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November 15, 2005

Pride and Prejuidice (and fat-suits and supermodels)

Tbanks You may have heard about a recent episode of the Tyra Banks Show where Tyra Banks donned what’s becoming the neverending fat-suit, (let's not forget about Gwyenth, Eddie, Courtney, et al) setting out to experience life as a 350-pound woman.

Below is the transcript from the CNN interview about Banks experience, conducted by Sibilia Vargas. At the end there is an insightful commentary from Marilyn Wann, author of Fat?SO! trying to make a sense of the random experiences of prejudice that Banks experienced. Wann's comments mirrored my thoughts – "big deal, the world isn’t kind to fat people (or thin people or short people or tall people for that matter), the real Wann9903_1outrage are the women and men that preemptively discriminate against themselves because of their own opinions of their body."

Editing your life to avoid situations and people that might not approve of your weight is the real burden of being overweight. And the second part of that is not objecting to others prejudicial behavior, which makes you complicit in approving such boorish behavior.

Read on and decide for yourself.

PHILLIPS: Next, Tyra Banks goes from modeling the bare necessities for Victoria's Secret to, oh, about 350 pounds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Model Tyra Banks is turning heads tonight not because she's shockingly beautiful -- that wouldn't be news, right -- no, she's getting attention for something else, something she did that aired earlier today on her TV show. Here's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recognize this woman? How about now? Lots of people didn't recognize super hot supermodel Tyra Banks as a 350-pound woman
BANKS: As soon as I steps off the bus, I saw three people turn and laugh right in my face. I was stunned.

VARGAS: That's right. The first African-American model to grace "Sports
Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition," host of "America's Next Top Model" and one of "People" magazine's 50 most beautiful people in the world was treated like anything but beautiful.

(on camera): You said it was a heartbreaking experience.

BANKS: Uh-huh.

You're going to make me tear up. It just was heartbreaking because it was so in your face. You know it was so in my face. And I'm like, I couldn't believe it.

VARGAS (voice-over): Banks said she decided to put on the hefty fat suit and prosthetics and feel what it's like to be overweight.

BANKS: The most important thing for this to work was that the suit had to be me, only bigger, 200 pounds bigger.

Just when he started putting the neck on, I got emotional. I got emotional. And
it wasn't that I got emotional like looking in the mirror and seeing myself and oh, that's not so attractive. It wasn't that. It was almost like a precursor. I knew. I had a feeling about what was going to happen that day.

VARGAS: Hidden cameras captured her experience for the "Tyra Banks Show" as she
hit two trendy L.A. spots.

BANKS: The first door I walked into was a popular Celebrity Boutique. Walking in, I felt a bit uncomfortable. As I walked through the store, I felt the cold stares. And I even heard snickering from some people shopping.

VARGAS: And watch what happens as she meets one of three blind dates.

BANKS: I'm not sitting here desperate, but as you can imagine, I'm a big girl and I have to live this life being a big girl.

Oh, you don't have to imagine? What do you mean you don't have to imagine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see. I have eyes.

BANKS: Yeah. Well, that wasn't nice.

The first guy had to take a shot. He sat down, he immediately ordered a drink and told me he had to take a shot to get through it.

VARGAS: Banks said the experience changed her life forever. And she now has a greater appreciation for what obese people live through.

(on camera): You could take that off.

BANKS: Yes.

VARGAS: But another person may not be able to do that.

BANKS: Another person cannot take it off. Not overnight at least not, like I could. Not in the matter of -- it took me a couple of hours to take it off, actually. They can't do that. They can't do that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: And that was Sibila Vargas. Joining me now is someone who fights for the rights of overweight people. Marilyn Wann is a civil rights activist and author of "Fat? So."

Marilyn, good to see you.

MARILYN WANN, AUTHOR: Hi.

PHILLIPS: It's not just the gossip and the looks and the snickering as Tyra Banks talks about, but there are so many other forms of discrimination that overweight people deal with, right?

WANN: Well, it should come as no surprise to people in this culture that is so weight obsessed that fat people can be treated badly pretty much everywhere we go: on the job, if we are hired for a job, on the streets in dating, in our doctor's offices. That should be no surprise.

And the fact that people are only going to care about that when a thin person puts on a fat suit is exactly the problem.

PHILLIPS: Well Marilyn, what do you say to...

WANN: I've been talking about this stuff for 12 years and so many people have been raising the issue. So I'm ready for things to change.

PHILLIPS: Let me ask you this. Some people might say, wow, it's awful how people treat those that are overweight, but, you know, let's talk about getting healthy. Let's talk about losing weight. Let's talk about living longer. What
do you say to those people that say, but there's so much more you -- you even heard Tyra Banks say, I can take the weight off, if I concentrated, I can loose the weight.

WANN: That's a big completely incorrect fantasy that everybody could look like Tyra Banks if they tried hard enough.

PHILLIPS: I agree with you on that one.

WANN: I'm a proud. I'm a proud -- and I don't want to. I enjoy looking like me because I'm a proud fat person. I'm not -- I mean, call me overweight if you want to, but that's a judgment. And when you look at me, you have no idea how I eat or how I exercise, which is incredibly well. Or how healthy I am, which is that I'm healthy. And the only thing you can predict by looking at a fat person is your own level of stereotype and prejudice.

PHILLIPS: So, how do you say to somebody, look, you've got to look past this. For example, how do you tell a man, look beyond the fact that I'm overweight. Look at me and realize I'm a...

WANN: I'm not asking people to look beyond the fact that I'm fat.

PHILLIPS: No, but people might come to you -- but you are very unique. You are very confident. You know you are beautiful. You feel fantastic about who you are and how you look. But so many other people aren't as confident as you. So how do you say to them, look, this is how you have to exude confidence. How do you say to people that discriminate against those that are overweight to stop judging, to stop discriminating?

WANN: My confidence comes from the fact that I refuse to buy a system that treats me badly. And the system of fat prejudice is treating thin people badly, too. It's judging them based on their appearance and it's making them fit into narrow little boxes that they have to worry about.

So I say to all of us that we have to demand respect. And when I was a kid growing up, I was inspired by the civil rights movement. There was a piece of graffiti near my house that had a big fist and it said black is beautiful. And what a silly thing to even ever have to say. It should be obvious. Thank goodness we have a little bit of an understanding about how black people are beautiful and how black people are people. And I am raising my pudgy little fist and I'm saying, fat is beautiful. Fat people are people. And we need to start acting that way. All of us.

PHILLIPS: Marilyn Wann, thanks for your time tonight.

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