Here's Why We Are Seeing So Many Fat Jokes Right Now

One reason we may be seeing more fatphobia in this uncertain time.

Posted Apr 13, 2020

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and there are a great many things to be worried about; the vulnerable people in our communities, the tanking economy, and the social injustices that have been laid bare by the crisis, to name just a few. But if you look at social media, you would think that the only thing on people’s minds right now is worrying about gaining the dreaded #COVID15. While not surprising (I’ll explain why below), it is disappointing to see the tsunami of fatphobia circulating online. These memes are particularly jarring in the context of the body-positive wave that we were riding high on pre-quarantine. It’s almost like the coronavirus crisis has given us permission to unabashedly release our most fat-hating selves into the online universe. 

I don’t know about you, but my social media feed has been littered with memes featuring fat people as the butt of the joke, images of thin people transforming to fat labeled as quarantine before and afters, and people lamenting the snacks they are eating while isolated at home. Why is it that, in the middle of such an unprecedented and painful time, we are so concerned with our body size?

As a therapist, I have experience working with people during times of crisis. While I’ve never been through a global pandemic before, many individuals come to therapy when it feels like their world has been turned upside down. As a clinician who specializes in body image and eating disorders, I also know that sometimes, when everything feels out of control, we respond by attempting to control our body.

In the face of what feels like impossible circumstances, it may be easier—in a way—to focus on food and our body. Instead of confronting the very real and very uncomfortable reality of the world around us, we focus instead on something that we think we have control over. If we believe that our body is the problem, we can believe that changing our eating or a new fitness routine is the solution. If we fail to do that, we just need to summon more willpower or finally find some motivation. It’s all about us and therefore more under our control. The only problem is that the more that we try to control our eating—and by extension, our body size—the more out of control it all feels.

Sure, feeling out of control with food and your body might seem an easier thing to sit with than a global pandemic. This is especially the case when it is accompanied by rising unemployment, empty grocery stores, and high infection rates. We are living through something that is currently shining a light on so many inequalities in our society that we have absolutely no large-scale control over.

Regardless, our body size isn’t something that we have control over either, and the last thing we need during a collective crisis is more body shame and more disordered eating. We can empathize with people wanting to lose weight while also acknowledging that this might be a trauma response in and of itself. And we also can call out the fatphobia when we see it.

If we have any hope of getting through this moment in history, it is by working together and holding (from a distance) one another as best we can, not by shaming people who happen to be in larger bodies. Remember that your commentary on your own body affects others, as well. If your body changes during this time, be gentle with yourself. Make space for compassion. You are surviving and that is incredible.