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Why Fat Jokes Aren't Funny

I never thought I'd see something that veered towards fat positive in USA Today but, well, here it is. Barbara D'Souza's editorial goes after those who make fat jokes - including fat people.

I'll start with what I thought was bad, then flip over to the good.

First, the language. I'm not sure if it was the author's choosing, but "morbidly obese" and a reference to fat as a disability didn't sit well with me.

Second, there's a vibe here of "Well, fat people have tried to lose weight and given up, so deal with it" in a negative way. You know? It's not "Hey, diets didn't work - they don't - so hey! We're here!" Check out this passage. The author's talking about a time she was at a dinner party.

One man said the overweight people he knows "don't know when to leave the table" and so have diabetes and heart conditions; he also described how the women are very skinny as young women but then balloon to astronomical proportions after getting married.

Though I'd normally ignore these comments, this time I ranted that losing weight is not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, my argument was inelegant, and I suppose I might have made a fool out of myself.

To me, that has a feeling of... resignation. And that's a bit of a leap, I think, but not wholly unreasonable from my perspective, what with the "morbidly obese" and the like in the article.

Now, the good!

This is basically railing against fat jokes and discrimination. It's not going to be terribly in-depth - it's USA Today - but it's going to be well-read and will reach people. D'Souza astutely points out that fat people are "willing to degrade themselves" to go on TV - that's generally true, particularly with reality shows - and positive images of fat people are hard to find in the mainstream media. [Thank you, Diana!]

Tired of High-Tech Fat Hatred | Swapping Fat and Smoke: A Parody

nancylebov June 24th, 2006 | Link | Thanks for posting
Thanks for posting that--it's good to see substantial progress.
Essa June 24th, 2006 | Link | So we made U.S.A. Today!
So we made U.S.A. Today! Good stuff, mostly, though I too was unsettled by the reference to how hard it is to lose weight, vs. the fact that is is impossible to lose weight for most. But I had to go back to the fact that this is her experience, and the author is still at that place in her life where she does not realize it might well be impossible for her to lose weight. I was also unsettled by the inelegance of the comments at the dinner table. And why is it people do feel they are justified and being proper of manner when they make comments about fat people, especially around!?!?! fat people? Rude and ignornant, that is what the dinner guest was being to her right there in her presence. Really, there needs to be a standard comeback line that makes people like this zip it for life. But that is in a perfect world, isn't it. Essa
Fat_Boy June 25th, 2006 | Link | Good evening everybody. I'm
Good evening everybody. I'm new here, I joined the Big Fat Blog just yesterday, and I'm looking forward to communicating with everyone here. I'm glad that USA Today finally came out with an artical in defense of us fat people, about why fat jokes are not funny. I must confess, sometimes I joke about my own weight, saying things like I'm going to apply for my own Zip code, or going to the UN to seek sovereign nation status, but I never really put myself down. Also, I never joke about other people's weight because I know it hurts. People who are unusally heavy, or even tall or short are often the butt of all kinds of cruel jokes. Of course it's considered politically incorrect to make fun of tall and short people, other races, and the handicapped. Yet society continues to condone fat jokes. So I know I should stop joking about my own fat. Also I don't like the term "morbid" obesity . . . I'm 54 years old (I've often been told I look younger) 5 ft. 6 in. and I weigh about 310 pounds, so that means that my BMI, or Body Mass Index, is 50.02 which places me in the category of "super morbidly obese", or obesity class III. Now then, While I admit to being obese, I hate the term "morbid". Like gimme a freakin' break! I try to have a cheerful outlook on life, so there is nothing morbid about me. :) As for losing weight, being impossible . . . Well, I know from personnal experience that it's not impossible for me to lose weight. I've done it lots of times, but I've never been able to keep it off, and the weight always comes back on again with a vengeance! Last year I had been down to 270 pounds, but I really didn't feel any better. In fact I felt worse. I had not been down to the weight since I was in my 20s. When ever I lose weight, I actually get really depressed, and suffer from anxiety, but when my weight comes back up again, I feel more calm, relaxed, and even more contented. I really don't know why that is. I guess I'm the opposite of an anorexic. No, unlike anorexics, who think they're still too fat no matter how thin they may become, I don't think I'm too thin no matter how fat I get. I know I'm fat and I'm perfectly comfortable being fat. All I know is that, when my weight is down, I suffer from anxiety, and depression, but when my weight is back up I feel much better, and more comfortable. The medical has not yet addressed this issue, and have swept it under the proverbial rug, because they are obsessed with getting people to lose weight, no matter what the cost, even it they resort to prescribing dangerous drugs, or WLS, Weight Loss Surgeries, which are often far more dangerous than obesity by itself. As for health issues . . . Well, despite my obesity, my blood pressure is normal, usually around 110/70, my cholesterol is lower than normal at 116 and my triglycerides are only 84. But, I am diabetic and have to use insulin along with my oral medications, so I've been very careful what I eat, and I manage to keep my blood sugars within the normal range. I've been diabetic since 1994 and have had no complications. I get my eyes checked every year, and my feet examined ever six months, and every three months I go for lab tests and see my doctor. Also, for a fat diabetic, I've been disgustingly healthy! It's been over 20 years since I had a flu or any allergies, and over 10 years since I even had so much as a common cold, so my immune system must be in overdrive. :) Many of my relatives are obese and have lived to their 80s, and some were diabetic. My Grandmother was obese, at 5 ft. 2 in. and weighing over 250 pounds. She was also diabetic and had to use insulin, yet she lived to be 80, and this was back in the 1950s when diabetic didn't have meters to check their blood sugars because they weren't invented yet. I subscribe to NAAFA, and many other Size Acceptance Groups on Yahoo, and I also subcribe to most of the Diabetes Support Groups on Yahoo. While no one there has never put me down because of my weight, because many of them are also fat just like me, they still insist on how important it is to lose weight, and I have had a hard time trying to get them to understand that I have come to accept my size just as I am. I've had been told about how I need to go on a 500 calorie per day diet, or go in for WLS, Weight Loss Surgery, because I'm unable to keep my weight down through dieting alone. I've even been told that ALL diabetics need to lose weight, even if they are NOT overweight! Like, SAY WHAT??? Gimme a break!!! Then one day I found a Size Acceptance Support Group for diabetics on Yahoo. For anyone who might be interested it called Diabetic-Friends2 at: There we talk about healthy alternatives for us fat diabetics who have been unable to lose weight. Some have been through WLS Hell and have come to regret it, and have suffered even more complications as a result of WLS. I don't know, but it seems to me, the we fat people are being used as expermental test subjects, like fat rats in a Skinner Box! Well, I'm one that got away! :)
Euterpist June 25th, 2006 | Link | Well, I'm pretty new here,
Well, I'm pretty new here, myself, Fat Boy, but let me say "welcome" anyway. Don't give up the good fight (and I'm not talking the fight to lose weight). I agree with Paul's assessment of the article. Still, it was really nice to see something size positive in a national forum.
rebelle June 26th, 2006 | Link | I didn't think the article
I didn't think the article was too bad. I think she could've made sharper points, but it's possible she's not at the same level of fat postive thinking that I hope I am. Here's one point: A fat joke is not funny for the same reason a racist joke is not funny. While many "comedians" will argue, "B-bu-but fat people can lose weight!", fat jokes, like racist jokes, aren't about whether a person "can" or "should" change, but instead are predicated on the notion that there is something inherently "wrong" with or "bad" about fat people/ Latinos/ blacks/Jews, etc., because of the assumptions about what their APPEARANCE means about their character. In this respect, a fat joke is exactly like a racist joke. It allows narrow minded people to not only express, but to revel in their bigotry under the cloak of "It's just a joke! Lighten up!" (Carlos Mencia, Jay Leno and Willie Barcena all leap to mind). Well, truly funny comics are clever, not merely boorish panderers to humor's lowest common denominator. I guess I'm just worried this woman is going to get flamed with hate mail for daring to make her very slight and ill-explained connection between racist jokes and fat jokes. I've actually seen articles written by minority comics in which they are simple ENRAGED at the very notion that they can be bigots when it comes to people's weight. The reasoning goes something like this: "There is no way that big fatty suffered like I did/do! HE brought it on himself! HE can change!" They behave as though the victimization of others somehow diminishes their own suffering. (But, would they seriously "become white" if they could, or would they maybe kick the crap outta anyone stupid, childish and intolerant enough to suggest they should either "get white," or be ridiculed?) I'm off now, to reread "Nickel and Dimed." I don't remember any fat jokes in it.
Euterpist June 26th, 2006 | Link | Paul, I hope that you don't
Paul, I hope that you don't consider this off-topic, since I see it as fat-bashing in the media... I saw the Adam Sandler movie "Click" this weekend. I was in the mood for something light and amusing. I have to say that I was not amused by the sequence in which he and his son get fat from eating Yodels and Twinkies. Later in the movie, his son is slender and handsome because he works out five days a week. To add insult to insult, the fat actor they cast as the son is actually quite handsome, but they went out of their way to make him unattractive in the movie. The post-surgery fat "joke" nearly made me walk out of the theater. I've always liked Adam Sandler, but I think that's the last of his movies I'll ever see.
Cathy June 26th, 2006 | Link | Glad to see an article like
Glad to see an article like this in USA Today. (Especially by someone who just got married. I'm tired of people thinking that fat people are lonely and loveless.) Rebelle, BTW, there may not be any any fat "jokes" in "Nickel and Dimed," but there is a terrible sequence in which Barbara Ehrenreich describes her disgust for the fat women shopping in the plus-size section at Wal-Mart. It was very disappointing -- I've always liked Ehrenreich, and now I'm quite put off by her.
Viola June 27th, 2006 | Link | [em]Likewise, we obese are
[em]Likewise, we obese are constantly conscious of ourselves not only as mothers, sisters, brothers or lovers, but also as fat objects. The way others might look at us is constantly with us[/em] This part actually rang true for me. I thought it was interesting that she mentioned the negative comments about fat in the Barbara Ehrenreich book. I checked out the reviews on Amazon, and that was one of the criticisms I read, so I decided to check the book out from the library. After I was done reading it, I was glad I hadn't put any money into it. I found it insulting in a number of ways, and not very in depth or well written. Honestly, the stuff she had to say about fat people went right past me.
kathi June 27th, 2006 | Link | I avoided Shallow Hal and
I avoided Shallow Hal and The Nutty Professor after seeing the trailers; however, fat stereotypes are everywhere in the media. For example, Don Imus constantly bombards his sports reporter, Chris Carlin, with "fat" insults, and Chris, who I like very much, is an example of a fat person who uses humor to try to mitigate some of the attacks. One of my favorite characters in the series "Lost," Harley, remained fairly free of fat sterotyping until the second season. I guess the writers couldn't resist having a fat person be too weak to have the keys to the food supplies. Jokes at the expense of fat people have always been around (doesn't make it right), but the jokes now appear to be more vicious and rarely do you find a fat person in a heroic role. For example, I recently saw the original Poseidon Adventore (1970s) and Shelley Winters plays an older fat woman who saves the day with her swimming ability. Granted, she dies of a heart attack, but the script treats her with dignity. I have not seen the remake, and I am curious to know if that character is treated with the same dignity.
Euterpist June 27th, 2006 | Link | Michael Ende, the author of
Michael Ende, the author of "The Neverending Story," refused to endorse the film made of the book. In the movie, Bastian is a slim and handsome child. The entire point of the book is that Bastian is chubby and bullied, but he is the hero of the story.
pani113 June 28th, 2006 | Link | Fat Boy - I don't mean to be
Fat Boy - I don't mean to be off topic, but I enjoyed reading about how your relatives lived long lives. Would you consider listing them under Happy, Healthy, Old People in the Forums section? It would be nice to have one long list where everyone can reference. Again, sorry to be off topic but you don't have your e-mail listed.
Fat_Boy June 28th, 2006 | Link | Good morning pani113. For
Good morning pani113. For anyone who is interested, my E-mail is
pckim June 28th, 2006 | Link | Well, here we go again with
Well, here we go again with the black comparisons. Now we take the time to explain why black comedians are bigots...because there are no black fat people, right? I'm black, I'm fat, I'm a woman, I'm a lesbian and I'm left handed but I there is nothing like racial discrimination and hate. It’s a different beast all together.
paul June 28th, 2006 | Link | If we're going to have the
If we're going to have the "let's compare discriminations!" discussion again - and I'd rather we didn't - can it be taken to a Forum topic, please? Thanks.
diane June 28th, 2006 | Link | The most accurate
The most accurate description I've ever heard for these kinds of jokes are that they're not really "jokes" at all but subtle hostility. And it's easy to tell too, because when it's subtle hostility and the person is called on it, phrases such as "it's only a joke" or "you're too sensitive" are used by the perpetrators. Sadly, with a lot of jokes, the purpose seems to be about degrading another person. I always see it as the accepted way they've found to spew their hatred towards whomever the unlucky group they've targeted is.
Beanietude June 29th, 2006 | Link | BBC is running a "Have Your
BBC is running a "Have Your Say" about this very topic.  Have at it!
sabrina July 9th, 2006 | Link | Two word: Kirstie Alley.
Two word: Kirstie Alley. Two more words: Fat Actress. That woman totally allowed herself to be humiliated to boost her exposure on TV..and now that she's "thin and sexy" she's still up to her usual antics. Pathetic
clynim August 4th, 2006 | Link | For me, the saddest forms of
For me, the saddest forms of discrimination in movies revolves around fat children. Nearly every time I've seen such a child, he/she is always shown sitting at a table consuming large quantities of food. Just look at "Willie Wanka and the Chocolate Factory" or "Leave it to Beaver" as prime examples. There is a new movie with Tim Allen of Home Improvement fame coming out soon. Sorry, can't remember the name of the flick. At any rate, the ad for the film are already making fun of the fat boy's super power, which is to blow up to giant size in the stomach in order to hit the bad guy. Can't wait! One of my favorite characters from tv was Vier Coto (sp?) from Babylon 5. While the actor himself lost a lot of weight, not once during the entire series were any jokes made about the character's size.

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