If you don’t find weight loss jokes funny, you’re not alone. This form of disparagement humor (a type of humor designed to make a marginalized group of people look ridiculous) has existed for years and is still in wide use today in various forms. Jokes about body weight may be humorous to some, including self-deprecating individuals who make “fat jokes” about themselves. However, the reality is that these jokes are not funny. They are damaging to people’s perception and attitudes toward weight, obesity and their own body image.
Weight Loss Jokes Enforce Negative Obesity Stereotypes
A great deal of “fat” humor is based on stereotypes that portray people who are overweight or obese as being lazy, unintelligent and lacking willpower. These widely accepted negative and erroneous assumptions suggest that people who are obese are choosing to remain that way because they are not trying to lose weight.
To make matters worse, for decades, media portrayals of obese characters have continued to reinforce the negative stereotypes related to obesity, both in adult and children’s television shows and films. One research study examined 1018 major television characters and concluded that overweight and obese television characters are associated with specific negative characteristics.
For instance, the study found that overweight and obese females on TV shows were less likely to be considered attractive, were less likely to display physical affection and were less likely to interact with romantic partners. As for the overweight and obese male characters, they were not as likely to interact with friends or romantic partners or to talk about dating. They were also more likely to be shown eating.
In particular, women characters who are overweight tend to be the object of weight loss jokes on TV comedies and audience laughter is heavily associated with the negative comments that these characters receive.
Sadly, “Anti-fat” Attitudes Continue to be Socially Acceptable
In many countries around the world, including America, “anti-fat” attitudes are still socially acceptable. This is evident based on the number of weight loss jokes, memes and comments frequently circulating on social media among various age groups and genders.
One study found that cyberbullying and hurtful fat jokes are “disturbingly prevalent” in the social media environment. The researchers noted that a significant portion of user-generated content on social medial reflects and reinforces weight stigma. Negative stereotype and jokes thrive in these environments as do the alienation of overweight individuals and self-deprecating humor.
There’s nothing amusing or constructive about weight-related jokes. Even when used as a coping or defense mechanism, self-deprecating humor often causes more harm than good. The reality is that no one should be mocked or judged inferior because of their body shape or size.
In this day and age, it’s important that we take a moment to think before we act. Even though some people may see no harm in cracking a weight loss joke, especially one directed at themselves, for someone else it could trigger depression, an eating disorder or negative stereotypes that reinforce weight stigma. Sometimes, laughter isn’t always the best medicine.