Back in my playground days, there was a lot of offensive humor going around. Garbage Pail Kids, anyone? (Although mine was kind of awesome. Seriously.) But one brand I remember in particular was the “Yo Mama” jokes. They all start with the phrase “yo mama” and then finish with something highly derogatory about the sacrificing woman who had birthed the listener. Some began “Yo mama so ugly…” or “Yo mama so stupid…” But most of them started with “Yo mama so fat…”
“… she sat on a rainbow and skittles came out!”
“… they had to take her year book picture with an aerial camera!”
“… she has her own zip code!” (Thanks Weird Al for being an 8th grader in perpetuity!)
“… she sat on a quarter and a booger popped out of George Washington’s nose!”
And those are just the ones that I can recall off the top of my head. Seriously, even after all these years they came back to me like that. No google. Just to test my theory out, I asked my husband if he remembered any off the top of his head. Without pausing, he spouted off at least five ending with this one:
“Yo mama so fat she can’t wear gray to the beach ’cause of the harpoonin’!”
And do you know what I did? Me? The girl who is so painfully aware of the hurt that a joke can cause that she has cried over many a fairly innocuous rib? I giggled. Sure, part of it had to do with the hilarious tone of voice my husband used (“harPOOnin'”!!) but most of it was just reflexive. I wasn’t thinking of my own mother or of myself as a mother or of any mother. And yet, it’s a terribly offensive joke.
What if I had made the joke about blacks? Or Jews? Certainly then there would be less laughing. For the past few decades while our society has grown progressively more accepting of different nationalities, skin colors, religions and even sexual orientations we have increased in our bigotry of “fat people.” I’ve even listened to people defend their discriminatory mindset by saying “Well people can’t control what color they are but they can sure choose not to supersize at the drive thru!” True. But people can also control when their mouths move and spewing hate at any group – even if it’s “just a joke”- isn’t okay.
I have a very good friend who is quite overweight who routinely makes these kinds of jokes about himself. He laughs. Others laugh. It’s kind of terrible to watch, especially because he is freaking hilarious. I asked him about it once and he said that he deserves the self-inflicted ridicule because he let himself go. That and he’d rather laugh with people than have them laughing at him. This has got to stop. We’ve got to start seeing people as more than what they look like on the outside – any part of it. We are so much more than our pant size!
But how to “sell” that to your average humor-loving person? Australia recently asked its citizenry this very question and the ad some of them came up with is quite powerful in my opinion. It’s highly offensive. Truly, unless you are some kind of social idiot you will cringe. Hard. But it makes the point in a very effective manner. Check it out (no profanities – at least no American ones – but still probably NSFW):
Has fat discrimination become the new hate speech? What did you think of this ad – does it sink to “their level” or is it effective? How do you put a stop to this in your own life? And – anyone else laugh at the Yo mama jokes? (Be honest!)
For a more in-depth analysis of the ad and the ensuing televised debate in Australia, check out Jezebel.com’s coverage.