Fat jokes are standard schoolyard fare. Zingers that start with "Your mama's so fat that ..." or "You're so fat that ..." are as predictable as they are hurtful to overweight children and the people who love them. I know because I was a fat kid. And as Kate Winslet said in her 2008 Vanity Fair interview, "Once a fat kid, always a fat kid."
It's easy to internalize that negativity from a young age and, sadly, just as easy to let it define your sense of self. We still live in a society that equates being fat with being undesirable, unlovable and even shameful. Rejecting those ideas is radical. That's why I was delighted to see comedian Gabriel Iglesias' new standup special for Netflix. His notion of self-love in I'm Sorry For What I Said When I Was Hungry is funny, refreshing and encouraging. Even his earlier special Hot and Fluffy (2007), also on Netflix, exemplifies the kind of body positivity we need more of in today's comedy world.
How Iglesias does "fat jokes"
Iglesias' jokes aren't so much about his size as they are people's reactions to his size and eating habits. As he tells it, he prefers to make fun of his bullies rather than himself. For every nosy question they have about why he doesn't diet or lift weights, he has an entertaining rebuttal. It's clear that Iglesias is comfortable with himself and that he won't let societal expectations make him feel inferior.
In fact, Iglesias doesn't call himself "fat." He prefers the endearing term "fluffy," which has become his nickname. Throughout both of his specials available on Netflix, you'll hear Iglesias refer to himself as Fluffy or tell stories where his friends call him Fluffy instead of Gabriel.
When Iglesias does talk about his eating habits — such as his habit of ordering food from taco trucks late at night, especially when he's drunk — he's not especially self-deprecating about it. Instead of ragging on himself for ordering greasy food, he rags on the taco truck employees. The male employees are shocked that he's not ordering more food. Clearly, his size influences their rude assumption. Iglesias could've easily turned this experience into a joke about his appearance, but he doesn't. Rather, he makes the employees the butt of his joke.
Why Fluffy's approach matters
In a 2014 story about female comedians for The Cut, Ann Friedman wrote that comedian Kath Barbadoro tells a joke about craving Whataburger.
In the joke, Barbadoro talks about going to the fast-food restaurant and bringing the burger she orders late at night back to her house. When she realizes that her roommate might see her, Barbadoro turns off the light and eats in the dark. Sometimes the audience laughs at the joke. Other times, they let out a collective "Awww" for the fat comedian instead.
That's because regardless at how skilled Friedman may be at telling the joke, its premise isn't that funny. It implies that there are "right" ways to eat and "wrong" ways to eat. Unfortunately, that idea is not too far removed from the idea that there are "good" bodies and "bad" bodies. The reality is that bodies come in different shapes and sizes and we nourish our bodies in different ways.
Even the medical community has conflicting beliefs about how we should eat. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Gary Taubes called the hundreds and thousands of diet books and articles about nutrition "noise generated by a dysfunctional research establishment." With that level of noise, is it any surprise that Iglesias jokes that he wants to die doing what he loves — eating cake?
Now that social media has become so pervasive, our societal expectations for perfection have become widespread. This includes the way we supposedly should look. Case in point: In November, Mariah Carey was called out for photoshopping a Thanksgiving photo she posted to Instagram. The pressure to look fit and thin is real.
But it shouldn't be. Some of us are fluffy — and as Iglesias reminds us, that's okay. We're still worthy of love and friendship.