Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Because I'm Fat, Isn't It

Somehow, it got to be a huge (pun intended) story that American Idol has been accused of weight bias by a teenager who was in the audience. Mind you, this is a show that has featured fat contestants.

From reading this Associated Press article from Lynn Elber, there doesn't seem to be any corroborating evidence to back the claim of 19-year-old Ashley Kauffman of Riverside, California of being told she was too fat to sit in the front row. Even one of the others in her group is quoted as saying nobody else in the group heard Idol staff telling her that.

To me, Kauffman's claims are highly doubtful. Who tells an audience member, someone the staffer wants to be cheerful and enthusiastic on camera, that she's fat?

But let's assume for the sake of discussion that someone actually said to her, "You’re too fat to sit in the front row."

This is a television show we're talking about. It isn't a public school, or a city council meeting. It is their show, they should be able to set the rules and arrange their audience the way that works best for them.

It doesn't matter how many Americans get overweight or obese. It isn't attractive to most people, and it isn't what most people want to see on TV. I write this as someone who has been fat. But reading through the article and actually watching the show, I find it hard to believe the claim.

According to a FremantleMedia statement, Kauffman and five other friends were among the first to arrive for the show and were told that there were "six great seats" available, three in one row and three in another.

The group agreed to split up and Kauffman "did not sit alone or in the back of the house" as she alleged, FremantleMedia said. "In fact, she and her remaining party were seated just four rows behind their friends, directly in camera shot, in some of the best seats in the house."

Kauffman was in a row that included a VIP guest of judge Steven Tyler, Westphal said. They were a few rows behind the judge's table in a spot that has been featured on camera before, he said.

What does a witness say?

Hannah Solarzano, 19, said Tuesday that she was part of Kauffman's group, which traveled from suburban Riverside to Los Angeles for the show but hadn't met her before that night. Solarzano said she was seated next to Kauffman and didn't hear any insults being directed at her.

"Nobody started talking about the comment that was supposedly made to Ashley until she brought it up," Solarzano said. "I never heard those words except from her."

While she couldn't support her account, Solarzano said, it obviously stings to be labeled as overweight.

"You don't call a girl `fat,' ever. It's code," Solarzano said. "I understand how upsetting that can be. But, c'mon, honey, it's `American Idol.' You've got to move on from there. Big deal."

Exactly. Move on.

But, like most reality shows, the "Idol" audience and contestants generally have reflected American diversity, including when it comes to size.

An examination of a recording of the episode attended by Kauffman showed that it opened with a sweeping camera shot that included a cross-section of audience members, including some who could be characterized as plus-size.

So while the headline of the story is attention-grabbing, the article itself appears to debunk the claim.

If you're fat, do something about it other than being overly sensitive. Your life will be better if you get fit. I'm not talking about being ten pounds overweight (which can acually look good, depending). I'm talking about really being fat. Lose the weight, and things will be better.

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