body image · covid19 · diets · fat · normative bodies · weight loss · weight stigma

The “covid 19” isn’t funny, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic

I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.

That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.

Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.

If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).

This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.

That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.

We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?

I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.

Image description: Pie chart of “Things I’ve Learned i the last few weeks,” with the 3/4 of the chart taken up with “I fucking love touching my face.”
Image description: White mug with black printing on it in bold, made to look like a broken mirror, and says “I don’t like this episode of Black Mirror.”

12 thoughts on “The “covid 19” isn’t funny, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic

  1. Great read! I’ve been noticing the impact that the current situation is having on my friends who are living with eating disorders and it puts this conversation in stark relief. Some people deal with stress by restricting or engaging in other disordered behavior, and being stuck at home can make that much more possible. “The COVID-19” discussion is certainly not helping.

  2. Thank you, Tracy. This is excellent! Everyone’s coping strategies are being pushed right now; we certainly don’t need to add to it with anti-fat prejudice.

  3. As a recovering person I deeply appreciate you calling this out for what it is: a dangerous, fatphobic, capitalistic perpetuation of diet culture that is profiting off of peoples deep fear and grief right now. Its shameful. I’m glad to read your perspective. Thanks Tracy!

  4. Tracy,

    Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been slightly annoyed about the weight gain jokes as well. I don’t really get why they’re funny. They add on another layer of angst and that’s the last thing I need right now.

  5. > But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain.
    Are non-isolation related, self-deprecating jokes also bad?
    Or is this just the fashionable outrage of the day, with a click-baity headline?

    Would “I just went shopping for 4 weeks worth of snacks for the second time this week” be acceptable if I posted it in 2019?

    Is “Don’t stuff your face every time you get bored” helpful and healthy advise or horrible fat shaming?

    1. Yes. No. No. Depends on the context but if put in those words unhelpful and shaming. Your comment lacks nuance.

  6. I loved this article. I feel as though, more than ever, diet culture is fabricating so much fear into everyday life for people.

    I wrote a post on my blog, writing about diet culture and the “Quarantine 15,” and I would love if you could check it out and tell me what you think!

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