Tag Archives: documentary

The Tyrrany of Jolly

Canadian doc crew interviews the Size Diversity Task Force

Canadian doc crew interviews the Size Diversity Task Force

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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Olympic-levels of FUN!

The Fat Chick with Olympian Cheryl Haworth, Filmmaker Julie Wyman and awesome producer Barbara Multer-Wellin at the Pasadena screening of Strong!

I am so excited and blessed that my dear friend Barbara Multer-Wellin and I had a chance to meet two absolutely amazing women–3-time Olympian Cheryl Haworth and extraordinary documentary filmmaker Julie Wyman before the screening of their movie Strong!  What an awesome film!  (I am trying for the WR for the most superlatives in one blog post ever, so work with me here.)  It is such a joy when you meet famous people who are so warm and down to earth and funny.  We laughed our heads off!  And I do want to give a shout out for the film.  I’ve seen it at least 4 or 5 times now (I’ve lost count) and it seriously gets better every time I watch it.  The film is beautifully shot and really portrays Cheryl’s strength, sense of humor and well-grounded sense of self.

Part of the sense of self that Cheryl portrays in the film is a sense of ambiguity in her feelings about her physical appearance.  I want to applaud both Cheryl and Julie for allowing us to see that ambiguity.  During the panel discussion last night, Julie spoke about the great temptation to have the movie be a message and have everything tied up in a neat bow at the end.  But life rarely works that way, and the openness of both Julie and Cheryl in allowing us to see that struggle for body acceptance is one of the most powerful things about the film.  Self acceptance, especially when one does not meet certain societal standards for body size and shape is hard.  The film shows us how hard it is without offering simplistic, preachy solutions.  I found that deeply meaningful.

So for heaven’s sake my little Chicklettes, go see this film!  If  you’re in Southern California, you can join me for a free screening followed by a panel discussion in Long Beach at 6 PM on May 29.  And there are still a few other screenings scheduled throughout the country.  Or at least plan on watching it on PBS when it airs in July.  Just don’t miss it!


The Fat Chick