The Oversensitive Fatty

Angry FrustratedYour good friend just posted a fatphobic joke on Facebook.  Your uncle just made a fat joke at family dinner. Your co-worker just said something nasty about the fat UPS delivery person.

So you confront them. Maybe you are very direct and angry in your response.  Your maybe today you take the approach of setting aside your anger and calmly say (or type) something like “Dude, that’s really not cool.”  They respond “What’s not cool?” you, again setting aside your anger and perhaps at this point having to overcome your eye-roll reflex, say “Making jokes about people based on their size” or “saying nasty things about fat people.”  You’ve done what you can, you stand there ready for the teachable moment or the recognition of wrongdoing and apology.  But instead you get some version of “You’re just being oversensitive.”  Oh for fucks sake.

Let’s examine the situation.  The person started by making an inappropriate joke or saying something nasty about someone who looks like us, and decided to follow that up by telling us how we are supposed to react to  it. Who died and put them in charge of our feelings?  Oh wait, nobody.

Also, let’s be clear that what they are indicating is that they care more about telling their little joke or making their nasty comment than they do about our feelings.  For me, when I tell someone they’ve hurt my feelings and their response “well your feelings are clearly wrong” that’s a really good indicator that it’s time to reassess my relationship with them.

Or, the absolute worst, they claim that you are trying to infringe on their right to free speech. I’m embarrassed for the people who make this argument, as it is patently ridiculous.  The First Amendment of the Constitution states

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It does not state

You should be able to say whatever offensive bullshit you want and nobody is allowed to be offended by it.

This isn’t about trying to force someone to give up free speech, it’s about asking them why they aren’t willing to temper their free speech with a little empathy.  Again, is that fat joke really more important than your friend who is hurt by it, or your friends who might be hurt by it?

So how do we deal with this?  As always, each of us gets to choose how we deal with this kind of crap including trying to educate people, refusing to educate people, trying to create allies, and saying what we want to even if it alienates people.  With that in mind, here are some ideas on responses:

  • Congratulations, I didn’t realize that you were named the grand judge of what is offensive! Was there a ceremony?  Was it nice?
  • So do I understand correctly that you care more about this joke than you do about my feelings?
  • Isn’t it also possible that I’m being just the right amount of sensitive and you’re being a massive jerk.
  • You’re allowed to act like this, and if that’s your choice then I’m going to [insert consequence you can actually follow through with – leave the conversation, leave the room, leave the state, have to unfriend you, etc.]
  • Now that’s funny!  I mean, you’re joking right? There’s no way that you’re actually trying to tell me what should and should not offend me…

Have other ideas? Please feel free to put them in the comments. One thing that also helps me is to have an inner mantra that I can use regardless of the conversation that I’m having, mine is “This is bullshit!” of course your mileage may vary.  Whatever you do I think it’s important to remember that the problem isn’t our bodies or our feelings, the problem is that someone wants to be a jerk with impunity, and that’s something I definitely find offensive.

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46 thoughts on “The Oversensitive Fatty

  1. Oh, thank you for making clear again that free speech is NOT the freedom to say any bullshit you like, but something granted by government and mostly concerning criticising the government or other “officials”… and it should be part of any constitution to avoid history repeating like putting people of other political parties in concentration camps. I really get mad when people defend their verbal bullshit with “free speech”!

    One thing that helps me when someone insults me directly is “For you to be able to insult me I have to value your opinion first.” (a response that was inspired by one of your blog posts I think :))

  2. Ah yes, the dreaded ‘you’re infringing on my rights’ bullshit. Of course it never occurs to them that you and I also have the right to free speech… including the right to call bullshit when we witness cattle taking massive dumps on our personal spaces.

    Of course if one of us made a joke offensive to the person who considers us too sensitive when we say ‘fat isn’t a joke’ you can bet your bottom dollar they’d get their panties in a wad over it and demand satisfaction. You can also be pretty certain they will never understand the similarities in the two situations because disgusting, funny fat.

    Then again, education is possible in some cases. A couple years ago, a friend of mine was laughing hard when a friend of her tried to tell me how funny it was that they saw a woman with a really huuuuuge butt. As they guffawed, I just stood there and looked at the woman as if waiting for the punchline. She tried to get me to ‘get’ the joke by repeating that this woman was FAT with a REALLY BIG BUTT. I continued to simply stare. Then I finally filled the silence with an unamused “Oh.”

    My friend’s laughter started to falter.

    Funny thing, but she actually hasn’t said a single random body shaming thing in my presence (well, about any body but her own) since.

    For all I know, her other friend may still find fat bodies hilarious, and they may snigger at them among themselves… but at least she doesn’t expect me to laugh at fat jokes, anymore. And she seems to be less enamored of going on diets, herself these days.

    So, score.

  3. Great article. I have felt some activism burnout lately due to similar responses from people. How do you think this compares to, “stop being a social justice warrior”?

    1. If someone tells me to stop doing something, unless they have a legitimate right to tell me to stop, my response is to ignore them, laugh at them, say “no,” or tell them to stop being a jackass.

      Sometimes another good one is to ask, “Why?” Once they respond, my response is that it’s a good reason for THEM not to do it, but that I make my own decisions based on my values and what is best for me. Then walk away.

      1. Or sometimes I tell them it’s cute that they think they have the right to tell me how to live my life. And then I mentally pat them on the head and go right on doing my own thing.

    2. “Social justice warrior,” sounds fuckin’ awesome! If someone says that to me, I would so openly take it as a compliment that they’d feel like they screwed up their dismissal.

  4. I hate the free speech argument. I’m always tempted to respond to that argument with “So you won’t be mad if I exercise my right to free speech by calling you an asshole?”

  5. I’m with Twistie’s response: never listen to a fool. The best response is silence. If you enter into a “put down” argument with these people, you are giving them the attention they sought in the first place by telling what they knew would be an attention-grabbing joke. And what you said above about it being time to discontinue the relationship is spot-on. At my age I simply do not have time for worthless relationships or people who do not add anything to my existence.

    Usually I just stare them in the eye until they wander off in search of some other amusement. Or if they demand to know why I didn’t laugh, I just say very directly, “I didn’t find it funny.” It’s the difference between engaging in an argument and simply stating your case.

    As for FB…depends on the situation. My friends circle is very small and tight, and I keep it that way on purpose.

  6. I always counter the “Free speech” argument with. “Yes you do have the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ‘punishments’ to your words. Free speech only means the government can not ‘punish’ you for speaking your mind. But I can tell you that I am 100% correct when I say: you can go I to work and call your boss and asshole, just don’t be surprised when you no longer have a job and you can’t claim ‘freedom of speech’.”

    I get looked at like I have two heads and then they suddenly realize when they lose their job for being offensive to others, I was right.

    This isn’t a matter to me of being “over sensitive” it is a matter of “Hey you are being an asshole and those jokes aren’t funny. So you may want to rethink your actions before doing them next time.”

  7. I’ve said…would you change the joke about “fat people” to “cripples” even if the wording was wheelchair users? What about white people with black, etc?

  8. When a long-time (30 years?) real-life friend (I thought) posted a fat joke on FB, I commented my horror and surprise that she would be so insensitive. Her responses were along the lines of “But I thought it was funny” and “stop taking yourself so seriously” and “get over yourself.”

    Needless to say, we are no longer friends on FB or IRL. Some people just can’t — or won’t — be educated.

  9. I’ve been told all my life I’m being over-sensitive when responding to jokes I don’t like. In saying that, I’ve been guilty of the other side of the coin as well (one particular friend, it’s amazing we’re still friends considering the amount of times we both throw this crap at each other and the ensuing row isn’t over the crap-throwing it’s over the exact correct amount of ‘upset’ the receiver is ‘allowed’ to be!! Although maybe that’s why we’re still friends :)) It’s nice to have some options though. Thankfully, being Irish, I don’t hear the 1st Amendment speech too often, but I do get the ‘can’t you just take a joke?’ or ‘well what’s left to joke about?’ versions fairly often. Thanks for the reminder that it really is ok to question.

  10. One can (sometimes) explain to friends why their fat jokes are hurtful. When it comes to social justice and those who are supposed to be on the same side of the fence, it is a different matter. When they post memes that somehow use fat people as a way-too-easily available metaphor to poke fun at some organization or concern, the posters seem extremely reluctant to give up their memes, even when hundreds of people tell them that using fat people as some kind of symbol is unfair, offensive and nasty (and hurtful to their own cause!). I have yet to figure out a good way to deal with this, except by unfriending them and telling them why.

  11. Two points -” Your rights end at the tip of the other fellow’s nose.” and The best way to deal with any offensive or inappropriate comment comes from countless Southern ladies – a slightly raised eyebrow (literal of figurative) and ” I can’t believe you just said that! “

  12. Oh lordy, the First Amendment. I forget where I saw it, but someone put it beautifully. If your only defense to saying something terrible is, “Well, the GOVERNMENT says I can say it!” you’ve pretty much shown your ass right there.

  13. This reminded me of all the times as a kid when family members would tell me I was ‘too sensitive’ or ‘overreacting’ to bad behavior. Of course, when I behave badly, I needed to calm down and stop the behavior.

    I’m still not good at telling other people to knock it off, but at least I fully recognize that I’m NOT being too sensitive.

    1. I had a friend who texted me to call him back “when I had calmed down.” That was last year. Have yet to talk to him. Don’t miss it either. 😎

  14. Just noticed a book called something like How To Not Let Emotions Run Your Life. Honestly! It’s MY life, they are MY emotions … just like it’s MY body. There are precious few things that really and truly belong to me, unquestionably. Get off MY things!

  15. When I respond on Facebook, I usually say something like this: “Yeah, but I don’t really think this is funny.” The “Yeah, but” at the beginning seems to soften it enough that I have always gotten very kind and thoughtful replies, most of whom say they will take down the post, that they just didn’t think about how it could be offensive. Maybe I have really nice friends.

    And, depending on how powerful I feel, I use the silent, raised eyebrow, which is often better than even saying the obvious “Seriously?” associated with it.

    I try not to shame others with my response, as I find that unsatisfying and eventually, embarrassing to me (I’m doing to them what they are doing to me, which is not how I want to live my life). I am usually called over-sensitive only by people I know only slightly, or strangers, typically drunk strangers who are holding forth in bars about how people should be, or are showing off their “social correctness.”.

  16. I feel like a lot of my “friends” would respond to this question (“So do I understand correctly that you care more about this joke than you do about my feelings?”) thusly:

    “Well, everything is going to offend somebody and I can’t avoid offending everyone in the world, or else I would just have to stop talking altogether”.

    Just thinking about this conversation makes me depressed. I feel like I am always tasked with drawing a clear line between “offensive – do not say” and “this is ok and anyone who is offended is wrong” if I want to say that a particular joke is out of line.

    1. I understand your point, and what you COULD say in response is that mocking an already-oppressed and shamed population is not humor – it’s a power play and that’s the difference.

    2. I had just posted a comment farther down on the thread. I have had family members actually pull the silent treatment on me and when I call them out they mention that they “don’t know what to say around (me) anymore!”

      For friends like yours, I would probably say “sounds like a good start for you” if I were being sassy.

      Maybe point out there’s a difference between being offensive over something about a person that the person may or may not be able to change (underpants rule) vs taking offense just to take offense over a difference in ideas/ideals. (e.g.: “I’m offended that you don’t think my Mister Pibbles is the cutest puppy-wuppy in the world!”) This way if they counter “Well isn’t it a difference in ideas if I think a fat person would lose weight if they stopped eating all those twinkies?” – Well, yes… but the whole thing of the joke is to mock another human being…. not a conflict of ideas/ideals.

      **I had a hard time in picking idea vs ideals. Both words work. I do mean both thoughts and one’s thoughts of what is perfect or correct.

  17. My personal thought would be to shrug and say, “I just don’t like jokes that are mean.” People argue about “sensitivity” for the same reason they argue about “tone,” which is: it’s a distraction and gets the spotlight off the substance (theirs) and onto the style (yours). People might still mutter that I am too sensitive but they might also realize that I’m right that it’s mean.

  18. I think some version of this is going to be my standard response from now on, “Also, let’s be clear that what they are indicating is that they care more about telling their little joke or making their nasty comment than they do about our feelings.”

    The joke is more important to them than you are. That is essentially what they are saying. To refuse to be sensitive to others when it’s no skin off your teeth is essentially a dick move.

  19. Having Worked in an openly hostile environment of sad wanna-be Enronesque alpha males who would take every opportunity to engage in misogyny, racism and bigotry, I started using the following phrase every time they engaged in such behavior.

    “Please do not use sexist slurs around me, or slurs against any other marginalized groups of people.”

    I said this in a matter of fact voice and then would just continue on working. Even if I needed to say it again and again and again, eventually it did temper their comments because they knew I would not let it go as acceptable to say. I’ve come to now use this in other non-work situations, and if the massive fuckwads of fail say anything back that is not acceptable, I say “How shame-making for you.”, and leave it at that.

  20. I love those sharp and thought-provoking retorts, though my own approach tends to be a po-faced, “I don’t want to hear jokes about [whatever], I find them offensive.” I’ve had lots of practice over a lifetime of trying to train my mother not to make racist or homophobic comments in my presence.

    Or sometimes I’ll counter a generalisation with an anecdote that illustrates how wrong the stereotype is. I’ve got a wealth of stories that can be customised on the fly :o)

    Whatever, it makes no great odds to me if someone feels uncomfortable about being pulled up for being unkind and decides to shoot the messenger. If it makes just a few people think twice before they tread on someone else’s feelings in future, it’s worth it. And nobody can accuse me of being personally oversensitive about comments about immigrants/gay people/transgendered people/fat people/people who are a bit lacking in education, because I’m carrying a great deal of privilege in all of these areas.

    I’m proud of my kids. From an early age, they were all prepared to stand up to their peers (and their grandparents) and say, “What makes you think that’s funny?” or, “Do you realise that saying stuff like that makes you sound like an asshole?”

  21. The thing about these kinds of jokes is that in order to find them funny, you usually have to believe in incorrect stereotypes about fat people. I don’t identify as fat, but when I hear these jokes I feel an obligation to say something, the same way I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying nothing when someone makes a racist, sexist or homophobic comment. It has nothing to do with being oversensitive. It has to do with making people aware that their jokes make them sound like ignorant bigots. I usually try to say something like “I don’t really find that funny because there’s nothing wrong with being fat” or “I don’t really find that funny because fat people don’t actually eat more on average than anyone else” (depending on the nature of the joke). I think it’s important for allies who don’t identify as fat to call out these kinds of comments as well, because it makes it harder for the commenters to dismiss objections as just being “oversensitive.”

  22. Along the same lines but in a separate vein, what would you say to friend/family/coworker who pulls a passive aggressive move to any corrective measures by not saying anything to you and when you bring up the silent treatment they reply with “Well I don’t know what to say to you anymore because everything I seem to say is always taken wrong.”

    So far, my reply was “Anything. The weather, things that are going on in your life, concerns you have, things you’re hoping comes your way… pretty much anything with the exception of my – or anyone else – weight in regards to the past, present or future. Not sure how you can NOT have anything to say unless you absolutely cannot seem to speak without mentioning people’s weight.”

    1. My mother’s an expert on this. I’ve learnt that if she wants to give me the silent treatment – it makes my life easier in the long run!! 🙂 At least I don’t have to deal with her crap as well as my own 🙂

      In work – if someone was not talking to me and that was causing me work problems, I’d probably say that discussing work things is part of both our jobs and I for one don’t want to lose mine…..

  23. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. Sure, you have a right to say what you want. I have a right to find what you say to be distasteful and stop talking to you.

    1. Freedom of speech, by many people’s warped definition, seems to be: they’re free to say offensive things, but you’re not free to say that you’re offended. They call freedom of speech on you, not realizing that, by their definition, you could call it right back on them.

  24. This is timely – I just had a situation on FB that I had to figure out how to navigate. I really like the response in your second bullet point – I’ve used variations of this, and when you put it back to people like that, sometimes they realize how they sound. Either that, or they get super defensive…and that’s fine, too. I personally feel that you can tell a lot about a person by how they handle mistakes and situations where they’re confronted about something they’ve said or done. As you said, sometimes I reassess my relationship. But usually it just makes my subsequent responses to them somewhat less polite. Because I can crack a pretty good joke myself, and I will publicly embarrass people. I prefer not to, but hey, if you’re going to make insensitive comments and jokes, you better be able to take it.

  25. This really skinny guy that eats three times as much as me (I gave him the rest of my food because I was full and so did my other friend – he ate it all), said I really needed to stop being so fat or I would die an early, lonely death just like some Hawaiian masseuse he knew. I got really, really offended and my friend just said “I don’t know why you’re being so oversensitive. He is just concerned about your health.” Excuse me? I am sick and tired of hearing what I should do and should not do about my body from everyone, regardless of whether they actually finished primary school or not.

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