The Fatosphere is abuzz with outrage over the latest incoherent ramblings of Meredith “MeMe” Roth, specifically an outlandish analogy she made in The Guardian between rape and overeating, something she presumes all fat people do. SP extraordinaire SweetMachine nicely summed up the sheer ridiculousness and callousness of the comparison, and other bloggers have also addressed the issue. Roth’s mental instabilities and fatphobia are readily apparent and have been covered well by others, so I don’t want to rehash that here. What I want to add to the conversation are my own personal experiences with Roth that lead me to believe she has serious disordered eating issues and the inflated and misleading representations of her so-called professional expertise that grants her a national platform upon which to project those neuroses.
Monique from BFD and I appeared with Roth in early 2008 on Fox’s The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. I knew of Roth before this show and how monomaniacal she is about her cause, but silly me, I wanted to take the high road. In the greenroom before taping, I approached her, introduced myself (she didn’t reciprocate) and extended my hand. She appeared almost afraid to touch me (understandably as fat is contagious) and finally limply shook my fingers. I thanked her for coming on the show with us, to which she replied snottily, “Always glad to talk about the issue.” I realized then how combative she already was, so I replied “As are we” and walked away. Watch clips from the show here and/or check out Paul’s excellent two-part analysis of it.
After the show and a post-show greenroom recorded interview, I approached Roth again with the intention of following up on some of the things brought up in the latter interview. Believe it or not, she and I actually share some common interests, namely a concern for processed ingredients and chemicals in foods, especially those served in school lunch programs. I also wanted to explain to her that the way she comes across — offensive, abusive, shrill– isn’t likely to win her any supporters. I never got the chance, maybe because on the show I “made that skinny woman look stupid,” as my 23-year-old brother told me. Instead Roth started shouting about all the ugly things said about her the internet, somehow conflating me with the kinds of people who, it appears, regularly send her death threats. (Disclaimer: While I have called Roth’s actions “vile” and questioned her mental health, I have never personally attacked her on this site. My comments here have always been in reference to the complacent absurdity of her actions and campaigns. In fact, I even asked readers to refrain from using thin-bashing language in their comments. And as a Buddhist pacifist, I don’t support violence in any form.)
Roth then tried to explain that we fat people — you know, the same fat people she accuses of being child abusers, unproductive workers, drug addicts, threats to national security and now likens to rape victims — shouldn’t take her anti-obesity rhetoric so personally. Yes, we fat people are just waaaayyy too sensitive. At some point during her harangue, I pointed out to Roth that she doesn’t have a professional medical background — she has a B.A. in journalism and a career in public relations — to which she hotly began rattling off a list of supposed credentials (more on this in a minute). I interrupted her and said, “But those aren’t medical degrees,” which made her even angrier. She then started screaming, “You think it’s easy for me? I have an obese family. I have to work very hard to look like this!”
This, to me, completely explained the enigma that is MeMe Roth. It explained the hatred. The self-loathing. The strident, nasty tone. Why she thinks fat is ugly. People like Roth have to go to extreme measures to justify why it is they do what they do in order to look like they do. If fat people were not so hated, then Roth would have no justification for why she has to “work so hard” to remain thin. At that moment, she seemed like such an embittered, lonely, and obsessed woman that I felt as if I was playing a competitive round of Jeopardy with a three-year-old. Roth then claimed that fat acceptance bloggers distort her words, so I offered to feature her as a guest blogger on my site so that she could clear any misconceptions she feels we have about her. She made some lame excuse about her car and literally ran away from me and that was that. On our way out, my husband said he felt sorry for her and I agreed. I feel incredibly sorry for her, in fact, but I feel more sorry for all the people she hurts.
So, why do news organizations continue to trot out Roth as a “guest expert” on the subjects of obesity and nutrition? Besides being blonde, thin and pretty in a Ann Coulter’ish sort of way, the fact that Roth appears most regularly on Fox News should give some indication as to her legitimacy in being labeled an expert. But Roth is also tapped because of the savvy ways the seasoned marketing flack has styled and aggrandized herself as a anti-obesity crusader and president of a national “advocacy group.” Cases in point:
Misrepresentation #1: The Guardian story also mentions that Roth now runs a private nutrition counseling business — it mercifully isn’t linked to in the story, but you can find it here. Roth’s qualifications in counseling others on healthy eating appear to come solely from a certificate issued by the Institute of Integrative Health based in New York, a course Roth was projected to complete last June. Billing itself as the “world’s largest nutrition school,” the institute offers a part-time, eight-month course after which students emerge somehow qualified to practice as “health counselors.” They can also qualify for “board certification” by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, a misleading endorsement given that the AADP is not recognized or approved by the U.S. Department of Education and is therefore an unaccredited agency.
So, does eight months of weekend classes learning about the Zone, Blood Match and Atkins diets really qualify Roth as an “expert”? Not likely, suggests Dr. Stephen Barrett — a real expert — of the acclaimed website Credential Watch:
The IIN program is open to anyone who is willing to attend and pay tuition. No formal training or nutrition-related knowledge is required…. IIN itself is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Office of Education…
Their training is certainly not based on scientific nutrition as emphasized in the degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. That generally takes 4-7 years and includes basic sciences, dietetics, and closely supervised work with many clients. IIN provides almost none of this.
I personally would not trust someone who lacks scientific training to tailor diets based on dietary needs or who relies on IIN’s teachings to counsel patients… [IIN founder Joshua] Rosenthal’s approach might inspire some people to improve their diet by moving closer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, they may also absorb misconceptions about diet, health, and disease that will ultimately harm them.
Barrett also adds that IIN’s program “appears to be to enable students to find what dietary and activity strategies work best for them and then do the same for clients,” adding that it “teaches—in effect—to use your own experience to inspire others.” The Guardian’s Gaby Wood called Roth out on her own eating habits, pressing a reticent Roth about what she eats for breakfast (she doesn’t) and for lunch (also debatable). Roth tried to dodge the questions but finally fessed up to having not eaten ANYTHING that day despite it being 3:30 in the afternoon, that she refuses to eat before getting in a four-mile run every day and intimated that she is the “master” of finding ways to meet people that do not involve food. If these are the kind of dietary habits she’s “inspiring” in others, god help her clients.
Misrepresentation #2: On Roth’s website, she twice writes that the institute is partnered with Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Domain registration shows that her domain was created (first registered) on Feb. 8, 2008. Columbia University severed its ties with IIN at least a month earlier.
Misrepresentation #3: National Action Against Obesity calls itself “a non-partisan, all-volunteer advocacy group.” Roth is further identified in this New York Times story as “president of an nonprofit organization” — the Times, I’m sure, fact-checked this with her prior to publication. The “organization” she heads is actually a one-woman crusade and is not recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-deductible charity. Guidestar, which maintains a database of 1.8 million federally recognized nonprofit organizations and charities, also has no listing for NAAO. Just to be sure, I checked the official charity registries of three states: New Jersey, where Roth lived several years ago; New York, where she calls home now; and Pennsylvania, where her website appears to be registered to her in-law’s address. None listed NAAO as a registered nonprofit. In multiple press releases issued by Roth, she says that her organization “works independently and as a consultancy.” Which is it, Ms. Roth? Are you a paid consultant or a volunteer? An advocacy group or an independent?
MeMe Roth is not part of the “solution”; she’s part of the problem. In fact, she encapsulates perfectly our dangerous national obsessions with food, body image and puritan ideas about health. For example: On my wedding day I looked beautiful and my thoughts lie more so on my new husband, our life together and please-to-god don’t let me trip in these damn strappy heels. Roth’s thoughts lie elsewhere. From her website:
…I come from a long line of obesity. Growing up, I always knew I’d be fat. After seeing my obese family on my wedding day, the groomsmen wagered how long until the bride would be fat too. Sounds cruel? It’s the same thing everyone in the church was thinking…including me.
From the Guardian story:
When I was in kindergarten,” [Roth] recalls, “no one taught me to be ashamed of obesity, but the day, on my birthday, that my mother was to bring cupcakes to my class, I put my head on the table because I knew that within minutes my mother would be there and everyone was going to know that my mother was fat. I felt ashamed. I was grateful that down the block there was another mother who was fatter than my mother.”
And again, in this ELLE feature on her (which also mentions The-F-Word):
At 5’6″ [Roth] keeps her weight between 120 and 125 pounds [one to two points away from being considered underweight]. She weighs herself every day and says, “The alarms sound when I hit 125!” She also exercises for at least 45 minutes every single day, rain or shine, usually by running four miles and doing some strength work, but since she never knows exactly what time she’s going to squeeze it in, she works in her gym clothes so that she’ll be ready to spring into action.
She consistently shuns sweets such as birthday cake and ice cream, “sixes, sevens” on her scale of desirability, things she can do without, so that once or twice a year, she can indulge in the things she absolutely adores, her “tens,” such as tiramisu, or her favorite handmade chocolate-coconut Easter eggs, or even, gasp, a Coke…
Does this sound like a well-functioning woman with a healthy relationship with food and body? Keep in mind: This is the same woman who would rather that I be thin and anorexic than overweight and healthy. Food may be the enemy for MeMe Roth, but it doesn’t have to be mine — or yours.