Not So Funny Fat Girl

A reader wrote to me to tell me about a post  on the Pinterest board for Showtime’s show – The Big C which says:

“You can’t be Fat & Mean.  You can be fat and jolly or you can be a skinny bitch it’s up to you.”

It’s a line from the show delivered by a thin actress to Gabby Sidibe (a fat actress best known for her work in Precious) with this inflection:

“You can’t be fat and mean, Andrea. You can either be fat and jolly, or a skinny bitch. It’s up to you.”

I think it’s one thing for it to be a line on the television show  – it reflects modern culture, and it can be a stepping stone to other conversations, I’m not complaining about that.  I do think it’s something else for them to make it into a sign on their pinterest board for the specific purpose of being re-posted out of context. Regardless, it points out some common mistakes that I think are worth addressing.

There are a couple of issues here. First the “it’s up to you” feeds into the publicly popular but scientifically unsupported idea that fat people can just get thin if we want to.  If you read this blog regularly then you already know that there is not a single solid study that would lead us to believe that any more than about 5% of people will have long-term success at intentional weight loss.

But let’s look deeper into this.  Obviously they aren’t saying that it is impossible to be a fat bitch – though if anyone thinks that, I’ll be happy to disabuse them of that notion.

No, this is about the idea that since being fat is such a massive character flaw, you must make up for it by being funny/jolly/pleasant whatever – that people will put up with a bad personality if you are stereotypically beautiful, but if not then you better smile and tell a self-deprecating joke right quick.  This is also how we are often portrayed in the media – the funny, fat, single friend or “she’s got a great personality” which is to say that we’re not much to look at, but we’ll “make up for it”, as if our bodies require some kind of penance: say two prayers and three self-deprecating fat jokes.

I certainly lived into the funny fat girl stereotype.  Being the first to make the fat jokes was a defense I personally used for a very long time.

This is tricky for me because being funny is part of who I am, I’ve even done stand-up comedy now and again.  Being funny definitely helps me with my activism – it allows me to engage an audience so they can hear my message without feeling that they are being preached at.  It brings down defensiveness, and it makes the times when I am being very serious more impactful.

So I have always been a funny fat girl but some things have changed.  The first is that I am no longer a self-deprecating fat funny girl. When I do open mic stand-up, often I’ll say “You may be wondering – when is she going to start doing those self-deprecating fat jokes we all love?  The answer is never – because my body is awesome”  and then I move on to other material.  If you watched the video I linked to, you know that a lot of my humor is about awkward or embarrassing situations, and my body is neither of those so I don’t make it into a joke.

I also no longer feel obligated to be funny when what I feel is something else:  angry, offended, upset, bitchy, whatever.  I don’t feel like I have to make up for my body by not making waves.  This is another way that fat people are kept down – don’t be angry about the oppression that you face, don’t stand up for yourself – smile and be pleasant and maybe you’ll find a mate who will overlook your body.  That’s just bullshit.  Fat bodies are not flawed, and so do not require apology, or a compensatory personality strategy to make up for them.

So back to the C-word.  If you want to get involved you can leave a comment on their pinterest board (if you are on pinterest), or you can send Showtime a comment through this form.

World Tour Update!

I am teaching a dance workshop with the fabulous Ronda Wood and Jeanette DePatie in LA on Sunday the 22nd.  Details are here!

I took off most of April and May to finish my online dance classes and book, and to move to Los Angeles, but I’m booking the rest of the year and into next year so if you want me to come to your college, or work, or town just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and we can talk about it.  Once the book is out I’ll also have some special book tour announcements to make.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right-hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

7 thoughts on “Not So Funny Fat Girl

  1. Very thoughtful and intriguing view on the line. “Skinny bitch” used to be a term I wore proudly. No, I mean I actually wore it on a shirt. That was a time when I was trying to take back the phrase and make it my own, although at the time I had no idea that I was actually doing that. But I think you are right that it assume fat people can just weight if they want. It also seems to assume fat people are always jolly and that skinny people must be miserable from eating carrots all day so they are bitchy.

  2. This is why I love networking over such issues. It never occurred to me that the “fat and funny” thing was a de facto social contract. I simply never looked at it as being an obligation. What an eye-opening thought! Thank you for bringing this up in this fashion!

  3. Because fat people aren’t people, we’re stereotypes!
    I have a self-depricating sense of humor anyway and my ass is big no matter what my weight, so I do sometimes make big ass jokes at my own expense. But I certainly don’t do it all the time, and I’m not going to put myself down in the hope that it will make people accept me. The timing has to be right.
    One of the most morose, miserable human beings I ever met was a fat woman, as it happens. She was the newspaper carrier for the retirement community where I work, and she was on the job for about a year. I imagine that her life was not that great. I always tried to say something pleasant to her when I saw her. She generally acted like she wished that I and everyone else would just fall into a black hole. I felt bad that her life was so miserable for whatever reason. But you can’t force people to open up.

  4. I never had a choice in whether I was fat or not. I was a large baby, a chubby toddler, and a fat kid. Not that I would change any of it. I am fat and jolly bitch. Growing up, I got ragged on for being fat, so my humor developed as a defense mechanism. I was always one-upping the kids who mocked me, “is that the best you can do? I’ve heard that joke 719 times this month, take a cue from your mom and try something new.” I rarely fell into self depricating humor, thankfully. Despite being in a home where my mom dieted often, and would force me on diets, I never understood why my body, my fat, why fat in general, was seen as this flaw that people strived to overcome, even when I heard people saying “accept and love yourself, embrace your flaws” they were still tryin to lose weight… like its just not supposed to be there, at all. I was pissed. I never tried losing my fat as a big “fuck you” to everyone I ever knew who tried to make me miserable enough to try to lose weight. I felt like, if I lost the weight, then they win. They had no control over my choices, my body, and I rebelled by being happy with who I am, instead of obsessing over my weight like everyone else….

  5. Hey, Ragen! I’ve been reading this blog obsessively for the last few months. A friend introduced me to it, and it has totally opened my eyes- and has gone a long way to helping me love and accept my body for what it is. You are brilliant.

    I wanted to comment, because this struck a massive chord with me. I am a fat chick, who has struggled for most of her life with debilitating body image issues- and I believed for the longest time that the only way anyone would love me (romantic, platonic, whatever) was because of my “awesome personality”- because I certainly didn’t have the looks. So, I went overboard, trying to be this amazing, charismatic, bubbly, engaging, dazzling, side-splittingly funny person that everyone wanted to be around. But, deep in my heart, I always felt like it would never be enough. That even if I did have an awesome personality, my less-than-impressive (or so I thought) physical stature would always cancel it out. :/ And it hurt so much.

    Things are different now, partially because of my amazing husband, partially through just getting older and partially through discovering the FA/HAES movement. But, I never want to go back to that place. And that’s why I would so love to start my own FA blog- so that I too can help women realise that they are beautiful, amazing and fabulous and worthy of love no matter their size. So, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for being a part of that! ❤

    Hugs,
    ERIN

    1. Hi Erin,

      I’m so glad that you are finding a path to health that works for you and I’m happy that I’ve had an opportunity to support you. You should totally start your own blog, keep me posted!

      ~Ragen

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