Stop With the Fat Jokes, New York Daily News


This column isn't taken to scolding very much, and aside from the occasional Tweet war, it doesn't have a temper. But having been steeped in the science of stigma, I've got to make an exception. This New York Daily News headline about a corrupt union boss, "PIGGY'S BANK," clearly, unambiguously, and undeniably connects his girth to his actions; the writers are playing off of, and reifying, the linkages between fat and excess and uncontrollable urges. And readers get it. I got it. I kind of laughed at the headline, and then felt ashamed of myself. We are so conditioned to accept without remorse the fact that we find fat funny.

I don't know why Daniel Hughes, a Port Authority union leader who admitted stealing $500,000 to feed his gambling and sexual addictions, happens to be fat. I do know that his weight has nothing to do with the substance of the story, which is about his crime. It's very easy to write a lede that begins with "A roly-poly rip-off artist...," much like how the New York Post used to call Monica Lewinsky a "portly pepper-pot." 

The Daily News can write whatever headlines it wants. I don't care about Hughes. I just want to them to know that making fun of fat people doesn't simply hurt fat people. It harms them by perpetuating a stigma that has real, scientifically-validated, deleterious effects. One headline isn't going to do much damage, but the casual and easy use of physiognomy in headlines and in humor -- well, it harms people who've done nothing to deserve it.  

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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