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Your fat jokes are hurting us and we need you to stop

By May 10, 2020May 22nd, 2020No Comments


Gaining weight shouldn’t be people’s biggest fear in the midst of a global pandemic, says Louise McSharry. But based on the number of fat ‘jokes’ and memes going around, it’s up there.


This morning, a very rare thing happened in my life. I got back into bed. I’d been up since 4:30 with my kids and had already cleaned, hoovered, folded and put away a wash and made a nice fry, so I was delighted to snuggle into my pillows and duvet and scroll through my Instagram stories. The warm feeling didn’t last long, unfortunately, as I almost immediately encountered a horribly fatphobic meme. They’re everywhere at the moment, but this one really got me. It was a photograph of three fat women, one getting out of a car, and two helping her. The caption was ‘Me going out with the girls after quarantine’.  

The joke, you see, is that the poster is going to eat so much during this period at home, that they’ll end up with a body like mine. Isn’t it hilarious?  

Obviously, I’m used to memes like this. They are ten a penny in regular life, and in this weird Covid life we’re all stuck in, they’re even more frequent. It’s not just memes, either. WhatsApp groups and Zoom calls across the country, and probably the western world, are filled with ‘jokes’ about people ending up ‘obese’. Ha ha ha. I know because it’s happening in the groups I’m in, and if it’s happening in the groups I’m in then it’s happening in loads more, because here’s the thing, I am obese. Or at least that’s how I’d be categorised. So if they’re making the jokes with me there, then I can only imagine the chat that’s happening in groups where there are no fat people.  

Having said that, though, there may be little difference, because when people make jokes about becoming obese or ending up like a photo of a woman with a body like mine, they don’t think of me. The people who make these jokes and comments in my presence couldn’t possibly be thinking of me when they make them because they are otherwise sound. In many cases they are kind and loving people who would never want to hurt my feelings and yet they’re happy to make my body the butt of the joke.  It’s strange, this disconnection.  

It’s the same disconnection that has led many thin women throughout my life to repeatedly deny my fatness to me if I ever brought it up in conversation. ‘Oh no, you’re not fat, Louise’ they’d say, ‘You’re so pretty!’ (Because those two things cannot both be true, of course.) I had accepted the facts about my body, but they could not. And they can’t connect me, the fully formed human being who they know and care about, to the fat body they fear so intensely that they can’t stop nervously joking about it. Even during a worldwide pandemic. Even when people are dying, Kim.  

These women, and unfortunately it is mostly women, find the idea of being fat so absolutely horrifying, that they can’t bear to think that someone they love is living that experience. Well, either that, or we they love us so much that they don’t find us abhorrent despite their inherent belief that being fat is abhorrent, so they simply refuse to accept it. They are in denial about our bodies. They simply can’t accept that we’re fat, because the thought of it would kill them. So, they make the jokes and send the memes and don’t for a minute think that we might be upset.  

Well, I’m upset. I’m upset for myself, and I’m upset for all the other women like me who are being subjected to a barrage of ‘jokes’ at our expense at a time that is already filled with anxiety and upset. We don’t deserve it. We are not before pictures, or ‘Jesus I could end up like that’ warning signs. We are people with families. We are people with careers. We are people who run. We are people who eat vegetables. We are people who get up early and hoover and do laundry and cook breakfast and get back into bed. We are people just like you. We are more than our bodies, but we are our bodies too. We are not a joke.  

The women in the meme that upset me this morning weren’t jokes either. One of the main reasons it bothered me so much was that I’d seen the photo before. Someone I follow on Twitter had posted a thread of culturally significant fat women through history, and this photo had been included. The last time I’d seen these women, it was in the context of them being cool and accomplished, and then there they were, being entirely objectified for the sake of a shitty meme.  

I wanted to find the information about them so that I could include it here, but I couldn’t remember who had tweeted the photo. So I searched the image on Google, but that was useless too because when I searched the image all that came up were quarantine memes. Millions of versions of the same pathetic joke, shared over and over again on Facebook pages around the world. From memory, they were a band or comedy troupe, very popular in the UK around the 60s. I can’t be sure though because according to the internet that isn’t relevant anymore. All that matters is that they’re fat. Fat jokes. And that makes me feel like a fat joke too.  

So please, if you’re someone who’s making the jokes and sharing the memes, just stop. Stop on behalf of me and women like me, but also stop for yourself. It’s not helpful. It’s not constructive. It’s not doing anyone any good.  

For the record, I understand that it’s hard to repress our instinct to make jokes and comments about bodies. We’ve been taught to do it from a very young age. Negative thoughts about particular body types are beamed into our minds from the moment we can read and listen to the world around us. The society we live in tells us constantly that fat bodies are a problem, at the very least, and disgusting at worst. Prejudice is engrained in us. It lives in me too. I have to constantly fight it every day of my life, and tell myself that I am just as worthy as every thin woman I ever sit beside or pass on the street. It’s hard work. That’s why I need the jokes to stop.  

I also understand that a lot of the jokes and comments come from a place of fear and stress about your own weight. If you can’t stop thinking about weight gain during this pandemic, that’s legit. I’ve been there. I’ve obsessed about my weight off and on for 30 years. It’s a horrible way to live, but there is help out there if you’d like to live differently. I really encourage you to seek it out. Do some reading on weight neutrality. Stop following social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body.  Follow some fabulous women who look like you. It’s amazing to feel liberated from the cyclical self-scolding and constant underlying fear. It’s amazing to come to terms with the fact that there is so much more to life than your bodies aesthetic. I wish you the very best of luck with it.

In the meantime, please consider the damage externalising your fears is doing to the people around you. We’re just trying to get on with things, and we really don’t need a constant reminder that becoming like us is the worst thing you can imagine. You’re better than that, and so are we.

Main photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash


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