Media Spotlight

A psychological twist on the news.

The Problem With Fat Jokes

Media portrayals of obese people can often reflect negative stereotypes about body weight. A research study looking at more than one thousand television characters on popular programs showed fewer overweight people than in real life. They are also often the subject of jokes, ridicule and teasing in television shows and Youtube videos. What kind of impact does this have? Read More

Only the targets have changed

This is a very old story. Watch old movies and see how ethic minorities have been depicted. Look at the career ending racist and homophobic statements that pop up nearly every week in the media. I think there must be a built-in conflict between people's ability to think rationally and their ingrained instinct to cull non-conformists from the herd. Another one of those instances where an evolutionary left-over has long outlived is usefulness. Doubt much can be done about it. Even if we embarked on a massive awareness campaign, history suggests that folks would just switch to a new target. It would be interesting to check back in a millenia or two to see if there's been any progress. I wouldn't put money on it.

Can't we be 'anti-fat' without being disparaging?

Disparaging jokes are obviously the wrong route, but I think that we need to recognize that healthy concern about obesity is just that: Healthy Concern! We are not doing overweight people any favors by suggesting that there is no connection between obesity, self esteem, and will power. Obesity is a health issue, race is not- so instead of comparing this to racial attitudes, a more accurate comparison would be attitudes towards smoking or overindulging in alcohol. Let's support people who are overweight by remaining honest about the factors that lead to obesity, the myriad costs of being obese, and the steps people can take to achieve a healthy weight. In many cases, constructive feedback is the most supportive response- so out with the jokes, but out with the denial too- let's be honest about the challenge of obesity and how to fight it.

Negative stereotype?

Are the jokes really the problem with "negative stereotype"? I think not. The people who incessantly over indulge in food, eat the wrong foods, do not even do modest activity and use the excuse that obesity is a "sickness" or genetic problem are the reason for the negativity. Obesity is a secondary condition to an underlying issue as it is, an issue these people refuse to face. Walking on eggshells around them, basically lying to them about their appearance and giving them delusional theories about the rest of society does nothing for their mental health. Society has grown weary of the excuses, the laziness, "fat is new the thin" marketing. Obese is unhealthy. If you refuse to change your lifestyle then you should be comfortable with who you are, if you are then jokes should not bother you. Remember, sticks and stones?

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Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.

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