Tag Archives: fat jokes

Some November Links

Debbie says:

I have a really rich collection of links from the end of October:

If you were living under a rock somewhere, you might have missed the (shocking! horrible!) news that Renée Zellweger had work done on her face.


Jessica Goldstein at Think Progress sums up a sensible feminist reaction, with links to various news stories.

If we’re going to perpetuate an entertainment industry that fetishes female youth and rejects everything else, we don’t get to trash talk women who choose to alter their looks through whatever means are at their disposal. We’re the ones who created a social and professional environment that is inhospitable to any other path.

We built that world, and now we also have to live in it.

You can find a related feminist analysis from Sarah Kliff at Vox.


In a stunning medical breakthrough, “after 19 months of treatment in which cells from his brain were transplanted into his spinal column,” Darek Fidyka (who had sustained severe spinal cord injuries) “has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs. He’s continuing to improve more than predicted, and he’s now able to drive and live more independently.”

Undeniably exciting, and many folks who are immobile after spinal cord injuries are undoubtedly trying right now to figure out how to get into the trials. At the same time, it raises the question of the value of walking, as we discussed here in July.


I want to see Skin Deep, Carleton College’s new body-positive nude magazine. What a great idea! Sabrina Kenelly at TC Daily Planet has the scoop:

The student publication has three requirements for submission. First, they must have no clothing in the picture. Second, the picture must be submitted with the consent of everyone photographed. And third, the photographer cannot be oppressive; in order to combat and draw both racial and gender lines that are seen as problematic. …

Co-editor-in-chief Kyle Schiller said he hopes that the publication will raise awareness to issues such as fat and slut shaming. “I’ve spent too much time worrying about the food I eat and the clothes I wear,” he said. “I want to wear what feels good and I want to eat what I love.”

Schiller said he wants the publication to shock people, but in a way that’s body and sex positive. Body image issues and sexuality issues are taken for granted, he said, and things like fat-shaming and slut-shaming promote “a very real system of abuse.”

Apparently, Beloit students are also publishing a sex-positive erotic magazine. Is this a trend?


And what happens to nude models 40-60 years later? Noreen Malone and Nadav Kander did an in-depth set of current photographs, with interviews and a related article for New York Magazine with former Playboy centerfold models, from 1954 through 1979.


Here is Laura Aldridge, Miss February 1976, now 59 years old.

I was surprised by the commonalities they found among the women:

All the women in these pages—who went on to become journalists, entre­­­preneurs, real-estate agents, and sexagenarian nude models; who married, divorced, and, in one case, gave birth to a Victoria’s Secret supermodel — say the Playmate title imbued them with a sense of confidence that seems more of a precursor to the sexual freedom of third-wave feminists than related to the objectification and degradation that their contemporaries saw in the magazine. “I think everyone who walked in that door to be a bunny girl or Playmate knew what they had,” says Cole Lownes. “They may not want to admit it, but I think they knew [their power].”

Presumably, not all Playmates would agree, but it’s still interesting that ten of them share this feeling so strongly.


The ever-insightful Annalee Newitz rants about the question of whether or not insurance coverage for frozen ovum is a feminist victory.

Why are we freezing women’s eggs, but not investing in the technologies that would take us beyond this primitive and unsatisfying solution to the underlying problem? And by “underlying problem,” I mean the way we still demand that women choose between work and children….

I think women should be demanding something more than frozen eggs and artificial wombs. We should be demanding that our workplaces provide childcare during working hours. I’m not talking about Google’s super-elite, super-expensive on-site preschool bullshit. I’m talking about CHILD CARE FOR EVERY WOMAN AT EVERY COMPANY. Sorry to go caps lock on you, but this solution to the work/child problem is so simple and so effective that I’d like to see it emblazoned across the sky.

If you look at it from this perspective, Apple and Facebook’s egg-freezing policy starts to sound a lot like a guy who just wants to get laid at a party. It’s weirdly focused on the fertilization part, and not the part that matters.


Lesley at xojane offers a good, clear article on fat jokes, sparked by Andy Richter’s quick comeback to  Chelsea Handler, when she asked him (but not her thin guest) if he floats a lot in the ocean, and he said,

“Why, do you sink?” Waits a beat. “Might be that cast-iron heart.”

Most of my links are found through Feministing, Feministe, io9, Shakesville, and Sociological Images. For this group, Lynn Kendall found both the Playmates feature and the fat jokes piece, and Kerry Ellis found the Vox take on Renée Zellweger.

Fat Jokes and the Elephant in the Room

Lynne Murray says:

When I started to explore this topic I was going to discuss the CBS prime time comedy Mike & Molly, about a fat couple. I can’t recall another show where both partners are fat since Roseanne, 1988-1997.

I laughed at Roseanne, but Mike & Molly did not make me laugh. In fact I felt both angry and a bit nauseated at the underlying premise. I think there’s an elephant in the room on Mike & Molly and I don’t mean that as a fat joke.

The underpinnings of so-called fat jokes are two assumptions that are shared by great masses of our citizenry:

First assumption: fat people are out of control around food, waving a piece of chocolate cake in front of the dieting heroine is tantamount to holding a wine-tasting party for an alcoholic

Second assumption: rescuing fat people from eating forbidden food is a noble act. In Mike & Molly, the hero’s buddy grabs a sandwich out of his hands and characterizes it as an “intervention” because his friend was committing “suicide by meatball sub.” That’s a quote from memory because life is too short for me to watch that dreary YouTube clip again.

In his very useful (and funny) book, The Comic Toolbox, John Vorhaus starts off with the statement “Comedy is truth and pain.” Actually he puts it in full caps, and gives several examples, one of which is: A man falls off a cliff. As he plummets, he’s heard to mutter, “So far, so good.” (p. 4)

Humor has a different set of rules than other fiction. The primary rule is simple and brutal–it has to make you laugh, or at the very least smile happily at a nimble turn of wit. That’s tricky because what makes one audience member laugh makes another break out the hate mail and death threats.

The line keeps moving and changing. Some of that has to do with the changing concept of Truth. What people believe may or may not be true, but the success or failure of a joke to wring a laugh out of an audience can hinge on what the audience thinks is true. Anyone who has ever risked telling a joke to just the wrong person (or worse yet in an inappropriate setting) will understand how jokes are rooted in a social landscape.

The outrageously funny Australian comedy writer/singer (and barefoot virtuoso pianist), Tim Minchin has a song called Prejudice

that begins by toying with expectations that he will say a word American audiences find extremely offensive. He does not. However, at least one commenter to the YouTube clip even says, “I was expecting him to say n_____.” The joke is slightly spoiled in that some of insults he does play with in the last part of the song may be obscure for many American listeners.

Jokes that directly embrace prejudice can now get a joker fired, picketed or targeted as a blatant bigot. Yet these jokes were common coin when racism, sexism and anti-Semitism were in more publicly acceptable full flower. And many groups are still fair game.

As Marlene pointed out last week in a post entitled No Surprises, transgender jokes are alive and well in the mass media and protests about them get limited media attention.

I personally can testify from as much of a sampling of the field as I can endure, fat jokes in all formats seem to be going through a kind of boom right now. Ironically I think this may be a reaction to the increasing visibility of the fat acceptance movement.

(I went looking for the source of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi statement: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” and found that it’s a disputed quote that may have originally come from a 1914 Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.)

In 2009, The Big Fat Blog considered the topic of fat jokes, responding to a Dawn French quote:

“It is no more acceptable to make a fat joke than it is to make a gay joke,” she told Mandrake at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, at the Royal Opera House. “People need to learn to take everyone as they are.”

French said her weight had not helped her career, but added: “It certainly hasn’t hindered me. It’s about teaching people how to take you, how to accept you. You have to open people’s minds.”

Many Big Fat Blog commenters brought up the point that seems most glaring to me–the laziness of picking fat or dieting as a target.

Fat jokes are usually not well-honed, and that’s partly because they often are “easy” jokes, simply pointing out that someone is fat and suggesting they must be out of control. Often that observation is the entire joke.

On a deeper level I think fat jokes fail because they are based on a very unstable pile of horse manure, the lie that fat people are out of control and could become thin by dieting. It’s a lie that people believe, and can’t examine very carefully because their belief is so entrenched and dearly beloved. Exploding that lie would lead many fat people to deal with the reality that this is the body you’ll be living in, just as it is now. Better to live in the lie and point fingers at “those people” who can’t control their appetites than to give up hope of ever joining the few, the happy few (about 5 percent of dieters) who manage to attain and sustain weight loss

In a recent New Yorker, writing about Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike & Molly, Tom Bissell says of TV sitcoms:

NOTE: Paid content at the link. I took the quotation from a friend’s paper copy.

Films, perhaps, show us who we want to be, and literature shows us who we actually are. Sitcoms, if they show us anything, show us people we might like to know. Because of this, the sitcom is a medium designed to reassure. The more reassuring the sitcom, the better its chances become of winding up in the financial promised land of syndication.

A lot of sitcoms are, in fact, darker than you realize. At its core, Two and a Half Men is about loneliness. The Big Bang Theory is about alienation. Mike & Molly is about self-hatred.

I’m not sure I agree about Two and a Half Men being about loneliness, to me it looks more like the story of a substance-abusing sex-addict older brother and the younger brother who yearns to be him (one of the reasons I stopped watching it). The Big Bang Theory is my absolute favorite show, but that may reflect on my own self as a woman who loves nerds too much.

I don’t believe that Mike & Molly really is about self-hatred. I contend that the “elephant in the room” on this show is fat-hatred, and tiptoeing around and pretending that it’s acceptable damages the humor. Maybe the show could be funny if it had the courage to face its own prejudice.

But that would be bad for business. And yes I mean the diet business