Is Laughter Always Good Medicine?

In the context of wondering whether fat acceptance serves the greater good, we have talked about Mindy Kaling before. In show business, there are certain iconic entertainers who can get away with being overweight or obese, and she is undoubtedly one of them.

In the past, it was always easier for men. Women were a different case. Tim Goodman observed in Hollywood Reporter that as time went on, African-American women were granted the rare privilege of being super-size actors and singers. And then eventually, a certain number of white women were accepted despite their weight. But even when circumstances began to change, there was still an attitude:

You’re either thin and hot or you’re overweight and funny.

Goodman notes that generally, on TV and in movies, plus-size actors of both sexes are “shoe-horned and dismissed into safe, nonthreatening roles.” Nowadays in visual media, in relation to sex, the playing field for performers may be approaching level. One credible explanation is that the average American woman is closer to Mindy’s size than ever before.

At any rate, we mention a couple of matters that provide a good jumping-off place to look at one type of fatsploitation — misguided humor. Okay, granted, “comedy often is a better spotlight for tough issues than drama,” as Goodman wrote. Still, around this subject, there seems to be a lot of gratuitous stereotyping, disguised as humor.

Some years ago, journalist Ashley Ross made a point, also while discussing Mindy:

It’s become more acceptable to discuss body realism as opposed to idealism, but is all this talk about bodies helping women with self-image issues or eating disorders, or does this new focus fuel our obsession with how we look? If anything the conversation is even more focused on appearances than before.

Ross says that at times the jokes were “actually hilarious and very relatable.” But then, there would be something like a scene where Mindy sat on a guy’s lap, followed by the chair disintegrating under their combined weight. The thing is, because Kaling wrote her own show, her audience was never of one mind. When a celebrity tries to change the dominant culture, there are always some fans who say “too far” and others who say “not far enough.”

Is laughter good medicine? Not always, suggests Dr. Kenneth Weiner, who founded the Eating Recovery Center. Instead, he feels that it tends to reinforce the constant tendency to compare bodies, and may even contribute to the increase in eating disorders. Disparaging and demeaning oneself, fat-shaming oneself, may gain superficial and temporary acceptance, but it will hardly suffice as a Life Plan. He says,

Poking fun at yourself because you’re larger? If anything, I see that as part of the problem.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Race, Weight and Beauty: How ‘The Mindy Project’ Is Both Funny and Important,”, 09/25/12
Source: “Even Mindy Kaling Can’t Win the Body-Image Wars,”, 04/14/14
Image by inUse Experience/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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