Poor Paula Deen

So, it’s true. Paula Deen does have type 2 diabetes, and she is shilling for a pharmaceutical firm that makes a leading diabetes treatment drug.

Cue the fat-shaming.

Of course, people are saying. Look at how she cooks. Look at how she eats. The comments have been ruthless, and they definitely focus on her looks. She’s a pig, a sow, a fat slob, someone with a grating voice and terrifying face. And some of these comments, which you’d expect in a comment section from anonymous trolls, are showing up in the copy of articles in reputable papers. Just to make sure we’re getting the full story, I guess.

She’s also getting shamed for cashing in—first, she made money teaching people how to eat to become diabetic, now, she’s making money as a spokesperson for a diabetes drug.

I’m going to hold back on being too judgmental for the moment. I don’t think anyone deserves to get a disease, and I’m not happy when someone gets one.

Could she have eaten better personally, and presented healthier meals on her television show?

I’m sure personally she doesn’t eat nearly as excessively as we might imagine she does. I doubt that any chef with a cooking show actually whips up the same sorts of meals three times a day for “personal use” that he or she concocts for the at-home audience.

As for presenting healthier cooking on her show, well, can you name any other cooking shows, or really, any live-action shows, on the airwaves in these United States of Excess that extoll moderation? Isn’t there a show that features a guy who travels around the world eating monkey eyeballs and squid testicles? Would she really have been able to make a career out of being Paula Deen, the queen of moderately healthy southern cooking who substitutes unsweetened applesauce for butter?

Like it or not, our infotainment culture rewards excess and larger-than-life personalities. Paula Deen, bless her heart, overcame some pretty massive personal issues and figured out a way to exploit that culture to her great economic benefit. Now, faced with the revelation that she’s got a disease that suggests the meals she’s been cooking aren’t all that good for you, she’s found another way to keep the cash flow positive.

It’s not too often that, as a culture, we criticize people for finding a way to make money. But Paula Deen seems to be attracting the same level of vitriol as Martha Stewart, and something about that just doesn’t smell right to me.

I watched the clip of Al Roker, who famously lost so much weight and has maintained that loss, interviewing her on the Today Show. The most telling part of the interview came at the end, when she started to talk about her son’s show which will (or maybe already is) promoting healthier recipes. Too late to talk about healthy habits! The segment was coming to an end, and there was no real time to talk about healthy eating. Plenty of time for shaming, for scolding, and for her opportunity to offer a public mea culpa (which she really didn’t), but healthy eating tips aren’t good television.

Maybe I’m giving her too much benefit of the doubt here. Maybe, as a person who has always loved to bake decadent, fat-and-sugar-laden desserts for the people I love, I’m taking this too personally. I’d like to think that I might have used my position and fame a little differently than Paula were I in her shoes.

But I’m not, and I still reflexively go on the defensive when everyone else gangs up on the fat person who should’ve known better and now deserves gleeful, public excoriation.

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4 Responses to Poor Paula Deen

  1. I saw the Today Show segment. And, yes, both her sons have been promoting healthier recipes for some time now. But IMO she was plugging his show, not trying to suddenly change the paradigm to healthy eating.

    I adore Paula. I think she has spunk and a great personality. She makes me smile. But I have never cooked even one of her foods. And when I ate in her restaurant it was many years ago before she was famous and before I had so many food issues.

    I am disappointed in her. It does seem the timing was set to coincide with her commercial deal for medicine. She has known about her diagnosis for three years!! I think she has every right to cook what she wants and to make the recipes and books she wants, but I think it is almost dishonest to do so without disclosing that she has a disease that is often connected to just that kind of eating. Not necessarily entirely from eating, I know. But still. How about a disclaimer?

    And, I think she had a great opportunity to be an amazing role model in all this. It is not something she HAS to do, but certainly something where she could have a potentially huge positive impact.

    Sorry, Paula. I think you should could have handled this better. I’m hoping for great things though, now that you have come public.

    • Andie says:

      I definitely think this will lead to something else, and I’m with you on hoping she becomes an amazing role model. Thanks for your comment (as always!) – I did go back & she really did seem to be shoehorning in that plug at the end more than signaling a paradigm shift.

      Prepare for random musings – I think the entertainment world is a tricky place to look for role models. I’m sitting here thinking about a disclaimer on her show would work, and trying to think of other instances in which a similar one would be warranted (and how much attention gets paid to it). The situations would have to be those in which a character/personality was promoting a behavior or activity that could be harmful to those watching if they tried to emulate it. Should America’s Next Top Model or the runway shows in Fashion Week (or the Victoria’s Secret fashion show / prime-time commercial) have a disclaimer about how many models smoke, do drugs, or have eating disorders in order to maintain their modeling weight? Or Glamour, Cosmo, et al. have disclaimers about airbrushing?

      Those were the first analogous situations that came to mind for me, and it bugged me they were largely woman-specific, so I came up with disclaimers on those stunt shows like Mythbusters or the Jackass movies (I’ve not actually watched the show, just clips or spoofs, so don’t know if they have disclaimers). But those, interestingly, are shows in which daring behavior that is external to the body are dangerous (blowing up a replica of the Hindenburg, going off a ski jump in a shopping cart), where the modeling or cooking/Paula examples are about women’s bodies themselves and what we should or should not put into them.

      Totally odd thought – should re-run episodes of Two & A Half Men have disclaimers about what happens if you behave like Charlie Sheen and/or his character in the show?!

      Often, I see women in those positions being held to a standard that doesn’t always get applied to men in the same way. I wonder if Anthony Bourdain has gone public with similarly withering comments about male chefs who are overweight (which we read, culturally, as unhealthy, regardless of a person’s actual health status) like Mario Batali, who, one could say, looks objectively more similar to Paula Deen in his physique than Rachel Ray does. Because Bourdain went after Ray for endorsing Dunkin Donuts. I don’t know about her health, but culturally we read her thin body as meaning she is healthy (even if she is not).

      There’s a whole ‘nother level of gloss, comparing the type of food that Ray and Deen cook to what Batali and Bourdain cook …

      Another thing the disclaimer thought makes me wonder about – are we more likely to expect a woman to become a role model and start to preach changed behavior when faced with a perceived failing/fault than we are a man? That certainly seems like part of the celebrity narrative arc for both men and women – big public fail, hit rock bottom, then hit the talk shows promoting your recovery story that is conveniently documented in your book? Lord knows I’m kind of doing that by blogging about the (so-far short-term) success I’m having getting my own health & weight under control.

      Well, it’s early in the morning and my mind is muddled, but I guess my point is that there are some layers to how we put these entertainers into a cultural context that make it less appealing to me to see them as role models, especially when it comes to how gender roles and expectations get superimposed on that analysis. In a weird way, I think I see most entertainers & media personalities as anti-role models and then am pleasantly surprised to see them rise above that and prove me wrong.

      Just throwing these thoughts out there. I’m not always sure where they’ll land. 😀

  2. Shonnie says:

    Karen,
    That is so easy for us to say about Paula. I took me time to accept my type 2 diabetes. I didn’t want to accept that I could not eat like everyone in my family eats. I think it is completely unfair that some people can eat worse than most fat people yet remain trim — they get credit for choosing wisely, but most of the time it is just a genetic lottery win for them and big time loss for those of us who can’t.

    Are you young? Because 3 years is a very short time to process such a weighty subject (pun intended). I have been battling with my problems for more than 20 years and have only JUST in the last year figured out solutions that would work for my body. Paula is just a human being. She is nothing more or less than we are. The other thing is — if you were a public figure would you want to have to admit to the world that you had made yourself sick with the foods you cooked and ate? I know I would NOT want to do that–it would take processing. She has family to think about, what would happen to her son’s if she blew it for them with her health? I could see how that would take time to process.

    I would NEVER want the treatment that she has received … so I could never wish it for her.

    I agree Andie — it doesn’t smell right to me either. I think people love to see successful people fail. So many rejoice when people fall, who are doing better in the world than they themselves are doing. I really don’t understand envy well the bible tells us not to rejoice even when evil doers fall … for there but for the grace of God could be us all … I guess that was the meaning behind that. I am a mercy first person. I hate to see people jump and beat the fallen. Maybe she shouldn’t have taken drug money, but who knows what coming out with the truth will cost her with everything else she has built. I admire what she has done, even with what it cost her. I love her recipies and use them for special occasions — modify them also to fit my personal needs. What cha wanna bet she will be able to do the same with her stuff and give us all great things to eat again — that will be slightly more healthy.

    I personally can’t follow the diabetic foundations advice if I want my numbers to go down. The more I follow their advice the higher my numbers go and the more meds I had to take. We shall see what develops. Be totally cool if she went Paleo/Primal. Lord help me we would have some GREAT FOOD! And Great health!

    Love your heart Andie 🙂

    • Andie says:

      Thank you! Your comment kind of made me cry a little bit. I think it really in large part was the savage, gleeful way so many people reacted to the news that made me feel hurt by proxy.

      For years, even when I was overweight, I had low blood pressure and pretty decent, in the normal range, cholesterol and other numbers. Doctors always seemed a little disappointed and perplexed to see that, given how I looked. I hated that. So seeing her have to deal with this so publicly, even if she doesn’t do it the way I might want or hope I could do it, feels so personal to me, even though I really barely know anything about her. Then, having such a personal/emotional response made me do what I usually do when I start to experience upsetting emotions – I tried to distance myself, to intellectualize it and analyze it. At least it didn’t trigger a raid on the frozen bag of M&Ms that I’m proud and shocked to say is still in my freezer five weeks after I put it there!

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