A young couple decides they want to get married. When they tell her parents, they are overjoyed at the news, and when the bride asks her mother if she can wear her wedding dress, the mother is thrilled beyond words.
A few months pass, and the wedding day arrives. As the bride is walking down the aisle, her lovely petite figure a vision in the white dress, the sounds of her mother's sobs fill the room. When the bride reaches the end of the aisle, she approaches her mother, concerned at the extent of her distress. As she hugs her weeping mother, she says "mom, don't think of it as losing a daughter, you are gaining a son!"
The mother looks at her daughter, and with eyes full of tears, replies, "It's not that -- I just realized, I've gained a ton!"
Sounds like the kind of joke you would hear in a bar, told by a frat guy trying to impress his buddies. But it wasn't. It was the opening of a sermon I heard last weekend, while visiting a church out of town.
I have never been a fan of the joke-as-sermon-opener style anyway, but this one had me floored. I just heard a fat joke? In church? I know the pastor did not mean to be offensive. At least, I hope he didn't. But he was.
There are many people who think that the fat acceptance movement is unnecessary and overblown. There are some who think that we are too sensitive, too apt to find offense when there is none, and that we are only battling windmills. But at that moment, hearing that joke, my determination to continue fighting this fight was renewed.
That pastor serves as perfect example of why fat acceptance is important. The obvious problem is that in our culture, is is perfectly acceptable to make fun of fat people. But when you break the joke down, it reveals some deeper issues. The assumption behind it is that, of course, it is perfectly normal for a woman to be so upset over gaining weight, comparing her body to the thinner one of her daughter, that she would weep over it in the middle of her daughter's wedding. It assumes that the thinner body is somehow better or more attractive. And it assumes that her reaction is so normal that anyone who hears it will understand it enough to see the humor.
There's a bigger problem here as well -- the church should be a place of acceptance. No one should be made to feel that they are inferior based on the race, their job, their education, or their body. But that is often not the case. The church is sometimes the most critical place one can be. And that is the saddest thing of all.
I wish this joke were funny, not because people sympathise with the poor woman, but because of its absurdity. I wish we lived in a culture where it was so odd for people to hate their bodies that anyone who heard that joke would laugh at the inanity of the idea. But we don't live in that kind of culture, and I fear we never will.
Until we do, it's not funny.