groups. (The women who reduced their caloric intake weighed an average of four pounds less than they did at the beginning of the trial.) This study is the most powerful evidence yet that there simply is no causal relationship between dietary fat intake and developing type 2 diabetes.”
Even if Paula Deen were eating nothing but butter all day long, the evidence does not show a link between fat and diabetes.
And while we’re talking about her diet (which is none of our fucking business), let’s discuss the difference between life and TV persona. Paris Hilton, it turns out, is quite a shrewd business person. Michael Jackson, the fucking King of Pop, was painfully shy. Stephen Colbert’s entire on-screen persona is a brilliant satire.
Paula Deen is an entertainer. She is a celebrity cook, who doesn’t apologize for her enjoyment of food. I have no idea what she eats for breakfast, or whether she exercises, or if she likes to read a book before she goes to bed. Her onscreen persona is just that: a persona. We, the audience, are entertained. Not one of us knows how that person changes in her own home.
Even if this persona were 100% true to life, even if she were eating nothing but butter all day long, that does not mean that her actions caused her to have diabetes. From the American Diabetes Association:
“Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
Fact: Being overweight is a risk factor for developing this disease, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.“
Halle Berry has type 2 diabetes. How many people are making fun of her for the diagnosis? Zero. Thin people, when they get diabetes, are not up for mockery. Fat people are.
Which brings me back to Premise 1. The reason why people think it is okay to mock Paula Deen is not because it is okay to make fun of somebody whose actions had health consequences. The reason why people think it is okay is because she is fat. And she loves food. And she’s not going to apologize for loving food.
We are taught, from a very young age, that food is the enemy. Advertisements show us yogurt disguised as Boston Crème Pie, as though that is even remotely the same, and make it clear that we are not allowed to eat food that fills us with joy. There are substitutes for sugar, substitutes for butter, substitutes for fat. There is good food and bad food, and people who do not abstain from the bad food are bad people. They have no self-respect, they have no self-control, they are morally inferior.
Paula Deen has challenged those beliefs. She loves food. She loves rich, decadent food, and she does so unabashedly. Paula Deen, when unleashed upon the world, is a threat to the very system. What if everybody thought like that? Without control, there is chaos! The shame society heaps upon people who love to eat fulfills the same purpose as the shame that society heaps upon women who love to have sex. There are rules (arbitrary rules, but who cares) that must be adhered to, and shame is the best way to guarantee adherence.
Paula Deen broke the rules. When she was struck with a disease that was correlated with her body size, it felt like vindication for those who have bought into the belief that the rules are correct. If I believe that food is bad, that butter is bad, that feeling good while eating is bad, and then somebody else is all over the TV enjoying it, it feels good when she is struck down. Finally, I have evidence that all of the self-sacrificing that I am putting myself through, all the self-hatred about how much I lust after the taste of real butter, all of the shame that I feel when I eat cheesecake – those feelings are right, and she is wrong, and she is being punished for her uninhibited enjoyment of things that I have long ago forced myself to pretend I don’t want.
Paula Deen is not to blame for her diabetes. And if she were to blame for it, even if you want to doggedly believe, as many do, that Premise 2 is true (it isn’t), it’s still not socially acceptable to make fun of somebody who has an illness. But you know what is socially acceptable? Making fun of fat people. Because we, as a society, are afraid of the “overweight.” Just like we are afraid of other races, just as we are afraid of different sexual orientations, just like we are afraid of people with disabilities. There are rules that society has placed on how we should look, and when people fall outside of those rules, as the majority of people do, we fear them. And that fear translates into mockery.
And it is never okay to make fun of somebody for a disease.
As a post-script. There are those that have tried to justify their mockery with the fact that Paula Deen is now working with a pharmaceutical company. It’s not diabetes that’s funny! It’s not that we need to talk about her eating habits (although we will)! It’s that it’s so hypocritical for her to keep us in the dark about her health until she is getting paid for it!
Like it was hypocritical for Katy Perry to not walk around shouting about her acne before she signed up with Proactiv. Or for Kelsey Grammer to not advertise Camille’s IBS before his endorsement with GlaxoSmithKline. Or for Bob Dole to not spout off about his erectile dysfunction before Viagra paid him a bunch of money to do it.
Celebrities get paid to endorse things. That is their job. Pretending like the outcry is okay because Deen didn’t disclose a health issue until she had made a business agreement is ludicrous. If you want to be an asshole and criticize somebody for being sick, at least be upfront about it.