Recently, I hosted a Size Diversity Task Force meeting and a Canadian documentary film crew at our house. They were interviewing us regarding our Paper Mache in a Big, Big Way project and also about size stigma in general. One of the questions that came up really struck me. The question was, “Do you also feel pressure to fulfill what some might consider to be a “positive” association with being fat. For example, do you feel pressure to be jolly? And if so, is this a bad thing?”
I’ve given a lot of thought to this question over the years. And at least for me, the answers in order are, “Yes, yes and often times.” I would say that over the years, I have felt pressure to present myself as a “good fatty”. This means presenting myself as somebody who exercises and eats well. This means presenting myself as somebody who is happy and well dressed and tastefully accessorized, and frankly, not too much trouble to anyone.
And yes, I’ve felt pressured to present myself as jolly. In the past this meant carefully avoiding the expression of anger and the assiduous avoidance of the “angry fat woman” stereotype. It also meant feeling the need to be entertaining. If you look at the few fat people on TV and on the stage, if you look for the role that the world asks us to play, you will see many of us in the role of comic relief. It seems that we are allowed a small toe-hold, a small part to play as long as we are funny–as long as we are entertaining.
So for many years, I found myself playing the role of the funny fatty. It was as if I was apologizing for not being pretty to look at and compensating by at least being fun to be around. I learned to tell a good story. I learned self-deprecating humor. I learned to make people laugh.
And in many ways, this is a good thing. It is a good thing to be entertaining. It is good to laugh. It is good to be able to make people laugh.
But it also became a way that I experienced oppression. While it is wonderful to make people laugh, it is not so wonderful to feel like you must make people laugh. I often found myself calculating my worth based on whether or not I was entertaining. I felt like being funny was my job, my justification for being, the shield that would protect me, and the platform from which it was okay for my fat body to be in the world.
It was exhausting.
And this is why the expectation of jolliness is sometimes bad. Sure it’s great to have the option to be jolly. But once there is an obligation to be jolly there is a problem. Because nobody feels jolly all the time. And everybody should be allowed to express a full range of emotions including happy and sad and angry and tired and everything else. Every BODY has a right to exist whether they are funny or not. And I think sometimes, this pressure to be jolly is about not wanting to address the stigma and the pain fat people face in our society. Because it’s difficult to express just how angry you are about being called names, or not getting good health care or not being able to find nice clothes or not getting a good job when you are under a societal mandate to be jolly.
So, my dear friends, if you feel jolly, by all means, be jolly. If you feel sad, feel sad. If you’re mad as hell and don’t want to take it any more, then stand up sister, rise up brother, and be heard! Because big, little, fat, skinny, tall or small, your feelings are important. You are important. So please feel free, to simply be…you.
The Fat Chick
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I never felt pressured to be jolly, but I do have painful memories of a time when I was in a really bad mood and I overheard someone say “She’s probably bitchy because she’s such a fat slob.” It didn’t motivate me to put on a jolly face, that’s for sure.
Reading this was like a glimpse into my life. If I wasn’t pretty enough by society’s standards, I would at least be the fun fat friend that everyone wanted to have around them. When you compound that with that desire I had to please everyone, there was little time for me to be me. I’ve grown up a lot in the past few years and have come to realize that being true to myself, allowing myself to feel what I feel when I feel it, is essential to my health.