Edinburgh High Street Wellhead

Laughing at Diseases, Disabilities & Discrimination

Laughing at diseases, disabilities, and discrimination is very different from laughing at people with a disease, disability, or outsider status. In the former group, the target is an unjust harm. In the latter group, the target is a person. People laugh at misfortunes to cope with them.

But laughing at people — especially people already unjustly harmed — is widely rejected by decent people. It happens, though. Jokes about minorities are fostered by bigotry until it’s exposed. Healthcare professionals have been known to laugh at patients in private. And fat jokes have been common.

Delese Wear and colleagues found that people with obesity were the most common targets of derogatory humor by attending physicians, residents, and students and that this occurred most often in surgery and OB/GYN. Their study, published in 2006, is entirely consistent with a study published this year by Phelan et al. The research this year found more explicit bias against people with obesity than against minorities, gays, lesbians, and poor people.

Against this backdrop of derision, bias, and stigma we have the rise of fat-shaming apps for smartphones. These are tools that exist for the sole purpose of promoting a good laugh at people with obesity. Apps to promote anti-semitism, racism, and other forms of bigotry or bigoted derision of people are not allowed on any major app stores. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon set standards that prohibit such offensive material.

So we enthusiastically support the call by the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) and a host of other leading organizations for fat-shaming apps to be removed from these app stores and kept out, just like any other offensive material would be.

Click here to add your name to the OAC petition, click here to read more about it from EndocrineToday, click here to read the study by Wear et al, and here to read the study by Phelan et al.

Edinburgh High Street Wellhead, photograph © Richard Milnes / flickr

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