At work today I was having a conversation with one of my team leaders. We get along pretty well, she’s young and funny and we like to chat.
We were chatting about the weekend and she grabbed her phone, showing me a photo of her friend eating a large stack of pancakes, and saying, “He eats so much, I can’t believe he’s not morbidly obese!”
Cue awkward silence as I sit there, trying to figure out how to respond. Do I agree? If I disagree, how do I do that tactfully?
Because the thing is, this guy is nowhere near morbidly obese. And when she jokes about morbidly obese people, she’s joking about people like me.
It’s a medical term. A term that, by definition, is describing a person who is so fat that they could die at any time as a result of their weight. To speak about someone that way is offensive by default.
I find it distasteful to joke around about weight, especially in front of someone struggling with self-esteem. To expect them to laugh about it? Clueless.
But more than that, this type of comment reinforces the pervasive attitude that fat people ‘deserve it’, by being gluttonous, sedentary or lacking in self control. The fact is, an outsider has no right to assume the reason behind a physical feature. Weight may be due to a medical problem; a psychological problem; an eating disorder, (comment on that and you’ll no doubt trigger something!); or simply a person’s build.
The fact is, I’m fat. I’ve always been fat. Even when I was playing netball or swimming 50 laps, I was fat. My grandmothers were fat, my uncles are fat, my dad is fat. It doesn’t mean that I’m lazy or overeat. But even if I am, it doesn’t mean that I’m less worthy of respect than anyone else.
To joke around that someone should look like me because they ate a few pancakes is offensive, not to mention tactless.