Fat Jokes a Hate Crime?

Barbara D’Souza argues in a USA Today op-ed that not only aren’t fat jokes funny, they are a form of hate speech.

Since fatness is seen as a lifestyle choice rather than a genetic condition, many people tell themselves that it is OK to laugh at the overweight. In spite of the extreme difficulty obese people face when trying to lose weight (I have lost more than 60 pounds three times), our condition is assumed to be self-inflicted. Yet if obesity were seen as a disability rather than gluttony, fat jokes would arguably be seen as hate speech.

It is unclear whether the media cause anti-fat bias, or whether it merely reflects our culture’s views. Perhaps each reinforces the other, as evidenced by the pervasive prejudice similarly felt in an overweight American’s everyday life. I have felt this oppression when strangers yelled insults at me. For example, one woman asked me, “Are you going to get something to eat?” At my many jobs, I have faced jokes and bullying; many of my heavy friends have had similar experiences. Fat harassment, in general, might be as prevalent as sexual harassment, but – perhaps because we are too ashamed – we obese do not speak out.

Now, insulting people isn’t very nice and continually poking fun of an individual, especially in a work place, could certainly be considered harrassment.

Yet the idea that morbid obesity is a “genetic condition” is, in the vast number of cases, patently ridiculous. Why is it that this genetic plight seems to affect only the most affluent societies? I can’t recall a single obese person during the Ethiopian or Somali famines, for example. And why is this gene so much more prevalent than it was twenty or thirty years ago, affecting even children? Is this part of Magneto’s evil plan?

There’s little doubt that there is a genetic component to obesity. The impact is miniscule, however, compared to lifestyle.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rodney Dill says:

    That would make Michael Moore a hate crime because he’s a …..

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Is this part of Magnetoâ??s evil plan?

    Curses…foiled again.

  3. Mark says:

    So does this mean Dean Wormer committed a hate crime when he told Flounder “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son?”

  4. Maggie says:

    Seems we got Murtha on a “hate crime” too; after his ranting about the size of Karl Rove’s derriere!

  5. Herb Ely says:

    Genetic predisposition may explain 30 pounds. It won’t explain 100.

  6. spencer says:

    Yes, that is a very convincing argument that fat people starve to death.

    But on the other hand all you have to do is visit any WMT to observe that being overweight does seem to correlate very closely with
    standards of living — of course the causal relation may go either or both ways.

  7. Hate speech. My nominee for worst concept of the latter 20th century.

  8. Randall says:

    Hate crime? Give it a rest and grow a back bone. I’m a short, skinny, left handed, gun owning, pick-up truck driving southern redneck. I cannot turn on the television without someone on the left poking fun at me. I just have a good laugh and go on about my business,it’s nothing personal. I admit that some heavy people are treated badly and I would never inflict pain upon another person, however this is rude behavior, not a hate crime. Remember the line in the Randy Newman song,”short people have no reason to live”. Was this a hate crime? No! Being a short man,5ft7in I was not offended, I liked the song. Cant we all just get along?

  9. floyd says:

    how about “FATHEAD” which is the type it takes to come up with the idea of a “hate crime”. is the use of the words “niggardly fathead” a hate crime?

  10. McGehee says:

    So, if I describe myself, as I was 10 years ago, as “somewhere between 300 pounds and aircraft carrier,” did I commit a hate crime against myself?

    At least with libel, truth is a defense.

  11. Rodney Dill says:

    did I commit a hate crime against myself?

    Yes, but it was a funny hate crime.

  12. McGehee says:

    Rodney, for this type of hate crime “funny” should be a defense.

  13. After a particularly patronizing talk with a cardiologist, who thought I would be stunned to learn that eating less and exercising more was the key to weight loss, I saw a show on TLC about a size 2 woman who suddenly ballooned by 100 lbs. She was frantically exercising, eating only broccoli and broiled chicken–the docs did not believe her, one said, “I could lock you in a closet and you would lose, not gain.” (Another charmer) After 4 yrs, she learned she had a pituitary tumor. She was secreting too much cortisol.

    I tell this story because it made me feel guilty about sometimes wishing that all size 2’s could gain 100 lbs–if only for a week. I see how miserable she was and I am sorry I ever thought that.

    (After surgery, she lost some weight, but by no means all, but said she felt vindicated and healthy.)

    Come to my site–I am Health’s Ass. It’s fun!