I’m Olympics obsessed, of course. So many things I love in one place, ancient history and inane traditions, global unity and bizarre nationalistic fervor, and the appreciation of bodies for pure achievement. Triple win!
With that effusive enthusiasm out of my system (as if), I do want to talk about one little hiccup in Olympics coverage. Here’s a tweet from Conan O’Brien about American weightlifter Holley Mangold:
I predict 350 lb. weight lifter Holley Mangold will bring home the gold and 4 guys against their will.
Yikes. Really Conan? This is the kind of low-blow hack I expect from Daniel Tosh or Rush Limbaugh. Let’s take it apart a bit, yes?
1. Fat People Are Funny – This comedy trope is so old (think Yo Mama jokes) that you get zero points for tapping into our collective fascination with laughing at fat people. We are trained to think that adding weight to someone makes them an ideal target for jokes (Monica’s fat suit on Friends, Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal, Rob McElhenney’s real weight gain for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), but this lazy comedy at it’s laziest, and offensive to boot. Would we tolerate someone pointing and laughing at a black character just because he’s black?
2. Nobody wants to have sex with a fat person: Another age-old, boring, inaccurate trope. People have preferences about their partners, sure. Many people prefer thin people, either because that’s where their libido takes them, or because that’s what their friends, the media, commercials, etc. tell them is what they want. All you have to do is scratch a little below the glossy surface, and you’ll find that people’s tastes are as varied as there are people. It’s called the internet, do a little research.
3. All Women Care About Is Attention From Men: Obviously, in the midst of Holley Mangold’s epic, amazing Olympic dreams, the thing she’s most concerned about is convincing men to have sex with her. Her coach calls her “one of the most athletic people” he’s ever met. She played football, she breaks barriers, she is the definition of a bad-ass. She may bring home a gold medal because she can lift 562 lb above her head, and hold it there. Read that number again. I mean, seriously, what? But no, obviously, the things she’s most concerned about this week is which Michael Phelps wannabe she can bone.
4. Male Rape Would Never Happen! Hilarious! We’ve talked about this a lot lately, but there’s a very specific kind of rape joke that is funny, and it’s one that undermines rape culture, not one that makes fun of rape victims. This is not that kind of joke. There are male rape victims in the conventional “stranger in an alley sense,” and there are men who have been coerced, manipulated and compelled into sex they did not want to have. The double whammy of Conan’s joke is that a) men always want to have sex and so male rape isn’t real, except b) they’d never willingly have sex with a fat woman. Yowza.
There’s probably more in there to address. There’s a point to be made about hypersexualizing overweight people (she needs four men to satisfy her!), and something about dehumanizing (this has a distinct cave-woman vibe, right?), but I’m kind of all ranted out.
My point is this: We spend 3 years and 48 weeks out of every four years focusing on women’s bodies as though they are solely objects of desire. There is no better opportunity than the Olympics to focus on the awesome capabilities of the human form, and the tremendous dedication of athletes that attempt these insane feats. For two weeks every two years, can we just focus on that?
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