Dry humor is sort of my comedic subcategory of choice. When I think of films that have truly stuck in my memory as "one of the funniest movies I've ever seen," I think Lars and the Real Girl more than, say, a Happy Madison Production. But that being said, I can enjoy a bit of slapstick. I can get down with a baby onesie that boasts, "I squeezed through an opening the size of a baseball and all I got was this stupid t-shirt," or a princess-toned, "Crying gets you things." But an infant onesie that reads, "I hate my thighs" — as did "spapsuit" (one-piece baby bodysuit) brand Wry Baby's latest attempt at fun — strikes a bit of a nerve.
It's worth noting that all of the above slogan's are Wry Baby's own. The brand is obviously meant to be giggle-inducing (note the word play in its very title), and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of the birthing reference. But that being said, comedy is a strange and delicate little world. Beloved programs like Family Guy or The Simpsons thrive off of making fun of pretty much everything. There are no bounds or limits within them. Everything goes. But most of us don't live in an animated satire. And controversial topics require a bit more... tact. If you want to make fun of something — like the ridiculous standards of beauty within our society — you should probably first understand your place in the debate, and make sure your position is clear before you unleash a product that could be misconstrued as yet another fat shaming tactic.
In a Today.com discussion with Michele Kort from Ms. magazine, Kort summarized the problem with the onesie succinctly: “Our takeaway is just to get people to think about the kinds of things that we say that communicate something [negative], mostly to girls and women. Even though it was said as a joke... it isn’t a joke.”
In their response to Kort and Today's conversation, Wry Baby responded with an official statement via Facebook, in which they wrote, "We couldn’t agree more about body image. That’s why we made a ridiculous joke about it. Obviously no baby would or should hate their thighs!" Fair enough. They didn't mean any harm. To the brand and those involved in product designed, the "I hate my thighs" onesie was an attempt at poking fun at how ridiculous it is that women (and men) devote so much of their time to aesthetic self-deprecation when the simple reality is that all bodies are beautiful.
And I suppose they must have felt safe enough within their platform to launch this design — sure that their past work, like a onesie that reads, "Love me for my leg rolls," would evoke enough of a sense of positive body image to produce this latest design. But did they take things a step too far? There's a clear divide between, "Love me for my thighs," and, "I hate my thighs," (something that extends far beyond a simple love vs. hate debate). If you have the knowledge that both slogans come from the same brand, then you can probably deduce that all they're trying to do is have a laugh. But if you know nothing about Wry Baby or their ideologies, you're left to assume that one is yet another show of fat shaming, and one is a proud moment in chub love fanfare.
The problematic nature of a onesie that reads, "I hate my thighs," is sort of a messy one. On the one hand — as Wry Baby notes — no baby hates their thighs. Size stigmatization within our culture hasn't touched them. It probably won't for many years. But shouldn't the goal be to protect them from it? The fact remains that this onesie can either be seen as a mockery of those who do hate their thighs because a body-shaming society has made them hate those thighs (something questionable in and of itself given the sensitive nature of body dysmorphia — and something that inadvertently suggests that people who do care about their thighs are slightly shallow); or conversely (on the opposite end of the spectrum), an early example of taught fat shaming.
The thing about fat shaming is just that — it's taught. No baby hates their thighs because no baby has learned to hate their thighs. Kids are saved from those concerns until they get a little older — old enough to watch TV, pick up a magazine or read from the myriad of diet talk that cyberspace has to offer. And shouldn't our goal be to shield them from that for as long as possible? Or better yet, to eradicate that kind of thinking altogether? In my utopian world of size acceptance, I obviously hope for the day when "body talk" is totally unnecessary. When a confident fat woman can walk beside a confident thin woman without us instantly considering and commenting on their size or health or anything else that we link to notions of "acceptance" that should totally be left on the sidelines.
Most sentient and remotely decent human beings should realize the problem with the below image:
We've all seen this shot of Honey Boo Boo grabbing her "baby fat," — another questionable term that suggests to children that fat is inherently bad, and that they will one day, if they're "lucky," outgrow it — and whilst she's grown up in the world of child pageantry, she's also grown up a child in a generally body shaming world. A world that taught her that she should hate her thighs, because they have a bit of "extra" meat on them.
No matter what end of the size acceptance movement you fall on — whether you blame all fat people for your high tax dollars and presume them to be a burden on society because of all their "health problems," or whether you're cognizant of the sheer ignorance of the former stance — the image of a five-year-old poking at her body in self-judgment should disturb you. And ultimately, the image of a 25-year-old or a 45-year-old doing the same should be as equally saddening.
I don't think Wry Baby intended to fat shame. I really don't — I mean, this is a brand that on their product page also references zombies, vaginas, and hanger. But tensions when it comes to issues relevant to size acceptance are widespread, and rightly so. There's still a lot of work to be done and a lot of engrained mentalities to skew. Body positivity activists, spokespeople, models, bloggers, etc. are doing all they can — but in the meantime, since we still live in a society that's not yet fully willing to accept fatter individuals, we need to tread carefully. We need to know when something will irrevocably come across as a joke, and when it could potentially be triggering to those fighting for an end to terms like "baby fat" or ideologies that teach you that "hating your thighs" are perfectly normal and okay.
The fact remains that putting an "I hate my thighs"-reading ensemble on a human too young to yet know why that statement is both a very serious problem whilst simultaneously being kind of funny because it is such a very serious problem, is icky. That child won't be able to understand and slightly older children who actually can read the words won't understand, either. The slogan will end up getting filtered into the "further affirmations that I should lose weight/change my body" pool — a pool responsible for so much unnecessary self-loathing and torment already.
Until we can talk about weight and fat without the vast majority of those involved in the conversation putting up their armor and shutting down all talk of acceptance, we just can't joke in this way. For now, it's still far too triggering and far too emotional. For far too many people.
The goal is to make it so that one day it's not. So that one day we can reference our thighs or leg rolls positively (perhaps as Wry Baby originally intended) as beautiful parts of ourselves, no matter how jiggly or toned, without being met by antagonism of any kind.
Images: Facebook/Wry Baby; Giphy