I have a theory behind why people think Hannah Gadsby is not funny. When you see a fat woman on stage, you immediately project your expectations onto her. You assume she will make a few jokes about her unsuccessful love life. That she will lament about her struggle with food, binge eating, and weight. Then most of all, you expect her to engage in the kind of self-deprecating humor that makes you feel good about yourself. But Hannah Gadsby said no, fuck that, you will hear what my neurodivergent self has to say. You will listen and you will laugh, even when I tell you the punchline before the joke. And when that awareness kicks in, your laughter will deepen and your soul will know that I am a god! But that was not what you expected, so you allowed your preconceived notions shield you from her genius which is why you can tell the bald-faced lie that she is not funny but will roll on the floor laughing at the depiction of Frank in Osmosis Jones and other similar characters because they do not transgress, they do not push you, and most of all, because they help reinforce the myth that you, as long as you are smaller, you are moral, you are healthy, you are better. As this is what you want to hear, you laugh as your heart nods in agreement. Well, tough shit. Hello, my name is Irawooluwatan and I am The Tired Insomniack. Today, I want to talk about Osmosis Jones: Fatness, God, and the Myth of the Seven Deadly Sins.
For your sake and mine, this will be broken down into chapters, I understand that I tend to be a little too intense, hence, I will make an attempt at reducing the color in my language, but I make no promises, and I will also try to minimize my anger at the bodies of work that were created long before my adolescence. Now, before we proceed, there are a few things you need to know. One, when I speak of God, I reference the Christian one. I, like many Nigerians, grew up in Church, so many verses of the Bible have been committed to memory, some by choice, most by force. Two I will intentionally neglect the original language and historical context of the verses I quote, this is not because I don't see value in accurate interpretation, but rather, I want to focus more on the colloquial use of those verses of Christian scripture. Shebi the Bible even said I could do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Farabale, I am joking. I tend to think I’m funny), and three, whether or not you agree, the body you exist in taints how you see the world and how the world perceives you. I don’t believe this insulates you from “objective consumption” but when people who exist in marginalized bodies articulate their experience, do not dismiss them because yours is dissimilar. Let us begin
Chapter One: The Eight Evil Thoughts
In the fourth century, a Christian Monk named Evagrius Ponticus wrote down a list of things and called them the Eight Evil Thoughts. He believed that these were things to be abstained from if one wanted a continuous participation in the heavenly race. He believed that if you shed yourself of gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sloth, sadnesses, vainglory, and pride, that you could one day rest in daddy Abraham’s bosom, but here is the thing, he was an Ascetic monk, kinda like an athlete of the mind. It was a form of extreme Marie Kondoing that said “yeah even the things that bring you pleasure, yup yeet those motherfuckers out”. But one of his students took this extremist teaching to the Western church and St Gregory would get his hands on it and edit it. He would take out sloth, maybe because baba Greg liked to sleep, add envy because you know fuck the haters, and he would name pride the king of all these. The sun would rise and set and a few centuries later Thomas Aquinas would re-edit the edit and announce that depression was not a sin, well not exactly, he would remove sadness leaving those of us prone to melancholy a bit grateful that we would not be spending eternity in the bottomless pit, state that vainglory and pride were technically the same he was wrong though, and the seven deadly sins we know and love today would be born. But unfortunately, the foundation of a relationship between fatphobia, religion, and morality would be set alongside it.
Chapter Two: Frank
The opening of Osmosis Jones is unsettling. Frank squirts mayo onto a hard-boiled egg as he sprinkles on enough salt to make a lake habitable for Flounder as he lectures his daughter on the joys of science and how her potential high cholesterol that her caused by her mother feeding her cheeseburgers as an infant could be culled by modern medicine. As he is talking, a monkey swipes the egg from his hand and pops it into its mouth. The scene is funny up until the point where Frank wrestled the egg from the monkey’s mouth, picked it from the bed of hay it dropped into and bit into the egg. This motherfucker ate the egg and when his daughter was visibly disgusted by this, he quoted the 10-second rule. It was at this moment I was grateful to whoever lied and said that food that fell on the ground must not be eaten as it had been sacrificed to the devil. It was also at this moment that I paused the movie and went “hun, there is something here” a few scenes later frank would have a cramp because Osmosis Jones would accidentally hit a nerve because of the excessive use of police force, a flagrant disregard of orders from his superior and undue hubris or something along those lines, and he Frank that is would trip and fall as he cradled his bucket of chicken. He would then tell his daughter that the four steps were too much and he wanted to move. When she tells him it's just four steps, he conceded to build a ramp. It was after this the “something” I felt would dawn on me. It was gluttony, sloth, greed, wrath, and pride that made frank struggle with the monkey! And his cramping over steps would make the cherry on the cream that is granting credence to concern trolling.
Chapter Three: Pocket Your Concern.
Before I read What we don’t talk about when we talk about fat, there was something that always rubbed me the wrong way regarding how people like Bill Maher, busybodies in the comment sections of fat people, and Nigerian relatives said they were “concerned for your health” and would spew statements dripping with nothing but aggressive anger on how fat bodies are repulsive or make comparisons to fat bodies and animals like pigs or hippopotamuses. But when they were called out, they would exclaim that it was concern and care. Aubrey Gordon wrote that “Concern is curious, concern is tender, and concern is loving” When bell hooks said that abuse and love cannot coexist, I struggled, but later conceded that she was right. You do not seek out to hurt the ones you love so it is not concern. It is policing, an exertion of power over the othered. It is disgusting and counterintuitive because some people will cope with, or find comfort from that abuse with behavior that is detrimental to the very health the “thin” posit to care about. Pocket your dirty concern unless you can articulate it without causing harm.
Chapter 4: Fat Suits
When Eddie Murphy hosted SNL, you would think I had a financial stake in his success. Nah, I just have a parasocial relationship so deep it manifests as fictive kinship. His sketches were witty, funny, and amazing, and because nostalgia is a drug, I imbibed and nearly overdosed. I rewatched almost everything he ever made, from his standup specials to coming to America 2. (Nextdoria? Really? Let me just not). Then I hit a particular pocket of his creations, the Nutty Professor, Norbit type shit, and it unlocked a memory of similar things that I had consumed like the Big Momma's house Franchise and anything in the Madeaverse. There are a few similar threads here, like how all the fat women are all played by men, and how they are all wearing fat suits. By the way, The Costume Codex has a great video on how fat suits aid in the dehumanization of fat people and it will be linked. It also points out something that Aubrey Gordon stated in her book, regarding the world being for the thin. I watched The Harder They Fall recently, and there was something that I could not name until I went on Twitter, it was care. In other Westerns or similar movies that I watched with my family growing up, there was a kind of carelessness in regards to the creation of those works, you could tell it was made by a group of people who saw the othered as other. The way The Harder They Fall handled even the characters that we were supposed to dislike was masterful and beautiful and constructive. You could tell it was made by its people for its people. Even when fat people have the power to create, most have in mind that it's for an audience that wants to see us a certain way, as the funny one, the sad one, or the hypersexual one.
Chapter 5: Shame and Virtue
I have seen some theories regarding why we shame fat people, and one of them stated that it’s because we see all fat people as potential skinny people. I agree, but I also believe that the reverse is the case. That skinny people see themselves as potential fat people and if they don’t engage in the ascetic practices of chastity of spirit, temperance, patience, and diligence, that they too would feel the same shame that they inflict upon the fat. But here is the thing, your morality did not earn you your body. Know this and know peace.
In Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings, the author explores the normality of fatness in the western world until contact with the continent of Africa. She makes mention of Albrecht Dhurs' work, and how in one of his journals, there is a diagram called the image of a normal woman. That image is eerily similar to what I see in the mirror every day and the bodies of women like Lizzo, Yseult, and a host of others, but here is the thing, I did not need the fucking journal of a dead white man to convince me that my body was normal or right. The women who surrounded me as a child were proof of that. I have aunts so tall I could not meet their eye line even with the aid of a ladder, and some so short they would need a step stool to load a washing machine. Some are as thin as the branches of a tree and others as big as its trunk. It never occurred to me that any of their bodies were anomalies until it was pointed out to me that there was an ideal and we did not look like it, and at the intersection of that ideal sits classism, racism, and ableism that is powered by Christianity.
Chapter 6: Thou shalt Not be variant.
Open your Bibles to the book of John. If you are not in possession of one, fret not as I shall be reading from The Gospel according to St. John Chapter 9 vs 1 and 2 . As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Even the ones born innocent are not free from the perceived iniquity of variance, and in some way, this is how we perceive fatness, only this time we believe we know who the sinners are, and it's the ones who have let themselves go. We also don’t just see fatness as a physical ailment but a moral one. Even the root word of obese tells on us, "obesus", having eaten until fat. That leaves no room for speculation, for question, or for the fucking concern you claim to have. It is believed that the fat body was earned by engaging in vices and only the self-flagellation that is extreme exercise and restrictive dieting can absolve one of the body they made. It was mentioned in an episode of the podcast Maintenance Phase that the disordered eating habits that we attempt to cull in the anorexic are the very things we promote in the fat forgetting that fat people too can suffer from eating disorders that are not exclusively binge eating.
Chapter 7: Humble Your Soul with Fasting Psalm 69:10
When I was in my third year of boarding school, I had heard from almost everyone that I was fat. I understand that this is a neutral descriptor, but it was weaponized as a pejorative. A roommate of mine told me that she liked how I behaved as though my weight was not a hindrance. It hadn't occurred to me that it could be, so I took matters into my hands. To stop people from talking, I would simply shrink and not eat. If I had no calories going in, I would be half my size in about 10 weeks. Shebi Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights? I was determined. Because I went to a fancy school, we had 5 meals, breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner then nightcap, not the fun kind, it was fruits. I would skip breakfast, lunch, and dinner and only have the fruits and snacks that we were given. I did this successfully for about 2 weeks until a nurse overheard me bragging about my “fast” to a friend. The nurse called me to the health bay, asked a few questions, and prescribed me an appetite inducer. The drug worked a little too well, the best way to describe it is o da bi pe won ko inu mi jade. English refuses to carry the weight of this translation, so let's just say I was properly famished. I swiftly put on all the weight I had lost and some more. But this was not my introduction or exit from restrictive eating. My introduction to restriction was through the church, it was through fasting. I understand that there is a difference between fasting and a hunger strike, but both champion restriction and the latter has been ordained by the divine or divine adjacent. And in some Pentecostal churches, you fast on more days of the year than you don’t, and not to pathologize all these actions, but it does make you wonder how many people hide their eating disorders and obsessive compulsions beneath the veil of fasting.
Chapter 8: Beauty, desirability, and access.
“Oh honey you are not fat, you are beautiful” I take offense at this for many reasons. It denies the reality of fatness and does something even more insidious. It shows the true belief of the person saying it regarding how fatness and beauty are two maladies that cannot naturally coexist. It is a way for the thin to invite the fat into a space they believe we naturally cannot occupy. Beauty is good, it's just, it's right it's moral. Beauty is Esther, beauty is Ruth, beauty is Mary the mother of God, beauty is a virtue the fat have not earned. Then sitting next to the beauty conundrum is the matter of desirability, Aubrey Gordon in her book speaks of how it is assumed that fat people don’t have successful love lives, and how men believe that any inkling of desirability must be met with gratitude. Khadijah Mbowe and Kimberley. N. Foster on For Harriet have amazing videos on desirability and access that I will link, but long story short, desirability does not permit you access to anything or anyone, if consent is not given or has been withdrawn, keep your bloody hands to your motherfucking self. Aubrey Gordon also states how we are less likely to report sexual assault or harassment, and even when we speak about it we are met with “jokes” of how no one wants to touch that, or why would anyone rape that? Frankly, you should be grateful, at least someone wants you. In my final year of secondary school, I was assaulted by one of my peers, it was not an experience I ever thought I would face because I never felt pretty enough to be wanted. I also wore my skirt past my knees, my shirt buttoned up to the last and my jumper was perpetually on to conceal the swell of my breasts or the flare of my hips. Heaven forbid I tempt a man! But that wasn’t enough to hinder the fool that saw my body as a site to harvest his pleasure. It also did not stop the men who would catcall me and when my face would be stoic, I would be lectured on how I should be grateful, and also smile more.
Chapter 9: Yes we love and are loved.
Contrary to popular belief, fat people have successful romantic and sexual lives. Like Ruby in good girls, all the crime aside, Stan loves her, and her fatness is not portrayed as a hindrance or a joke. It is something that just is. Also, take a look at Issa Rae’s Insecure, TSA Bae is not only sexually desired, but also competent. And when he is being made fun of, his fatness is not the joke, his objective goofiness is, but the fact that I can name just two examples is part of the problem. What’s that thing they say Ah yes “Holistic representation fucking matters”
Chapter 10. Fatness and ableism
Let me pivot a bit and return to the source material Osmosis Jones. It was briefly mentioned at the beginning of the movie that Frank lost his wife, then later we find out she was ill before she died, and not long after passing, he lost his job and further devolved into what we see on screen, but guess what? It was all played for laughs, disregarding that the motherfucker was grieving! And so was Thor when the joke was his depression and fatness. Where was the concern then? Where was care? Where was understanding? There is also something there regarding the things masculinity can and cannot be but that is work for another day. It’s also lowkey kind of funny, not "haha" funny but "introspective" funny, how stupidity is linked to fatness. That we are as dense mentally as we are physically. Take the Trump presidency for example, no matter how despicable what he did or said, all the late-night talk show hosts would always find a way to critique his body and by extension his mental ability, and base his morality on that. All that did was tell people who occupied bodies similar to Trump's that they were fit for any kind of power as they were simply incapable of any form of goodness.
I believe I have taken enough of your time, and thank you for permitting me the privilege, but before I leave let me say this, if you were paying attention, you would notice that I did not quote statistics, state health reasons for being fat, or inundate you with information regarding the problematic and outright wrong ways we categorize fatness like the BMI or whatever racist and reductive method exists today. It is not because I can’t, but it’s because one, fat people do not owe you health, no one does, and two, fat people's humanity is not a thing we have to explain, bargain, or convince anyone of. If that is what you need before you can contextualize us as full human beings that can, will and must thrive, then you beloved are part of the problem. Good whatever time of day it is wherever you are, and I hope that when you close your eyes in search of sleep, you have a better night's rest than myself. Ajire.