The Problem With A Fat Person Saying That Fat Jokes Are Hilarious

being fat doesn't justify fatphobiaI was asked to comment on a conversation on social media where someone had posted a fat-shaming meme. By the time I got there, the comment section was an absolute cesspool of fatphobia. So I commented:

Imagine having a picture taken to commemorate a lovely day of existing in the world, only to have a bunch of randos on [social media] decide to use it as an excuse to be rude and make sure that every fat person who sees this knows that they view our bodies as punchlines. Fat people have the right to exist in the world – yes, even in pictures while standing beside horses – without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression. Shame on everyone who is using this picture as an excuse to engage in fat-shaming.

Almost immediately, I received this response:

I’m a fat guy, and I think it’s hilarious. Shame me all you want, but acknowledging yourself as you are and accepting it is telling the rest to eff off. If you are offended then you haven’t accepted yourself for who you are, or you worry too much about what other’s think.

Let’s take this in two parts:

“I’m a fat guy, and I think it’s hilarious.”

It is incredibly common for fat people to jump in and support fat-shaming. This can happen for a lot of reasons – their own internalized fatphobia, their desire to get some approval (and possibly better treatment) from thin people by participating in their own oppression, because their various privileges protect them from a lot of the harm of fatphobia etc. How offended someone is personally by fatphobia is their business, but the reaction they have doesn’t happen in a vacuum and people need to take responsibility for supporting harmful, stigmatizing ideas.

“Shame me all you want, but acknowledging yourself as you are and accepting it is telling the rest to eff off. If you are offended then you haven’t accepted yourself for who you are, or you worry too much about what other’s think.”

This is the part where people suggest that if you’re ok with yourself, regardless of how oppressed you are in the world, you will cheerfully accept additional oppression. This is particularly common if the oppression is in the form of a “joke.”

Except no, that’s not how self-acceptance works. I know that fat-shaming is the problem and not my body.  That doesn’t make it ok to stigmatize me or people who look like me. I think it’s a bigger problem that we as a society are comfortable telling groups of people they need to “toughen up” and become better at being stigmatized and made fun of without complaint so that other people can laugh at our expense without having to feel bad or have their bullying behavior pointed out.

Regardless of how one person’s level of indifference, internalized oppression and/or privilege allows them to tolerate stigma against a group that they are in, justifying and defending the behaviors that harm people (especially people with less privilege) in the group is not an appropriate response.

Being fat does not justify perpetuating fatphobia.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem With A Fat Person Saying That Fat Jokes Are Hilarious

  1. I once had a fat fatphobe tell me I needed to “learn to laugh at myself.”

    The problem with that philosophy is that I have never once actually seen myself in a fat joke. All I ever see are a bunch of stereotypes and bullshit. There’s no me to laugh at in there.

    A more honest summation of Fat Fatphobe’s philosophy would be, “If you want to live in thin people’s world, you have to play the role they’ve written for you. You have to accept that their cartoon fat joke fatty is you, even if it’s the most not-you thing you’ve ever seen. And then you have to laugh to show your acceptance. That’s how you get them to see you as one of the good ones.”

    Except… a) no, I really, really don’t, and b) to a fatphobe, there are no “good” ones. Good Fatty Syndrome works exactly like Cool Girl Syndrome; you’re one of the “good ones” until you put the slightest toe out of the fatphobes’ constantly-moving line, and then you’re just more Obesity to be defeated in the War on Obesity.

    (Also, standard reminder that yes, since a fatphobe is someone who engages in, perpetuates, or supports the oppression of fat people, fat people who do those things are also fatphobes.)

  2. I have never been able to articulate this one. You and Lady R nailed it on the head. Got a ROKU here, Mom perusing the old early learning cartoons, I’m a Bill, Lolly Lolly Loolly get your adverbs here etc. I am watching these early Seventies cartoons and doing the count of how many times a fat character or fat body is used as a negative image. At one point, every episode ran a fat character that was: angry, irritating, object of derision, in some one else’s way and/or unattractive. Love the one where the old fat broad sinks the canoe, hee hee hee, so funny, a fat woman in a canoe hoo hoo hoo….

    Talk about “dyed in the wool”. If you have it pounded into your brain from pre verbal stages through your school years, is it any wonder people view these biases as “natural”. They literally don’t know anything else. It is interesting the timing, early Seventies, very pro woman, pro African, Native, Hispanic, Asian American… It is what W. Charise Goodman wrote in “The Invisible Woman”, that intolerance wasn’t shrinking, so much as shifting targets.

    While we as a society have said NO to bigotry and bias against races, religions, sexuality, and variations on gender, body shape of the females is ground zero in many ways. Racism and homophobia are not gone, but in polite and enlightened society they are not embraced and are less and less excused. I still think sexism and hatred of women lies beneath them all.

    As for self-hatred being the key to the locked door of social acceptance. How about we say Go Fuck Yourself to the willingness to say ‘No no, you’re right, I and my body are yours for the judging and mean spirited jokery. So sorry, excuse me for living… No, really Excuse me for living and bothering you, getting in your way, pulling your focus, ruining your ‘perfect’. Fuck You.

    1. “Love the one where the old fat broad sinks the canoe, hee hee hee, so funny, a fat woman in a canoe hoo hoo hoo….”

      If Ragen’s talking about the horse meme I’m thinking of, that’s an appropriate gag to bring up, because it’s something you see in a lot of the physical comedy variety of fat joke: the idea that we’re burdens on society transformed into a visual pun where we’re literal burdens for some poor vehicle, animal, person, or piece of furniture, a “gag” that can only end with the item or creature we’re “burdening” heroically casting us off to save itself or being destroyed in its attempt to “support” us.

      Like, the subtext isn’t even SUBtext.

      1. Seriously. I don’t think subtext ever applies when it is a fat female body in the foreground. I have become so aware of it, as we’re supposed to be, I literally sigh when I see a fat character in anything (TV show, movie, comic strip, narrative, commercial) and count the seconds/pages/scenes till the fat character is abused/insulted/removed or proven to be counter-point to the Real Story of the thin heroine/good person/smart person/healthy/well dressed/viable/valuable person. Dump in trash, close lid, fatty gone! Life Resumes! Yay!

        I read a detective story, unsure is it was Christie or Sayers. And there was a line about the female and male protagonists, when they were ‘discovering’ one another and falling in love, there was a list of things they both agreed on/had in common: “They both hated fat women.” Actual line, not embellished. Ah yes, Spring springs eternal and true love happens when true minds meet. We were drawn together by our mutual hatred of fat women. Aaaaawww, love, sigh, love…. Puke me a river.

        Not a first or a last when a genuine bias finds a soulmate in like-not liking.

        1. “And there was a line about the female and male protagonists, when they were ‘discovering’ one another and falling in love, there was a list of things they both agreed on/had in common: ‘They both hated fat women.’ Actual line, not embellished.”

          Each time you eat a meal, I want to throw it out
          ‘Cause I am so afraid your belly will stick out
          Each night I ask the stars above
          Why must I be a size bigot in love

          I’m only happy when you count your calories
          And only if the digits are in the lower threes
          Each night I ask the stars above
          Why must I be a size bigot in love

          Can’t get respect, so I go for fear
          No one will ever love you without me here
          But if you want to get away, that won’t be so hard to do
          ’cause you know if you gain a pound, I’ll instantly stop “loving” you

          Each night I ask the stars above
          Why must I be a size bigot in love

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