Rachel Riley’s poem, ‘The Fat Joke,’ is a must-watch for everyone
“Health” is something we focus on a lot in today’s society. New diets, exercise regimens, eating “clean” — we designate certain things as “healthy,” which makes them desirable. But when we assign morality to food and lifestyle choices, we open the door for shaming those who don’t abide by those rules.
Which is why this poem, performed by artist Rachel Riley, is important. It’s been making the rounds on Facebook and resonating with many people — and for good reason.
The poem is titled “The Fat Joke.” There’s a lesson in it for everyone, so give it a watch.
“The old joke goes: patient walks into the doctor’s office, says ‘It hurts when I move my arm like this, what should I do?’ and the doctor says, ‘So don’t move your arm like that,'” Riley says. “Fat Girl walks into doctor’s office, says ‘Doctor, it hurts when I move my arm like this,’ and the doctor says, ‘Have you considered weight loss surgery?'”
In her poem, Riley highlights various things a “fat girl” might visit a doctor’s office for: a flu shot, an earache, a spider bite. And it’s always the same old song and dance: lectures about blood pressure and BMI. And while these typical-seeming concerns about one’s health may seem harmless, to a fat person — they’re not. Because thin people don’t get grilled about their BMI and blood pressure when they visit a doctor for completely unrelated issues.
“Fat Girl walks into the doctor’s to ask about anti-depressants and gets prescribed exercise instead,” Riley says. “Because obviously her depression is because of her fat and obviously fat bodies don’t exercise and stay fat.”
In my experience, medical doctors aren’t super in tune with the mind-body connection in general. They’re more concrete in their thinking when it comes to mental conditions — saying things like “well if you lost some weight, maybe ‘x’ would get better” isn’t at all helpful. I’m a lifetime member of the Emotional Overeaters Club myself, and I don’t suffer bouts of depression because of my weight. My weight fluctuates because of depression and anxiety.
“Fat Girl walks into a world full of sidewalk doctors who claim to be concerned about her health, side effects be damned. Fat Girl walks into the world and still somehow manages to love her fat body and the world says, ‘Stop glorifying obesity.'”
Ah yes. The sidewalk doctors. Also known as relatives and acquaintances and the entirety of internet comment sections. While we’re all guilty of it (myself included) what does it achieve? It’s concern-trolling because “healthy” is the new black and in our society, we equate health with thinness. We shame “processed” foods and anyone who gets joy out of eating them, because what if eating them eventually makes you fat? There’s nothing our society hates more than fatness.
“I do not owe you shrinking, you know,” Riley says. “I do not owe you thinness, attempted thinness, or desired thinness.”
The whole notion of “health” is so subjective. It’s a shame we don’t focus on words like “nutrition” instead. Because thin people and fat people can make nutritious and nourishing lifestyle choices. Look, I happen to know a lot of thin people. Many of them obsess over every calorie, bite, and half-pound on the scale — I was raised by one of those thin people. I know what it’s like to watch your parent equate their size with their worth and the damage that causes. If obsessing that way and living your life that way is “healthy” — excuse me while I roll my eyes.
Riley ends her poem with a powerful reminder that fat people don’t owe anyone an explanation for their existence. “I am deserving of care, and I am deserving to exist as I do. I am deserving of ‘first, no harm done.’ And the world says, ‘That’s the best joke we’ve heard all day.'”