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OBESITY IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

OBESITY ISN’T FUNNY

By now, I’m thinking that most of you have already read Dr. John Kelly’s unfortunate article, where he used one-liners to “find humor” on the subject of obesity. If you haven’t read it, I’m not going to post a link to it because I think enough people have already read and responded to it, and there is really nothing new that could be added to the discussion.

That article (and the reaction from the obese community) inspired today’s post, because everyone has the right to be unfunny.

Let’s begin:

COMEDY IS NOT A LAUGHING MATTER

Comedy is important to me. Being funny takes guts and you have to be a risk taker to pull it off well. Sometimes that works out great; other times…not so much. Just take a poll of people who know me, and ask them to describe me in 5 words. I guarantee you, the word “Funny” will be near the top (and might be repeated). It’s who I am, and it’s a part of myself that I’ve always embraced — especially when I was obese. You see, being funny was a great way to deflect attention from my obvious *indelicate condition.* Like most comedians, I used my humor as protection from the world, figuring that if I said something derogatory about myself first, others would realize that nothing they could say would hurt me. I was offensively offensive. (Or defensively defensive. Or defensively offensive…I can’t be sure).

However you define it, you and I know it was a lie, but that didn’t stop me from believing it.

LAUGHING UNTIL YOU CRY

Have you ever laughed so hard, tears streamed down your face and you couldn’t see straight? There’s a fine line between humor and anger — at least in my experience. The thing that truly makes something “funny” is the kernel of truth behind the joke. We feel better when we can laugh at an uncomfortable truth; it diffuses the tension. And, any comedian worth his salt will string you along, dropping bread crumbs of your life experiences so you can follow the joke to it’s “inevitably” funny conclusion. He’ll invite you to agree with him so you can laugh with him. How many times have you listened to a comedian and said, “Oh my gosh! That’s happened to me!” or, “That is SO TRUE!”

Basically, the comedian’s job is to make sure we are on his side, in order to keep the laughs coming.

WHEN THE JOKE FALLS FLAT
(Alternately known as, “Oh Crap!” or “I Take it Back!”)

Unfortunately, humor is not a guaranteed thing, and what one person finds funny, another might find disgusting or offensive; what I laugh about might not be what you laugh about, which is why there are so many forms of humor: Visual, slapstick, potty, crass, edgy, whimsical, goofy, biting, audible, sardonic, droll, juvenile, etc. Ever think about the number of comedy movies out there? Trust me, I’m a very discerning comic, and I admit that I don’t find much of the contemporary movies to be funny. But, just watch my daughter and husband viewing “Jackass” and you’ll see what I mean. I’m left scratching my head, going “What’s so funny about someone getting locked in a car with a swarm of angry bees?” and my family is saying, “Let’s watch that again! That’s freaking HYSTERICAL!”

Comedians put themselves out there and hope that everything they say or do will be funny. When it isn’t, it can be downright uncomfortable. Ever seen a joke go over like a lead balloon? At best, you’ll hear uncomfortable laughter and throat-clearing; at worst, you’ll get a roomful of boos, or some walk-outs. Comedy isn’t pretty. But, that doesn’t stop us from trying. Maybe we’re slow learners, but as a comic, I LIVE for the laugh. I LOVE it when someone gets my humor. I LOVE it when I can make my best friend laugh so hard, she snorts cherries through her nose and begs for mercy (as best she can between guffaws.) I’m relentless and sadistically string her along — waiting for the moment when the laughter will die down (meaning that she is recovering) just long enough to spring my next salvo on her. It’s my favorite pastime.

But, guess what? Not everybody likes my humor. Some people think I can be mean, while others are sure I’m just trying to be superior by saying things so cerebral, no one will ever get the joke. Trust me, it’s the “Jackass” crowd; I’m convinced…but anyway…

WHEN LAUGHTER IS NOT THE BEST MEDICINE

If you will recall, I began this post with mention of Dr. John Kelly and his unfortunate article. I’ll be honest: I experienced a broad range of emotions when I first read it. Initially, I was disgusted. I remember saying that I thought the man was a “pig.” I might have even said he was a “stupid pig” (I’m not sure). Next, I was dismayed, because I didn’t think the hurtful one liners were even FUNNY. It’s one thing to say something mean that’s funny, and quite another to say something that’s both mean AND unfunny.

Fortunately, I didn’t stop there. I decided to write the “stupid” doctor a letter — but took great care not to lambast or insult him. After all, it’s pretty hard to educate someone you’ve just eviscerated. People are funny that way…

Anyway, here is why I took the time to write the letter:

  1. I felt he deserved to be treated the same way I would want to be treated if I found myself in a similarly untenable position.
  2. I knew he was already getting run through the meat grinder by angry obese people, and didn’t want to “pig pile” on him.
  3. I really wanted an explanation, so I could better understand the “why” behind the article.
  4. I truly believed he had made a catastrophic, yet innocent, error; he had a momentary lapse of judgment; he made a huge mistake. I wanted to help him understand why he was getting attacked.

Guess what? He wrote me back — and boy, did I feel his pain. He’d been insulted, verbally assaulted, lambasted, grilled, belittled and yes, even threatened. Why? Because he wrote an INSENSITIVE and UNFUNNY article. He poked fun at an easy target. Everyone laughs at the fat person, right? Sadly, I think what made the situation the worst was this simple fact: HE IS A DOCTOR, and he should *know better.* That’s right, he, more than just about anyone else, should understand the pain of this disease.

Guess what? He’s human and he screwed up.

But…he OWNED it — immediately. He fell on his sword and did everything he could to stuff that genie back into the bottle. But, of course, just like when we (weight loss surgery people) eat something we shouldn’t, and get horribly sick, we can’t undo the damage; we can only try to do better next time and HOPE we are given a second chance. Sadly, that is not at all what happened. He wasn’t given a second chance, and apparently, to some letter writers, only death by a thousand cuts would come close to serving as penance for his grievous sins.

Here’s what confuses me: We (as obese and formerly obese people), demand compassion and understanding. We scream and holler about how insensitive people can be; how rude and judgmental they are; how mean and unforgiving they are. We don’t let anyone get away with ANYTHING that smacks of insensitivity to the obese population.

So, if that’s the case, why wasn’t Dr. Kelly treated with the same compassion and understanding we demand? Why wasn’t he given a chance to explain himself, acknowledge his error, and apologize?

I don’t know about you, but I was given a second-chance when I had weight loss surgery.

I was treated by a doctor who was probably just as frustrated as Dr. Kelly with having to operate on an obese patient — but he operated on me anyway — just as Dr. Kelly does.

Fortunately, there is a lesson to this mess:

We  Should All Be Perfect and Never Make Mistakes.

Wait. Maybe that *isn’t* the lesson, although, to read the hate mail Dr. Kelly received, you’d surely *think* it was.

Let me try that again…

The moral of the story is this:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Take the time to understand what you do not understand
  • Make decisions based upon accurate information
  • Forgive when forgiveness is honestly requested

Pretty simple, don’t you think?

I am a fan of Dr. Kelly — the man who made a serious mistake.
The man who offended a million people in one fell swoop.
The man who tried to be funny, but wasn’t.
The man who saves people’s live through surgery.
The man who apologized for the error of his ways.
The man who is not being given a second chance.

I’m not asking you to be a fan; I’m asking you to forgive and allow him to make amends. I truly believe he is a “convert to the cause.” He wants to join the battle against bias, stigmatism and criticism of the obese. I think that, if you’ll give him a chance, you might hear something you actually agree with.

At the end of the day, no one issued me death threats when I was obese; I believe Dr. Kelly deserves the same consideration. He is, after all, only human.

11 comments

1 John Kelly { 10.27.11 at 9:44 pm }

Wow. Wonderfully expressed. We always learn best from our mistakes and I received a PhD this week in "life". Humor can indeed be a 'weapon', even if the 'comedian is not fully conscious of his or her behavior. The obesity problem will only be helped with compassion, kindness and understanding on the part of health care workers. There is no room for judgment.
Cari's message of forgiveness is inspiring. I used to be rather large myself and am best able to maintain my weight when I forgive and practice humility. All else is from our EGO.
We are all on the 'journey' together.

2 bariatricgirl { 10.27.11 at 11:42 pm }

I saw the jokes…how could I miss them being a part of this community but I couldn't have told you who wrote them. I saw them for exactly what they were and I knew he would get plenty of feedback without my help. I figured it came from a place of not knowing any better and again was sure he'd know better now. It is also about understanding the true intentions of the written word. When you hear someone's voice inflections it can mean something totally different. I've written things, checked it before posting and nearly fainted from what I almost posted that could have been massively misunderstood. That's why my favorite quote is "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation." ~ Herbert Spencer

If you take time to see the whole picture, investigate it in its entirety….you will usually find a way to understand the reason. That includes someone being insensitive who does not care… which means I cannot change or control their message. I move on to something I CAN change.

3 bariatricafterlife { 10.28.11 at 12:19 am }

Yvonne: Amen, sister. When I wrote to the doctor, I told him that, perhaps the part that got him into the most trouble, was not so much that he thought it was okay to publish it, but that he THOUGHT IT TO BEGIN WITH. That's the hard part…you can think something and not say it….or not think and say something. In this case, he admits that he chose to deal with his frustration in an unacceptable way. I couldn't agree more.We all take risks when we write and publish things for the world to see, but I hope the occasional flak doesn't stop us from speaking our truth 🙂

4 bariatricguru { 10.28.11 at 4:49 am }

LOVe it!!!! I think your point of view really makes us think and remember how we all are so quick to act before we think sometimes. LOVE the maturity with which you handled him. YOU ROCK My FRIEND!!!!!
Love ya!!!!
Erin

5 bariatricafterlife { 10.28.11 at 5:13 am }

Thanks, Erin. I am learning that patience doesn't cost a thing but nearly always pays dividends.Sent from my iPhone

6 cyclingmom { 10.28.11 at 2:31 pm }

Your post seems to be judging those that responded to Dr. Kelly's article harshly. Judging those that treated him as he treated them. Based on your stated morals of the story, it seems he got exactly what he asked for. Congratulations on taking the high-road and not taking the same approach in your letter, but with all due respect, if he didn't have the common sense to know what sort of response his article was going to garner, then perhaps it was going to take every single hurtful response for him to learn.

7 bariatricafterlife { 10.28.11 at 5:39 pm }

Great perspective! Your thoughts show that everyone has a voice and an opinion. I think there's always room for personal growth, compassion and patience.Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully comment 🙂

8 Diva Taunia { 10.29.11 at 6:39 pm }

First, Cari, I continue to be impressed with your point of view and your writing. I think this is really important -especially now after Dr. Kelly has very publicly (and numerous times) apologized and expressed his regret. I think it takes a lot of guts (!) to admit when you're wrong, to take responsibility, and to ask for forgiveness. And I think if someone asks for forgiveness, we should extend that to them. Second chances, indeed. While initially disgusted with the article, I ended up with a great deal of respect for him and the way he handled it.

However….

I continue to express that the magazine itself has completely discredited itself at best, and is discriminatory and weight-biased at worst. They stood by the article, and then proceeded to threaten any blogger (myself included) with a lawsuit. So instead of taking the high road, they stood by the weight bias and complete disregard for the epidemic of morbid obesity and those facing the challenges of that on a daily basis and THREATENED LAWSUITS. And oh! I've got some "anonymous" comment posters on my blog that I'd bet $5 is the editor, who continues to receive flack on a daily basis thanks to my blog posting.

I updated my blog to reflect my appreciation for Dr. Kelly's admission or poor judgement and my respect for his apology. The magazine itself? I hope it goes bankrupt. They're not interested in my – or anyone else's – forgiveness.

9 bariatricafterlife { 10.31.11 at 2:19 pm }

Hi Taunia:Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. This topic CONTINUES to be a hot-button of conversation and a lightning rod for anger and resentment. While I prefer to view it as an opportunity for honest discussion (thanks to Dr. Kelly's responsiveness), I can see that it will most likely be added to the heap with every other insensitive, cheap and easy fat joke (thanks to the “non-apology” – as you noted — from the publication).It's easy to point the finger at somebody else…so simple to shirk responsibility and place the blame elsewhere…But here's how I see it: I did that in my “before” life, and I KNOW how destructive it is (how about 320 pounds of destruction?) That's why I work hard every day to “own my crap” and eiiminate “blaming behaviors” from my Bariatric After Life; it's the only way I know to live a life in recovery from obesity.So, I guess you can say, while I detest the article, I am thankful for the discussion it generated, because it has highlighted the continuing plight that the obese face everyday. Sadly, this is how we will find our voice and eliminate the insults (and stupidity) from the vernacular: By calling OUT the offenders and calling them UP to a higher purpose.Again, I thank you for placing yourself at the front of the pack on this one; you willingly took some nasty hits by addressing the unrepentant publication directly. I proudly stand beside you in this battle. Keep fighting!Cari

10 John Kelly { 10.30.11 at 11:15 pm }

Amen….all very insightful and helpful to me. As I look at this closer I am sure i had some unresolved negative emotions at the whole obesity problem. When I see adolescents who are Type 2 diabetic it evokes a lot of passion. Even though the article was written about BIG (ie football players etc) there is no excuse for the one liners. Bottom line to share…….problem are best addressed with POSITIVE responses, not 'pot shots' at an easy target.. J Kelly

11 bariatricafterlife { 10.31.11 at 2:36 pm }

Dr. Kelly:I continue to be humbled by your willingness to accept responsibility for your poor judgment and hope that the publication will follow your lead. So far, it is looking like they will stick to their current technique (which is to duck and run), but that only makes you the better man. How many “deaths” must you “die” before you have paid a high enough price for your error? I can't guess, but I hope your attackers move on sooner, rather than later…I thought about this all weekend (while speaking at the Northwest Weightloss Conference in Portland, Oregon — where your article was STILL very much the topic of conversation) and here's where I'll leave it: In the final analysis, it's much easier to blame the victim than it is to own the truth.The publication has assumed an attitude of defensiveness claiming WE (obese and formerly obese)are the ones with the problem because WE don't have a sense of humor about a disease that is killing people. Funny how that works.Perhaps their next issue should be devoted to cancer victims (a topic ripe for the picking). They can write funny stuff about folks with lung cancer (I love it when they smoke through that hole in their neck!) or breast cancer (ever try to find a bra with one cup?) or diabetes (are they drug addicts or do they really need those syringes?)Sadly, the war against obesity will not be won with this battle — but that will not keep me from standing my ground. I will not die on this hill, but I sure as hell won't give it away to some lazy editor, either! Thank you for joining our fight, Doc! We welcome you into our ranks and look forward to the day when many more will join us.Cari

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