WTF? Wednesday: Cruel to Be Kind

When it comes to receiving soul-crushing messages about weight, most women are pretty well covered, thanks. But in 1979, Charlton Comics decided that some of us weren’t paying attention. Described as the low-rent district of comics publishing, Charlton packed so much sexist, body-shaming hostility into a single story in Secret Romance #44 that it made even the most regressive women’s magazine look like Ms.

The story’s title is simply: “Fat!” Yes, with an exclamation point.

I’ve been on a romance comics kick lately because of the retro art and often unintentionally hilarious stories. They’re also a reminder that, for all of the ooze that women have to wade through, 2013 America is still preferable to its 1952 counterpart. The urban-legend absurdity of “Fat!” made it irresistible, so off I went to eBay.

Say hello to Miriam Cronin, a single, 22-year-old secretary whose daily ritual of self-loathing includes crying in front of the mirror, weighing herself obsessively and bemoaning (her words) a lack of willpower. By Miriam’s calculations, she should weigh about as much as a female Olympic gymnast. All of her thin girlfriends, even the “skags,” are married. “There’s no hope for you,” Miriam thinks as she walks around her apartment, looking perfectly fine. 

Panel-1

Enter Gordon Williams, the misogynistic douche straight-shooting regional sales manager at Miriam’s workplace. Miriam has high hopes of becoming his secretary, but faster than you can say “human resources violation,” Gordon tells her that even though she’s qualified in every way, her weight is unacceptable. He says this.

Panel2

Unfortunately, the next panel is not a picture of Miriam punching Gordon in the face.

Miriam does not take this well, so Gordon cranks up the humiliation. “Would you like it better if we pretended you aren’t fat?” Hey, Gordon, would you like it better if we pretended you weren’t a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal?

Even if the story had ended there, “Fat!” would be a contender for a WTF? gold medal. However, the creative team – and I use that term very loosely — had more to say about the relationship between BMI and self-actualization. Gordon is such a good guy that he not only sends Miriam to a weight-loss doctor, but also springs for exercise equipment so she can burn calories while hating herself and worrying about being fired.

Panel3

Dick.

Soon, it’s goodbye, pounds and hello, sexual harassment! Noticing Miriam’s shrinking waistline, Gordon begins invading her personal space and creepily asking about her dating status. She finds this hot.

You want a fairy-tale ending? After five weeks of admittedly starving herself, Miriam gets the body and Gordon, the psychologically abusive boyfriend man of her dreams. Because nothing says “soul mate” like a man who uses his authority to force you onto a strict diet and exercise program. For your own good. As long as Miriam never gets pregnant or turns 30, they’ll live happily ever after!

Panel4

OMFG

All jokes aside, it sucks to think that some 14-year-old girl in 1979 read this and was wounded by the message. As someone who spent my entire adolescence obsessing about the numbers on the scale, I know that even a ridiculous story like this can make a girl feel like shit.

Interestingly enough, “Fat!” was published the same year that Nick Lowe’s awesomely biting single “Cruel to Be Kind” hit the top 40. Gordon obviously interpreted the refrain literally.

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15 thoughts on “WTF? Wednesday: Cruel to Be Kind

  1. astounding. simply astounding. i’m trying to picture in my head the person that wrote this garbage as well as the person that drew it…

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  2. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but I’m still shocked. This type of attitude is so common that it was even espoused by the old Wonder Woman comics typically thought of as being so progress. Diana had a heavier friend named Etta Candy who was prone to carrying candy around with her. In Wonder Woman #1 (1942), Diana even tells her “Etta, if you get too fat you can’t catch a man.”

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  3. This comic is beyond ridiculous but women still get these ideas and images of what we should do with our bodies and how we should look in 2013.
    Look at how DC revamped Amanda Waller.
    The more things change the more that they stay the same.

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      • One would almost think they were trying to be the Onion version of the comic book world. A parody within a parody. I mean seriously?! That ending is terrible on so many levels!

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        • It’s funny until it hits home that this crap happened. It still does, just isn’t vocalized quite so matter-of-factly. When I started in sales we still had a few of the old-timers selling for us in the field. One of them, Bill (everybody called him WW) started selling when he got back from WWII and his life was the movie Big Fish. He’d scream and yell at the receptionist when he called in, then at me when she transferred him over, and was horrified when he found out that I was the one typing up all his quotes, not our “girl in the office” (my exact words were “I’M the girl in the office, and if you yell at me again, I’m hanging up on you”. I hung up on him shortly after making that statement). I can say things were still this way up until about 15-20 years ago. By the time I got here, things had changed and dinosaurs like WW were fading into obsolescence.

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    • it almost reads like the author is trying to do a “solid” for all those ladies out there, like it’s a public service announcement.

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