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Is Fat Funny?

Here is a comment that a reader (Amy) posted in response to a post in which I asked if it was OK to laugh at fat jokes:

“I had an interesting thing happen on this very theme this past week. A friend of mine — a very conventionally beautiful, normative-weight young woman — has been giving herself “daily dares”, where she has to do things that are out of her comfort zone (eat a food she’s never tried, play a sport she knows nothing about, etc). Well, last week, her “dare” was to use an online photo-alteration application called “Make My Face Fat” to make herself appear obese, and post the photo on Facebook. Her justification was that “I feel really scared, uncomfortable and insecure when I know I don’t look attractive, so I thought I should see how long I could go with this picture being my Facebook photo.”

So, as you can imagine, I saw the photo of her, and thought to myself, “Why? Why is my friend making a joke out of weight gain?” I wrote to her, asking this, and that was her explanation, above. When I told her that what she was doing was humiliating and demeaning to those of us who are obese — that her stratification of “my regular face is pretty, but my FAT face would be ugly; let’s see if I can stand the ugliness!”, and that her very use of an application that reinforces “fat people” as The Other was buying into size oppression, she got furious at me. She told me that I was “taking out my anger at society” on her, and that SHE was not one of those fat-haters. She wasn’t making fun of me, she was merely expressing that gaining weight would be something difficult for her, and she was just SEEING what her face would look like if that happened. She went on and on, railing that I was targeting the wrong person, and that she was compassionate and non-judgmental…she clearly couldn’t hear my message. I couldn’t seem to convince her that ‘trying on’ a physical appearance she finds distasteful – and can step out of again whenever she wants to – objectifies that physical appearance as a joke, an aberration, a lower status…and that those of us who are trapped in that appearance for the duration of our lives have to LIVE with that objectification 24/7, and it hurts.

I tried to make it as simple as possible. I said, “Okay. Pretend that online application for photos wasn’t Make My Face Fat. Pretend it was ‘Make My Face Black’. ‘Make My Face Gay.’ ‘Make My Face Jewish’. ‘Make My Face Down Syndrome’. How would you feel about using it then? If you put up a photo of yourself after you’d Made Your Face Black, and one of your African-American friends emailed you and said, hey, that kind of offends me, how would you feel? Can you even imagine those photo apps existing? What kind of an outcry would there be against any of those? They couldn’t exist, could they? So why is Make My Face Fat…okay?”

She hasn’t written back. I expect she’ll Unfriend me.”

This most insightful comment speaks of pain and questions why we still find fat funny.

I wonder if my readers have similar stories or insights to share on this topic.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Love this. I remember having friends who would discuss our other overweight friend. They would always say, “well she is FAT but I wouldn’t want to be her size”. And what they meant was that fat was an ugly bad thing and our friend wasn’t bad because she was our friend, and that they weren’t judging her for being fat. And yet they totally were wth that comment.

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  2. I work in health care, and have spent my life as an obese person. The derogatory comments, innuendos, and belittling that I have seen directed at obese patients is sad. The medical community on many levels should be ashamed of themselves … Obesity is somehow seen as a character flaw leading to less comprehensive care. I have faced my colleagues in many conversations asking ” would you treat ME this way?”. “Would you joke and laugh at ME this way?”. There is usually an uncomfortable silence, whereby they quickly try and explain why I am “different” .. Or that I am “not the same”. I AM the same .. I am an excellent, intelligent, caring and compassionate nurse … And I am obese. Until we face this societally condoned discrimination, many obese patients will continue to step back from the medical community instead of seeking help and treatment.

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  3. Thanks for revisiting this, Dr. Sharma! I’m honored. The woman in that story is, indeed, no longer my friend. We stopped speaking. She accused me of being discriminatory towards HER for “valuing different elements of health and physical appearance” than I do. Several months ago, I had a very similar experience play out with ANOTHER friend, who started a thread on her Facebook page that was initially about yoga, but then segued into a rant about getting so frustrated at seeing fat people have SO many options available to them to stop being fat, and yet not choosing any of them — how she just had no sympathy anymore, because “there’s honestly no excuse anymore in this culture for staying large, unhealthy, and addicted to crappy food”. As you can imagine, my head nearly exploded…and this was a really, really good friend, whom I’d adored and admired for years. At this point, I’m starting to believe that everyone I know is, covertly, secretly, or blatantly, size discriminatory. It takes so much energy to even think about fighting it that most of the time I just give up, and slink back into my cave. 🙁

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  4. WOW, absolutely amazing post. Cannot even fathom those “other apps” existing, people would go crazy at “make my face down syndrome” as well as the other “apps”. Puts into COMPLETE perspective how much “fat” hatred there is out there. We would never think to dress up for Hallowe’en as a person with a disability or gay person but we all see the “fat guy or gal” outfits. Having lost 180lbs, I have lived on both sides of the fence and am constantly shocked by people’s reactions to larger sized people and the treatment of obese/overweight people. I never realized I was being treated as a second class citizen because I was big my whole life, until the past 4 years and people do treat me differently….and this is wrong. Yet, I find when I start to talk to a stranger in a line or at an event who is larger, it always saddens me when they are shocked that I would speak to them. Like they are surprised….I did the Ironman Canada triathlon 2 weeks ago and I had my family carry a sign to hold up every time they saw me that said “360lbs to Ironman. Go Nicole Go”. I hope someone saw that sign who thought, “hey, if she can do it, I can do it” and has started to make the small permanent changes to have better health….I lost weight to be healthier. I did the Ironman to prove to myself that I was not only smaller, I was fitter and stronger and NOTHING would stop me from achieving my goals. It has been A LOT of hard work, a lot of surgeries and a lot of struggles but I push on every day.

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  5. Unfortunately, obesity and weight are the last areas where discrimination is seen as okay. Laws, and many corporate policies, currently frown upon using someone’s race, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. to discriminate against them – the above post even points to the possible backlash of mentioning race or religion in a phone application. “Size” and “fat” are not protected by these same rules that protect almost everything else that makes us individuals. Instead, as a society we honor skinny – thus putting down larger sized people – by hiring thin waitress to maintain a company image, by cramming shelves with magazines that flaunt weight loss on the cover, and by not providing protection against obesity-phobic behavior.
    If, growing up, I could have been protected from being bullied for my size (I was a broad-shouldered, thick legged, competitive swimmer who trained twice a day), I may have not developed bulimia to try and fit into a mold that was set by a certain weight or BMI – the BMI, of course, which was by my doctor as the magic number for health.
    Too much focus is placed on dress sizes and weight, and not enough emphasis is placed on health and removing stigma associated with not being stick-thin.

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