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I Am Not Your Token Fat Friend
We’re consuming the notions that fat people don’t deserve love, that our purpose is to assist other roles or provide comic relief.
By Jordan Daniels
I am a fat token.
I know it’s uncomfortable to hear, but I’m speaking to the fact that in almost all of my friend groups, I’m the only fat person. This isn’t necessarily a problem, except that it is because it’s hard to find many friend groups with more than one fat person in them, if any at all.
If you are that “fat friend”, then you’re probably used to being compared to another fat person. Jonah Hill is the go-to for many when they see me. This was most apparent when I recently went to a bar in Santa Monica with my friends. This seemingly nice man came up to me and said, “You look just like Jonah Hill!”
I replied, “I have no idea why, but thanks.”
He continued with, “ Are you as funny as he is?”
This is what stumped me. Not only was he comparing me to Jonah Hill because of my weight, but he was about to pit us against each other to see who was funnier, as if being funnier gave one of us more social currency.
This perpetuates the notion that fat people have to compete for acceptance. This is problematic because it diminishes the actual worth of a person. This is problematic because it makes people like me a commodity; a token to this thin-driven society.
If you’re fat, you have to be funny. I call it the “Fat-Funny Syndrome,” a completely non-medical but socially accurate term that describes someone (whether fat, thin or in-between), who plays into the idea that fatness and comedic ability go hand-in-hand. We have to be the next Jonah Hill or Mo’Nique.
We’re expected to either make the joke or be it. If not, then where is our value? Think of Fat Amy in “Pitch Perfect,” the hilarious sidekick to the heroine, Becca. While there is definitely a sense of empowerment with her character and the embracing of her body, it’s the fact that she has no actual arc that’s the problem. People make jokes about her and she makes them about herself, but does she really have a story? We even see her confidence and sexuality as funny because the thought of a fat person having such power makes people uncomfortable.
Think of “The Internship,” where the fat character, Zach, got bullied horribly and was the butt of every joke from another character on his team. Not once were we rooting for Zach because we were too busy laughing at him.
Think of “It,” where Ben, a principal role, gets his weight poked at by both his enemies and his friends. Despite him being the one to save Beverly, he still took a backseat to her relationship with Bill.
We’re consuming the notions that fat people don’t deserve love, that our purpose is to assist other roles or provide comic relief. We are force-fed the idea that we can only be second-rate citizens. We’re only seen as fat tokens.
In her TedXSoMA talk, fat activist and author, Virgie Tovar, claimed that “Fat people actually have less access to meaningful participation in society.”
I know this is true because I experience it myself on a continual basis: I’m not given access to the clothes I’d like, I’m cautioned from going on rides or participating in activities and I’ve been refused service.
Because of my weight, I receive less access to being a productive member of society. I’m made to feel like a subspecies of human in comparison to our straight-sized friends. This issue is intersectional too – imagine how society views a fat, queer woman of color.
We have to be funny, an idiot or a sidekick. We’re never front-and-center, we’re never intelligent or creative, and we’re never in a happy relationship. This dehumanization leads us to eating disorders, mental health issues and even self-harm.
But this archetype is being deconstructed by people like Virgie. It’s being dismantled by people like Tess Holliday, who is giving visibility to fat people in the fashion & modeling world. It’s being deconstructed by my friend Meg Kimberling, a fine art model that breaks down the constructs of what fat bodies are allowed to look like in poses that are almost exclusively done by straight-sized people. It’s being dissected by Doctor Jon Paul, an advocate for spaces that facilitate and aid queer people of color. Troy Solomon, Ady Del Valle and many others are dedicating their work to taking up space in areas that we’ve been told we can’t fit into.
The Fat-Funny syndrome is not our narrative and we do not need to be held to the standards of comedy and self-deprecation to make others feel good about themselves. We do not need to be tokens, life is not an arcade.
Society may tell us that we’re too big, but it’s just thinking too small. We’re already visible, let’s take up the space that we deserve.
Author Bio: Jordan identifies as a Fat Queer Person of Color, social activist, fashion enthusiast and visual-creative. He obtained his degree in Journalism & Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He currently works with social media, branding and digital storytelling. You can find him on Instagram or Twitter.