Takedown: Paula Deen-abetes

SusanOp Ed33 Comments


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!

Image taken from http://www.susanweinernutrition.com/2012/01/chef-paula-deen-admits-to-battling-type-2-diabetes/

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.

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I am old and wise.Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.
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SusanTakedown: Paula Deen-abetes

33 Comments on “Takedown: Paula Deen-abetes”

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  1. Profile photo of bricorama

    Thank you Susan! This was much needed. The post I’ve seen about her diabetes were so offensive and unnecessary… And triggering as my grandfather died of heart disease and diabetes. Was he overweight? Did he eat fatty foods? Yes. But he was a great man and good father and losing him was the most difficult thing to deal with in my entire life.

  2. Profile photo of NomadiCat

    I loved this piece when I saw it posted yesterday, but (and I never thought I’d say this about any comments section on the internet aside from Shapely Prose) I think I love the comments even more. 28 comments on a piece about weight and health  and nary a bit of vitriol to be seen? I don’t know if there’s some bad ass modding going on  behind the scenes or if it’s just the wonderful community here at Persephone, but kudos and cupcakes for everyone!

  3. Profile photo of Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone
    Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

    I honestly have never cared one way or another about Paula Deen. Truly. I think I only knew she existed because of the meme about her adding butter to everything. Which is fine, what ever, I know lots of butter fond people.

    I’m still super disappointed that people are making fun of her because she’s developed diabetes. Seriously? Ugh.

  4. Profile photo of Monica

    I don’t know anyone who has been mocking her and I’m really thankful I don’t have the type of friends who would – probably because some of my friends have diabetes (One of them has it as a result of complications with hormonal birth control, so go figure). My father and grandfather have diabetes too (though I feel horrible now because I don’t even know what kind). Saying that a certain kind of “lifestyle” or “diet” automatically leads to a disease completely removes all the other factors that could have an effect. And if you don’t know a person, and if you don’t have a medical degree, you have no business claiming you “know” how it happened or passing judgments.

  5. Profile photo of CijiTheGeek

    I posted a status calling out the  fat-shaming of Paula Deen any I was disappointed by many of my friends comments.

    Check out this gem by Friend L:

    I think it was so dirty of her to continue promoting an unhealthy lifestyle when she changed her own. I think it’s wrong for Paula to have been diagnosed with the disease years ago and still continue to promote the use of doughnuts as bread for hamburger knowing she is not eating that way all of the time. You are the brand! She made lifestyle changes years ago in order for her to survive with diabetes. She is controlling it with medication and DIET. That is what I think is wrong. You are still telling people to pile the butter on butter on lard knowing you have changed your own lifestyle and moved away from that.

    Wait… what? She hosts a cooking show.  Who cares what she eats on the daily? Does anyone who watches her show think she’s eating like that all the time?!  So if I host a cooking show about the best way to cook turkey, and I eat fish in real life, is that “dirty” of me?

    and this one from Friend S:

    public figures, like Dean need to keep it real and encourage people to mix it up with low fat, lower sodium alternatives to the down home classics. She can do a lot of good by informing people that you cannot eat that way all the time and telling her own personal story can probably help a lot of people.

    Because that’s the point of her show, right? I’m really tired of the idea that entertainers have some kind of responsibility to educate the public is ridiculous to me. Paula Deen owes the public nothing. You don’t like the way she cooks? Don’t watch her show.


    1. Profile photo of Meghan Young Krogh
      Meghan Young Krogh

      It’s telling that your friend describes individual meals as “lifestyles.” Until she starts bathing in butter, decorating with sodium, and voting on the animal fat ticket, I don’t think Ms. Deen has passed into “lifestyle” promotion just yet.

  6. Profile photo of twiddle

    Really, if you compare most of Paula Deen’s recipes with that of other top chefs (either restaurant chefs or Food Network chefs), PD’s food isn’t as rich/caloric/etc as a lot of others’. But it is delicious- she’s got this make-ahead french toast casserole breakfast thing that I will leap onto the kitchen counter and fight for. And like you say, it’s not necessarily about the calories/contents/foods one eats. I hate that she’s getting such grief from the public/media.

    Unrelated: My brother was on one of Paula Deen’s shows (he showed her how to throw pizza dough and made calzones with her- the funny part being that he may be tall and dark haired, but we’re very much Scotch-Irish). She goosed him.

  7. Profile photo of Michelle Miller
    Michelle Miller

    I posted this post to my Facebook wall so FAST!

    I feel like “fat” is such a symbol for stupidity, shame, and lack of self-control in this society, and I want to change that fact. There is never an excuse for mocking the suffering and illness of another human being, whether that illness is an STD, mental, or diabetes.

    Remember what your mother TAUGHT you, for heaven’s sake, people!

  8. Profile photo of [E] Selena MacIntosh*
    [E] Selena MacIntosh*

    I love watching Paula, she’s a delightful character and I feel terrible that she’s going to have to deal with being diabetic for the rest of her life. There are many people with both type I and type II diabetes in my family, I’ve seen first hand how scary it can be if it’s not managed correctly. I’ve also seen my dad, who’s pushing 70, be healthy and thrive once he managed his diabetes with diet and exercise. I’m so glad he chose to treat his disease, b/c it means I get to have him around longer.

    It’s great that there are drugs available to help those with diabetes manage their conditions, in addition to the low glycemic index diet and exercise. However, the drug Paula is endorsing is one that prices out anyone who can’t afford or doesn’t have insurance that will cover a $500/month script.  I think the whole celebrity-endorsed prescription drug racket is ridiculous, however. You know who’s an expert on prescription drugs? Doctors, nurses and pharmacists.  You know who isn’t? Celebrities.

    Mocking is never cool, but I don’t think giving this whole spectacle the side-eye makes anyone an asshole, is what I guess I’m saying.

      1. Profile photo of Meghan Young Krogh
        Meghan Young Krogh

        It was my understanding that, at least type-2 diabetics, have to manage both their blood glucose (sugar/carbs) and blood fat in order to manage diabetes effectively, but it was also my understanding that that didn’t mean ruling out fats entirely so much as choosing which ones were most conducive to healthy arteries and so forth. Butter (and most other animal fats) tend to be rougher on arterial health, but that in and of itself should have no bearing on causing or contributing to diabetes. It’s more like, “now that you have to manage this, doing X with high fat food will make Y diabetes treatment easier/more effective.”

    1. Profile photo of Susan

      I agree that celebrities shouldn’t be telling us what to do/eat/take/etc., but I also think that most people don’t bat an eye when Katy Perry tells you to use proactiv, or that-lady-from-Who’s-The-Boss tells me to donate to ASPCA.  Or to save the children.  Or something.  This is very, very, very vague.

      What I do disagree with, though, is hiding behind that if that’s the only celebrity for which it is a problem.  Does that make sense?  To me, this whole thing smacks of “she’s fat!  she’s fat!  now we have a chance to make fun of her because she’s fat!” and then, when it has to be justified, it’s “but she’s shilling for a drug company!”.  If celebrities shilling for companies bug somebody, all such instances should, and not just those which involve a fat person.

      Not that I’m saying you are hiding behind it – but I think a lot of people who are complaining about the pharmaceutical side of things are just using it as an excuse.

      1. Profile photo of [E] Selena MacIntosh*
        [E] Selena MacIntosh*

        Heh, if it makes you feel better, I ranted just as loudly at Bob Dole. I don’t necessarily blame just the celeb, I think the whole prescription drug advertising market is a travesty. I blame the drug companies, the networks/magazines/whatnot that sell them advertising space, the stupid laws that made it legal in the first place (it was illegal until about 15 years ago) AND the celebrities. Telling someone to donate to the ASPCA isn’t encouraging consumers to badger their doctors for a script after self-diagnosing. Same with Pro-Active, that’s an over-the-counter acne treatment with limited side effects.

        I’m probably as fat as Paula Deen, she could be non-corporeal and I’d still rant about celeb drug endorsements.

        1. Profile photo of Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone
          Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

          A friend of mine from Israel came to the states, and was APPALLED by all the advertisements on TV for prescription drugs. Apparently that is considered medical negligence or something to her? The idea that it’s ok in the states to market meds directly to the average, inadequately educated about medicine consumer was just… appalling to her.

          1. Profile photo of Teri Drake-Floyd
            Teri Drake-Floyd

            It is kind of appalling to me as well. I’ve come to feel used to it, because those celebrity-endorsed drug ads are everywhere, but I don’t like it. You have Sally Field selling you osteoporosis meds, Claire Danes and Brooke Shields promoting lash-growth drugs, Bob Doyle selling viagra, and everything in between. To me, it gives the product in question less credibility because I internally doubt that it works as wlel as the claims and rather that the company just paid off a celeb.

            That said, Paula isn’t the first and won’t be the last celebrity to endorse a drug, so I can’t fault her without faulting everyone else that has participated in the same thing.

  9. Profile photo of Teri Drake-Floyd
    Teri Drake-Floyd

    I love Paula Deen unabashedly (I’ve even written articles about her for this magazine myself — shameless plug). Not just becuase she’s a Georgia gal, but because she’s bubbly, vivacious and makes no apologies for waht she wants to cook or eat. She’s charming and her recipes are delicious. I make her macaroni and cheese for holidays and it always goes rapidly.

    Do I eat her ‘type’ of food every day? No way. Do I care if she does? No way. Because what she eats is her choice and I’m a human being with free will who can choose not to eat her recipes every day. She exists as a person with choices and it doesn’t effect me whatsoever what she eats, what she prepares, and what diseases she may or may not have as a result.

    People can wax on as much as they like about how it’s a health issue and she’s irresponsible because her recipes are fattening until the cows come home, but the fact of the matter is, they are all just b.s. excuses for fat shaming her. Because she isn’t a perfect size 2 and makes no apologies for herself, her personality, her recipes or her brand. All the reasons that I love her so much. And if she can make a few dollars off a shitty health situation, more power to her. I venture that a lot of us would do the same thing were we able to.


    1. Profile photo of Linotte Melodieuse
      Linotte Melodieuse

      I think she is someone to be applauded.  She learned how to work through her anxieties and got through some tough times and look where she is now.

      There is nothing wrong with butter.  Yes, it has saturated fat, but margarine has trans fat, which is just as bad.  Plus butter tastes better versus margarine when used for cooking.  Any seasoned cook or chef can tell you that.  Paula makes it very clear!


      And I like her.  She is just funny and fun to watch.



  10. Profile photo of mxandb

    I want to punch Diabetes in the face.

    Paula Deen gave me the best damn green-bean casserole ever created. And you know what? It’s not even as rich as other recipes I’ve seen. The woman is brilliant with food, presentation and entertainment. She is full of life.

    And if anyone tried to put her down for this disease, which has genetic links as well!, I will punch them in the face instead.


  11. Profile photo of Meghan Young Krogh
    Meghan Young Krogh

    Thanks for this, Susan. I think a lot of people respond, like you say, out of fear or at least discomfort with something that they’re worried about (like fat, or being ill). They look for little loopholes to justify over-the-top reactions to these situations, possibly believing that responding critically to someone’s illness is “edgy” or “insightful” or “brutally honest.”

    How about just brutal?

  12. Profile photo of magnetic+crotch

    I totally agree with your assessment here. People do not deserve to be mocked for their illnesses.

    However, in a somewhat OT note, Paula Deen is still a problematic figure for me, primarily because of her association with Smithfield. Smithfield is a horrible company that has been terribly abusive to its workers, and Deen ignored all calls to end her association with them, and basically said that Smithfield workers were lucky to have their jobs. The Smithfield workers were eventually able to unionize and therefore gain some health care coverage, but I can’t really think about Deen in the same way considering her reaction.

    So victimizing and shaming her about her health is still wrong, but I don’t feel positive about her at all.

  13. Profile photo of jen*

    Know what I like about Paula Deen?  She makes some good-@ss food.  And she’s hilarious.  I’m sorry she has diabetes, because that must suck, loving food the way she does.  One thing I know is that dietary restrictions come with diabetes, and they aren’t fun.

    I think most of us are so insecure about ourselves, whenever we see someone fall/fail/hurt who we view as doing better than us, or doing something we want to do, we silently (or not-so-silently) cheer with the schadenfreude of it all.  And since there are so many of us feeling the same way, we give each other permission to be loud about it, or be a-holes about it.  Even though we know it’s not cool.

    Anyway, good luck to Paula.  I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t end up like her. (Not the rich part, just the diabetes part.)

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