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Joking Around

I made a little promise to myself back before I started losing weight that if I did get thin I wouldn’t make fun of my old plus-sized self. I made this promise after watching the TV show Friends which would frequently make jokes about how fat Monica used to be. My philosophy was that if it wasn’t okay to make fun of a fat person then, why should it be okay to make fun of that version of them now? The TV show also bugged me because we all know Courtney Cox, the actress who played Monica, never really used to be fat, so it removed any of the uncomfortable feelings that would exist if you were joking about a real reduced obese person.

But it’s been over a year and a half now and I wonder how well I am keeping that promise. Several entries ago I compared my old morbidly obese self to the human-sized blueberry girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That wasn’t very nice of me, was it? If I were still that fat I think I’d have to sit on someone who said that about me. Then I’d get the Oompa Loompas to roll me around on them a bit. See, there I go again! What’s going on with me?

Time fades memories and I’ve been into this health and nutrition lifestyle for so long now that I wonder if I’ve somewhat forgotten how hard it is to transition into it in the first place. I have a friend who’s completed her first year of medical school who has been very devoted to keeping a journal about her experiences because she fears losing her empathy to the dehumanizing aspects of the medical education system. She needs a certain level of detachment to be able to cut up cadavers without getting an instant replay of lunch, but she doesn’t want to become a doctor who is so jaded that she can’t relate to her patients’ experiences.

I don’t think I’ve become jaded or lost my empathy for the obese. When I saw the fat lady driving her motorized grocery cart out of the Kroger yesterday, I definitely felt a pang of sadness (and dare I say pity) since I remember how hard it was to walk just half a mile at that size. Thankfully, I was always able to push my own grocery cart. But I do think the farther I go away from being fat, the harder it will be to “feel” the feelings I experienced when I was fat, like the harder it was to see that fat lady as she drove off into the parking lot and toward the horizon. This is usually a good thing. Who wants to revel in painful things that happened years ago? But like my med school friend, I don’t want my detachment to make me an asshole either.

However, maybe this was a dumb promise for me to make in the first place. I make fun of stuff constantly! It’s my default mode. So it makes sense that I would make fun of my old fat self or myself now or even the geeky self from 2nd grade. (Okay, I’m still geeky, but at least I dress better. There’s video of me in elementary school in green koolats that I won’t be showing anyone.) If you make fun of something, you’re bringing it down a level. If you make fun of it, it can’t hurt you.

You could also say that if you’re making fun of yourself then you’re depreciating yourself, tearing yourself down. I’m torn on that argument because there are certainly times when making fun of yourself can be done in a mean way, but it can also be done in a humble, I-don’t-take-myself-that-seriously manner. You’re not necessarily dissing yourself if you make a joke at your own expense. It depends on the situation.

There’s also a big difference between whether I’m the one doing the cajoling or whether it’s someone else who’s making fun of how fat I used to be (which luckily no one has done – yet). It’s like how it’s okay if I make fun of my brothers, but if someone else does it there’s going to be a smack down. Maybe I’m just trying to beat people to the punch and retain control over the situation. This is probably the reason Friends bothered me so much. It wasn’t Monica making fun of her old fat self, it was other people.

I’m reminded of an entry over at Big Fat Deal a couple months ago that in turn was inspired by a post at The Fat Girl (having fun with links yet?) that said we sometimes have a concept that weight loss will be retroactive. That the new thin person will override the old fat person, who will have never existed. They will effectively be dead. Is making fun of that old fat person part of that death and dismemberment? One last slice of the guillotine? A way of saying “You can’t hurt me anymore. I laugh in your face! I fart in your general direction!” Because the fat girl no longer physically exists, can we make fun of her without fear of hurting her feelings? She might no longer be tangible, but I doubt the emotional residue of being a fat person ever really goes away even if it fades.

I also wonder if distance from a situation gives us the perspective to acknowledge how bad things were in a way we were unable to do when in that situation. Frequently it’s only when you are out of a screwed up relationship that you can realize how messed up it was. Maybe joking around about how fat I used to be is way of recognizing how bad my situation was in a way I was never able to admit while I was in it.

Of course, all of this introspection starts to sound completely ridiculous when you consider that fact that I am still obese. I would insert a joke here about how silly that makes me sound, but then we’d have to analyze why I was making fun of myself again.

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14 Comments

DKN • August 8, 2006 at 1:03 pm

Pasta I don’t think there is a problem with lightly poking fun at your “old self”. As long as it isn’t viscious, I think it’s healthy. I’ve never weighed over 200 lbs and I don’t know what that must be like and I’ve never been inclined to make fun of people who are in situations I cannot relate to. And probably never will, even when I become my new 150 – 160 lb self. I know because I’ve been 150-160 lb girl before and wasn’t a jerk then, either. Even though I’ve never been “huge” I’m still no stranger to ridicule and have been made fun of for my weight my whole life. Why would I want to be become one of those people? That stuff about Monica in “Friends” bothered me, too. It’s just a TV show but it reflects a disturbing pattern in our culture that “fat” is inferior and that even if you used to be fat and no longer are, you somehow deserve to relive the painful experience over and over again. If Monica would choose to depreciate herself in a viscious manner like they did, it would disturb me just the same. If it were light self-poking and somehow ironically related to the fact that she’s a chef, it would be funny. But that was never the case on the show at all.

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Amanda • August 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

I’m a fairly new reader of your blog, but I don’t think I’ve commented before. Congratulations on all your success with SBD!

As much as I love Friends, I always hated the episodes with fat Monica. I don’t understand why the writers thought it was okay to make fun of fat people when statistics showed that a huge percentage of their target audience was overweight (assuming the target was a wide age range of women). NOT okay. Even the reruns bug me!

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Rumpole • August 8, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Hi,

I’ve been reading you for while and congratulations on the success. I am a relapser and I think that one of the things that triggered the relapse was the feeling that I’d lost myself, not just the fat parts, but all the parts and I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. (I lost 101 lbs) I didn’t recognize myself at all and that was scary. Anyway, I don’t make fun of fat people and I hate “fat” jokes, whether directed at me or at other people. I didn’t like Friends in general and I hated the Monica bit.

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Shannon • August 8, 2006 at 4:33 pm

I was watching a reality show last night where a guy kept denigrating “fat girls” and one of the women he kept company with actually hooked up with him. This made me disgusted and sad. She may not be overweight, but doesn’t his shallow callousness turn her off?

I’ve promised myself that even when I do become thin, I will not date a “fat-basher” and will let anyone who make makes a cruel joke at the expense of someone overweight know that it is NOT okay. Period.

That’s not only because I will have once been fat, but because human. It’s the same way I’m turned off by racist or homophobic remarks. I just wish everyone was that way. How great would it have been for the girl on the tv show last night to turn to the self-important, pompous, depthless dude who spewed hate and tell him he was an ass?

If more people stood up, maybe society would change.

Anyway, I don’t think you’re ever in danger of losing your humanity. Love your blog!

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Karina • August 8, 2006 at 5:19 pm

WOW! I love this post. This is similar to what I have been dealing with. I am just starting out on my weight loss journey and I have just realized how mean I am to myself. It’s like I have taken everything that society has said negative about me and believed it. It’s become who I am. I beat myself up daily b/c I don’t feel like I measure up and boy the jokes and sarcasms I deal out to myself.

How do I end this?

And what scares me the most is will I be able to accomplish my weight loss goals with this attitude………….

By the way PastaQueen, its b/c of your blog that I have taken a deeper look at myself. THANKS!

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Rachel • August 8, 2006 at 7:39 pm

The Monica thing definitely bothered me. I remember one outtake where they had Courtney Cox in the fat suit holding a piece of chicken or cake or something and she was dancing. Of course everybody thought it was hilarious.

This post blew my mind. It’s amazing how everybody can be so different and still have to go through the same crap to get to where we want to go. One of my first steps in losing weight was to stop the hurtful self-talk and forgive myself for what I’ve done to my body. And reading your post made me realize that in some sick way I *do* think that being thin will be retroactive and dissolve my former fat self. I definitely need to keep working on my inside as well as my outside.

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Patty • August 8, 2006 at 8:19 pm

Yeah, those monica fat episodes bothered me too. I’ve never found jokes about fat people funny ever, even when I was thin. I was thinking in the monica episode. They prob. wouldn’t make that episode if they really were fat and felt those feelings. I related to your comments about seeing a bigger lady in the store. I see them at the Ymca gym and they are in their little rascals and then scoot over to do some water aerobics and I think ‘good for them’. Though I have never been as heavy as these few people I saw, it’s weird that I think to myself. Wow, good thing I’m on the healthy eating plan, I never want to get that heavy and not be able to walk well. I already beat myself up (in my head) about how chubby I’ve become. I’ve tried to refocus those thoughts and be kind to myself and be positive. It’s hard some days as I see a reflection of myself in a mirror at the gym or a store window. I wonder if this fat mindset will go away once I get to my goal. Your are doing great on your journey and I like your blog.

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kathryn • August 8, 2006 at 9:01 pm

Oh if you can’t laugh at yourself then you can’t laugh at anything, that’s what I think. Although I tend to make jokes more about my “new” self – like ha, ha, look at me, I’m going for a run instead of drinking margaritas.

The fat Monica stuff on Friends was definitely icky. It would have worked if it was tied into her control freak behaviour (I never liked Friends much but think Monica’s “if it’s not a right angle, it’s a wrong angle” was one of the best lines ever).

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Mark • August 9, 2006 at 2:39 am

Cruelty is never justified, but I think that many obese people unjustifiably feel that their condition, essentially an abnormal medical condition, should never be the subject of comments or jokes. People slowly become overweight, then obese, then morbidly obese, then the subject of TLC documentaries because to a certain extent there is self-denial going on and they live in an environment that allows the abnormal to become normal.

Of course, at some level, including at some conscious level, all obese people know they are obese. But they tend to file that knowledge away without doing anything about it. Comments, jokes, TV sitcoms, and other things that reveal what is often thought but not spoken, are not all bad, since from time to time they act as the catalyst that can produce that moment of truth when somebody finally decides to take positive action.

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blubbah • August 9, 2006 at 3:02 am

I have to disagree with one of the previous comments – I totally think the people who wrote the Fat Monica episodes could have been fat and written them anyway. We’re all socialized to think in certain ways – there are women who aren’t feminists, fat people who think fat is disgusting, gay Catholics, and so on. I’m sure there are fat people who laughed at the Fat Monica jokes, too, because they’ve been trained to think that’s funny.

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chrissie • August 10, 2006 at 11:50 am

You know I’m not certain that the self-reflection at this point is ridiculous at all. After all if we can’t deal with the issues that we have in regards to weight now, while we’re still in the trenches as it were then when will we deal with them and how?

I have a friend who went from fat to buff and in turn hated fat. He’d forgotten what it was like. He’s since gained back a little of the weight and he’s practically crushing himself with self-hatred because he never got around to dealing with the issues that he had in regards to weight.

We need to think about these things now. If we don’t they’ll come back around and bite us in the behinds.

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Heather • August 10, 2006 at 12:03 pm

I’ll make fun of my old fat self when I lose weight; just as I make fun of my fat self now.

I am really not unhappy with it (I’m not big enough that it is a health concern; or that it really effects my dating life etc— sz 12. Largest I’ve been is size 15, and even then I was in better shape than most, and got hit on all the time); but I feel like there is nothing in life that can’t be joked about. Life is far too serious to take seriously.

I do draw the line at insulting others though. People who do that around me are usually the only ones who ever see my claws.

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Jenny • August 10, 2006 at 12:04 pm

I am constantly joking around about my appearance – and I always did, at my smallest, and at my largest. I think that you can maintain your self-respect and have a sense of humor about the changes you see in your figure.

But then again, I’ve been known to compare my three-year-old to an oompa loompa, so maybe I’m biased.

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Peter • August 12, 2006 at 1:07 am

I think the rule is, anybody can make fun of themself, or their group. I think chuckling at how fat you used to be is like chuckling at how anything-else you used to be–like how when you were a kid you were clueless about the tooth fairy, or whatever. That’s just different, somehow, from snickering at a live child in front of you who believes in the tooth fairy. So, I’d say laughing at yourself is totally devoid of nastiness, latent or otherwise.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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