Let me tell you a little story…
My friend Jim and I had just been to see The Fault in our Stars (excellent film, by the way). We were happily discussing it when a Facebook notification popped up on my phone from a friend who shall be referred to as K. She posted a video on my wall accompanied with the comment: “Did you see this? Makes me think of Jim every time!!!“
This is the video in question:
The video is essentially a re-enactment of the Numa Numa Guy, who I think everyone who has ever had an internet connection probably knows about by now. It’s a very popular viral video and it is essentially a bloke (Gary Brolsma) lip-syncing and dancing. It’s a classic; a feel-good video about having fun, making a bit of a fool of yourself on the internet, and not caring what anyone thinks of you. But what sticks in mind with a lot of the viewers is the fact that Gary Brolsma is a bigger guy.
Now I’m pretty sure that 99% of comments about Numa Numa Guy are not about fat shaming him, but for a lot of people Numa Numa Guy’s body weight accentuates the video. It could be because it sends a positive message about self-esteem, it could be because fat people dancing is often used as a comedic device. Whatever the reason, to me it never seemed like a problem because it was a fun video Gary Brolsma made to entertain people and his size was (mostly) seen in a positive light.
Back to my story.
Jim and I watched the video re-enactment advert whatsit, wondering what had reminded K. of Jim. As soon as the large bloke in the advert came along, Jim said “…it’s going to be because there’s a fat guy, isn’t there?“
Then, of course, the man in the video erupted into the Numa Numa dance and the video ended, leaving Jim and I confused with irritation growing by the second.
We didn’t know why this particular video could be linked to Jim. Well, we did know why: 1) Because Jim likes to do the Numa Numa dance OR 2) Because Jim looks like the Numa Numa guy OR 3) Because fat people dancing is entertaining. We just needed to figure out which one was intended.
It was quite easy to eliminate the first two options; Jim has never done, nor will ever do, the Numa Numa dance. He doesn’t like the video and never has. He doesn’t doesn’t often engage in physical comedy, and doesn’t like to make himself look a bit of a twit just to entertain other people. Plus given the fact that a lot of people associate the funniness of the video with Gary Brolsma’s weight, for Jim the video just reminds him of the issue of “weight humour” and how he disagrees with it. It doesn’t help that he’s a larger bloke himself and there are always going to be a level of insecurity that comes along with that.
The point being: anyone who is friends with Jim would know his personality and the kind of comedy he indulges in. It has never been anything close to Numa Numa.
Jim also looks nothing like the Numa Numa guy so it couldn’t possibly be what K. was insinuating. Unless her view was that “all fat people look the same”, which is so damn offensive and ridiculous we couldn’t conceive it. We’ve never heard anyone say that. Ever.
We ended up with option number three. And we weren’t happy with it. Initially Jim didn’t want to say anything, he just tried to bury his displeasure under a metaphorical rug. But I didn’t and I replied to K. on Facebook. I was as civil as I could be, but firm in my opinion, which then prompted Jim to reply also.
We were hoping our friend would feel bad for hurting Jim. Intentions aside, K. had left Jim feeling insulted, and good friends generally apologize for that shit while swearing to the Gods above that’s not at all what they meant. We would forgive each other. We would move on. God knows we’ve all said stupid and offensive shit without thinking it through, myself most definitely included. You apologize and try not to do it again.
You certainly don’t do this:
First of all, no apology? Thanks, friend. Throwing another friend under the bus as well? What exactly are you trying to achieve here?
Jim and I spent a while feeling upset, but then we began talking about the issue in a wider sense. Casual fat-shaming is a problematic part of our culture, and there are not enough people doing something about it. I’m not talking about people being openly bullied and called horrible names because of their size; there are many prominent campaigns that attempt to tackle this problem. I’m talking about your friends’ passing jibes about your tum. I’m talking about our own self-deprecating humour, how we do sometimes poke fun of our own weight. There is nothing wrong with being able to make fun out of yourself in this way, but not everyone does it and sometimes we can forget that.
Fat-shaming is not generally considered socially acceptable anymore, but so many people still engage in what I like to call “casual fat-shaming“. Whether or not they are conscious of it or even doing it on purpose sometimes, people still make comments, make jokes, relating to someone’s size DIRECTLY TO A FAT PERSON. Something as seemingly harmless as a grandma telling her grandson “ooh you’re getting big” while absent-mindedly patting his belly could be the beginning of an eating disorder. It’s serious. It doesn’t even stop at weight, it can be applied to a number of subjects that I won’t go into lest this post deteriorate into a massive clusterfuck of my conflicting opinions on different topics.
The thing with casual fat-shaming is that people aren’t intentionally trying to make fat people feel bad. Well, most of the time at least. But in our culture where overweight people are viewed so negatively, I find it difficult to believe that thinner people can fully understand the impact of a simple throw-away comment. Even simply acknowledging the fact that someone is overweight has the potential to bring layers upon layers of insecurities bubbling to the surface. What happens if you start mocking their weight?
I like to tell risqué jokes with my friends. We downright insult each other sometimes; for example, my friends often tell me to get back in the kitchen because I’m a woman. But it’s okay because they are my friends; I know them and I know they are joking and the joke doesn’t actually reflect their beliefs. If I knew someone was offended by that kind of humour, would I do it to them? NO. I know that my friend Jim does not like jokes about body size. So do we pull that kind of shit? NO.
I don’t want to take away your right to casually insult your friends, hell I do that shit all the time. But I know what is acceptable in my circles and I know when to keep some views to my fucking self. I refuse to be one of those people who says things like “oh don’t get so offended, it was only a joke”. Jokes can hurt and people have a right to their offense. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t believe they can express their offense. As you read in the beginning of the story, Jim didn’t want to respond at first, just bury his feelings. Why? Because he has grown accustomed to the fat-shaming that had gone on all his life, and so often we are told to just ignore or learn to laugh at yourself. When dealing with internet bullies, ignoring them is probably the best solution. But if your friend is fat-shaming you they can go guzzle a cock then crawl back and apologize. It is not acceptable and we need to actually do something about this. It’s not on.
So when our friend K. thought of Jim because she saw a big guy in a video doing the Numa Numa dance, which not the kind of thing Jim would ever do nor did the man in question even resemble Jim, I was angry because I knew it was because the only common denominator between the two men was the body size.
Even if K. was genuinely oblivious to the weight correlation and literally only imagined Jim pulling that kind of Numa Numa stunt, she still publicly shared a video that Jim looked at and understood as nothing but a jibe at his weight.
To quote Jim: “…so if myself and Tess don’t think it’s something I’d ever do, something that’s not in my character and the only possible link we see is the weight thing, then what do you see? What kind of guy do you think I am? An uneducated chubby guy flailing and bouncing around the place for comic relief? […] You’ve basically said that a video of a fat guy making a fool of himself in a way I never would makes you think of me. So am I a fool or am I just fat?“
I completely understand Jim taking it that way. I took it that way too.
I can almost believe K. claiming to think it was something Jim would do. I can definitely believe she didn’t mean great offense.
I cannot understand K. for seeing she caused offense and not apologizing. That’s just terrible friendship.
“Lots of folks think fat-shaming is actually a good thing, because with shame as a motivator, perhaps those darn fat people will stop being so fat.
It doesn’t work, though — shame is not a catalyst for change; it is a paralytic. Anyone who has ever carried extreme personal shame knows this. Shame doesn’t make you stronger, nor does it help you to grow, or to be healthy, or to be sane.”