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Fat and jolly? Not so much…

by Fall Ferguson, JD, MA

Note: Hopefully, readers of this blog understand that opinions expressed by any blogger (even ASDAH officers) should not be attributed to ASDAH. [See disclaimer in the column to the right.] This post being more personal than most, it felt especially important to reiterate that any non-jolly expressions of opinion herein are my responsibility alone. FF

“A Right Jolly Old Elf,” Oil Painting by Tom Browning
“A Right Jolly Old Elf,” Oil Painting by Tom Browning

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

– From ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore

It’s the holiday season and I have to be honest, gentle reader. I am not feeling so jolly.

When I volunteered to write a blog post that I knew would appear on Christmas day, I planned to talk about some research I had happened upon concerning whether or not fat people really are “jolly” or not. As I reviewed the literature, however, I found myself resenting it. Why is this even a question? How dare researchers frame their questions around a stereotype? There should be an outcry over any study that purports to examine whether a particular group displays a particular stereotypical characteristic or behavior, and it’s insulting that researchers see fit to do so in this case.

So, I am sorry, beloved reader, if you are disappointed because you wanted to get to the bottom of the age-old question of whether fat people really are jolly or not. I am not going to do that today, as a matter of principle. Instead, I am offering up a much more personal essay on why I am not feeling so “jolly” this holiday season.

Being Fat During the Holidays

It’s been a tough couple of months. From Halloween onwards, we are surrounded by excess—an excess of diet talk and body judgment, that is. Oh, sure, there has been a surfeit of holiday cookies, pot luck parties, gift baskets, and so on, just as there is every year. And this year, it seems all those visions of sugarplums have led every possible media outlet to begin earlier than ever to advertise the weight cycling techniques that will feature prominently in so many people’s New Year’s Resolutions.

And hey, it’s been so much fun listening to folks giggle about being “bad” as they nibble another sugar cookie or take a second helping of the cheese tortellini. It’s understood – doesn’t even need to be said – that the “bad” they fear so much is getting fat (or fatter) from all this “indulgence.”

Now, it’s not easy being fat in our culture at any time of year, but the holidays are an especially weird and uncertain time to be a visible symbol of many people’s greatest fear. It’s a time of feasting and celebration, yet I suspect that many thinner folks become uncomfortable when they see someone my size consuming the same gingerbread lattes and fruitcakes which they are enjoying as part of the holiday festivities.

Of course, I do get invited to holiday parties, but I am not really supposed to eat or drink much of anything there…It’s not that anyone actually says anything, but there’s scrutiny. Oh yes, there’s scrutiny. Don’t ever think that fat people don’t notice how what’s on our plates is scrutinized.

Fat or Non-Jolly: Choose One

Turns out, too, that I am not really supposed to say these kinds of things, especially not in public like this. Perhaps some of you have been experiencing a mounting sense of discomfort as you read – who is this fat woman who dares to be so angry? How dare she say these things, acting all bitter just because the world’s a tough place to be fat?

Well, this fat and jolly meme is brutal. Whatever fat people do, they should never compound the “sin” of being fat with also being angry or sad. Fat people need to get along. In the first episode of the 2010 HBO series “The Big C,” the central character of Cathy Jamison (played by Laura Linney) informed the much younger Andrea Jackson (played by Gabourey Sidibe) about the rules for fat people:

Laura Linney and Gabourey Sidilbe in The Big C

Cathy Jamison: You can’t be fat and mean, Andrea.
Andrea Jackson: What?
Cathy Jamison: You heard me. If you’re going to dish it out, you gotta be able to lick it up. Fat people are jolly for a reason. Fat repels people, but jolly attracts them. Now, I know everyone’s laughing at your cruel jokes, but nobody is inviting you to the prom, so you can either be fat and jolly, or a skinny bitch. It’s up to you.

Who writes these rules for fat people? Is it so crazy for me to think that I have the right to be moody just like thin people do? Why can’t fat people be non-jolly? Here’s my final act of size acceptance advocacy for the year: I am daring to be fat and non-jolly. Nobody should have to be jolly when she doesn’t feel like it.

Being Jolly Is No Longer Enough Anyway, Even for Santa

In the past, I had the sense that Santa “got away” with being fat because he was jolly. In recent years, it’s not even clear that he’s been getting away with it: a host of media stories have suggested that Santa needs to slim down because he’s setting a bad example for the kiddies. Even this recent story, which suggests that Santa need not “slim down” as long as he does his cardio, names weight as a “risk factor” and provides tips for “healthy Santa snacking.”

That’s how far our fear of fat goes these days: we need our “right jolly old elf” to transform himself from “chubby and plump” to svelte in the name of body conformity, just like everyone else. Just in case you think I exaggerate the fat phobia that has invaded our holiday experience, this holiday season saw the publication of a new children’s book: Santa Claus Goes on a Diet.

santa claus on diet

I refused to buy the book, so I don’t know its contents, but the first line, as listed on Amazon, is “There was a terrible problem up at the North Pole.”

Yep, there sure is a problem, Virginia: Santa’s engaging in dangerous eating practices! Another blog featured Santa Claus Goes On a Diet in its review of the “25 Most Ridiculous Holiday Children’s Books” and commented:

“Overzealous parents who want to make their children feel awful for being a little husky all year round now have a new piece of ammunition. Let us raise our yuletide celery sticks in joy.”

And the ridiculosity doesn’t stop there. In the “Fat Santa” Internet game, Santa gets fatter as he eats mince pies, which makes it more likely that he’ll get hit by a game-ending freezing snowflake. Santa has to eat carrots and slim down to have a better chance at survival in the game. No hidden messages there, right?

fat santa
Santa teaches weight cycling on the World Wide Web.

“Naughty or nice” is not the only judgment getting thrown around this holiday season. So, yes, dear reader, I am allowing myself to have a “holly-not-so-jolly Christmas” this year. If I were one of those people who managed to send out holiday cards every year, here’s what my holiday message for this year might say: I’m fat, I’m not always jolly, get used to it.

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