"Will she fit into the lift?"
"How many steps will she have to take to get to the interview?"
"Is there a comfortable chair that will accommodate her six-foot-three, 'super-morbidly-obese' frame?
These are the questions an interviewer at Mamamia, an Australia-based women's magazine, posed in a podcast about author and professor Roxane Gay's visit. Gay was there to promote her new memoir, Hunger, which details her life through the lens of her body.
Though the interviewer, Mia Freedman, continues to say that none of these questions were "disclosed with a mean spirit," and that they were simply a way to frame the discussion about Gay's book, the "innocent" questions clearly struck a nerve not only with Gay, but also with many of her fans — and for good reason.
The way we talk about bodies, and especially fat bodies, matters.
Gay is fat. She calls herself fat, and is open about how having a large body affects the way she moves through the world, which is exactly why questions like these are so appalling.
At about the same time that the news of Mamamia's insensitive podcast started to spread, Gay graced our television screens in an interview with The Daily Show, speaking about taking up space as a fat woman, and how that shapes her experiences.
"At the grocery store people make commentary on what's in your cart," she said. "They'll take food out of your cart."
She also gets unsolicited health and nutrition advice, and people who tell her that "maybe she should exercise" like it's a thought that has never occurred to her before.
"The bigger you become, the smaller your world gets," she said.
While she does have requests when visiting magazines and talk shows, Gay tweeted that only one of the requests Freedman revealed in the podcast was (half) true: she asks for a sturdy chair.
We can guarantee that she didn't specifically ask for a chair that can hold her "super-morbidly-obese" frame.
In the podcast, Freedman shies away from using the word "fat" — a word that Gay uses to describe herself — in favour of this much more offensive term.
"There's obese, then there's morbidly obese, and then there is super morbidly obese. I don't think the scale goes beyond that, quite literally," Freedman said.
While many people, like Gay, have been reclaiming the word "fat" as a descriptor rather than an insult, "obese" and "overweight" are still offensive. These words are clinical and cold, and they make it seem as if bodies are healthy only up to a certain weight — and that crossing that line makes a body bad or sick. "Morbidly obese" only furthers that stigma.
Words like this helped to shape the social perception of fat people that Gay speaks out against about in her book, and in the Daily Show interview.
Fat people are considered inherently unhealthy, lazy, and sometimes unintelligent. So while Freedman claims that her podcast was only adding to the conversation about size, wondering whether or not Gay would fit into an elevator or would be able to walk to an interview hinges on the perception of her body as one that doesn't belong.
Mamamia released a statement following the podcast's criticism, claiming that they are "a publisher that’s consistently championed body diversity and representation in the media," and apologising that "our execution of this story hasn’t contributed in the way we intended."
They have since removed the original post and edited the beginning of the podcast.