It seems like every minority has someone in Congress or on the Supreme Court rooting for them. Everything once considered weird is now embraced as normal. It’s the average person who’s become odd man out. And heaven forbid if that person is overweight. The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” lamented by Hamlet are nothing compared to the insults hurled at fat folks.

There, I’ve said it. Uttering the word “fat” is tantamount to committing a heinous crime, but laughing at obese people behind their back is acceptable. We wouldn’t dream of making ethnic or gender slurs, yet fat people endure humiliation and discrimination every day. Fat Slob, Lardo, and Fatso are mere samplings of derogatory names aimed at overweight people. Women are called Heifers, Ms. Piggy, and other labels too atrocious to mention. 

New Orleans is famous for celebrating Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras, the French pronunciation for the day before Lent, is a time of feasting to the point of gluttony, and it’s not limited to just food. Anyone witnessing Mardi Gras might come away wondering what such a wild orgy has to do with 40 days of fasting and even less what it has to do with Jesus in the desert.

But on one day in February it’s okay to say the “f” word. The other days of the year it’s strictly taboo because it’s a hurtful, mean-spirited insult. Many people are not overweight because they eat too much. There are other factors to consider like slow metabolism, glandular problems, hormone imbalances, and poor diets due to poverty. Overeating may be the most obvious cause, but it’s not the only one.

The stigma connected with overindulging usually escapes those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Agencies are quick to help such addicts, but no one feels sorry for fat people. They’re viewed as uneducated impulse eaters who gobbled their way to diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues. In society’s eyes, they got what they deserved.

My intent is to caution folks about assuming that overweight people are feelingless slugs. My sister, Jude, had a weight problem all her life. She was ashamed to leave her house because she knew people laughed at her. Depression caused her to eat more. The vicious cycle continued for years.

Ten years ago I attended the wedding of a friend. A classmate of Jude’s was there. His words were sharp as a hornet’s sting. “Your sister was the fat girl in our class,” he said. Forty-five years after their graduation his only recall of my sister was her weight.

So the next time you hear friends making “fat” jokes, ask how they would feel if those extra pounds were around their waist. Perhaps they’ll think twice before criticizing someone who might be one bite away from suicide.

Sharon Kennedy

Sharon M. Kennedy is a freelance writer from Brimley, a small town on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sharon writes a general interest column for a number of local newspapers. She admits she’s a late blooming “Boomer” and tends to forget that most women her age are enjoying retirement while she’s embarking on a new career. After teaching English Composition at a local university, Sharon turned to her real love. Writing stories that tug at your heartstrings or make you chuckle is her hallmark.