The cast of characters…
Karl Lagerfeld: German-born fashion designer, associated with the likes of Chanel and Fendi (aka $$$$ clothing and accessories brands)
Adele: English singer and songwriter, who just won 6 Grammys this year, known for her heart-wrenching (and quite catchy) songs about “rubbish” relationships
What does one have to do with the other?
Lagerfeld, also guest editor at the global free newspaper Metro, was opining on various topics on 2/6/12, including Adele. Of the singer, Lagerfeld had this to say: “The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat but she has a divine face and a beautiful voice” (http://www.metro.us/newyork/life/article/1089980–karl-lagerfeld-on-lana-del-rey-the-greek-crisis-and-m-i-a-s-middle-finger).
That’s right. He called her fat. If this is news to you, take a moment to notice your reaction. And if you’d heard this before, try to remember your initial thought or feeling about Adele being “a little too fat.”
Outrage seems to be the general consensus: (just for starters, check out Anderson Cooper’s take: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/the-ridiculist/ and The New Yorker‘s: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/lauren-collins/2012/02/karl-v-adele.html).
And that’s what I’d like to explore today: the outrage. Women and men are attacking Lagerfeld (Cooper called him a “chronic foot in mouth sufferer”) and his weight history, with Lauren Collins of The New Yorker noting that Lagerfeld used to be 90-plus pounds heavier than he is now. She continues, “Lagerfeld’s favorite hobby, since becoming skinny, seems to be making fun of other people’s weight.”
Sounds like a case of internalized sizeism to me. (Note: while a quick bing search of “internalized sizeism” turns up no hits, I’m running with it.) I propose that internalized sizeism is the adoption of attitudes that devalue and even outright hate the idea of “fatness” and anyone who embodies it. As a person who works in a size 0 industry, Lagerfeld has internalized a sizeist attitude that makes him critical of anyone who is or could be considered “fat”–including himself. One could even argue that to Lagerfeld, anyone unlikable is therefore “fat,” as the two qualities are synonymous in his mind. (Case in point: in response to a magazine’s announcement that it would be using “ordinary, realistic” women instead of models in its photos, Lagerfeld dismissed the “absurd” idea, proposing that “[the critics who don’t like the models] “are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly” http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/12/lagerfeld-size-zero-thin-models). In Lagerfeld logic, the “mummies” are ridiculous, and therefore must be fat.
The thing about internalized sizeism, like internalized racism or sexism, is that it can thrive in silence. One need not shout one’s fat-phobia into a media megaphone to hold sizeist attitudes near and dear to one’s heart. Which brings me to the public outrage over Lagerfeld’s putting his foot in his mouth (which is itself an interesting charge: is the problem that he felt the need to judge a singer by her size, or that he was dumb enough to say it aloud?)
As I read the vehement protests over Lagerfeld’s most recent act of sizeism, I’ve had to wonder how many of us protestors are not just speaking out against Lagerfeld’s remark, but against our fears of our own, internalized sizeism: Are we afraid of our inner Lagerfelds? And in condemning him, are we trying to absolve ourselves from any sizeist thoughts that we may know better than to utter but that we know still lurk in the periphery of how we perceive ourselves and others?
I know it’s something, at least for me, to think about.
Ironic side note: in his Metro interview, Lagerfeld also noted (on the subject of alleged racist remarks by a British football player), “[People] say a thing and then they forget what they said. It’s very difficult today, as you open your mouth and everything is printed somewhere. You cannot even make private jokes anymore.”