Proud2Bme | Is it Ever Okay to Joke about Eating Disorders?

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Is it Ever Okay to Joke about Eating Disorders?

By Dana Land--The talk show The View has been making headlines lately due to the hosts’ controversial comments. The latest incident occurred when host Joy Behar began commenting on Donald Trump’s weight loss. Behar and co-host Michelle Collins began joking about which eating disorders were better to have. The comments ended when another co-host interjected that they were not trying to make light of the disorders and that they were kidding around.

The View hosts are hardly the first people to make jokes about eating disorders. With the backlash they received from fans and eating disorders activists, it begs the question: is it ever okay to joke about eating disorders?

Laughter can be a great way to cope with difficult situations. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself every once in a while. However, spilling coffee on your shirt and having a good laugh about it and suffering from a life-threatening illness fall into very different categories.

The answer to this question is not a simple one and it likely changes from person to person.  Some may feel that it is never okay to joke about something that has taken the lives of so many.

To find a “rule of thumb” about whether or not the joke you want to make is appropriate, it may be helpful to look at the intent and underlying message of the joke.

Behar and her co-hosts’ banter had the core message of “which eating disorder would be more enjoyable to have?” This core message does not further awareness of the dangers of eating disorders. Rather, it perpetuates the negative stereotype that eating disorders are a choice, and you should pick the “better” one.  She went as far as to point out members of the audience to validate her joke and say they agree and therefore must be bulimic. Accusing someone of having an eating disorder, even in jest, can be hurtful in the event that they suffer from some sort of eating disordered behavior.

When a joke about any topic reinforces negative stereotypes and stigma then it is never appropriate. Eating disorders still receive such little funding from the government, in part because they are not recognized as being as serious and deadly as they are. Making light of them, such as Behar’s joke did, hurts those who are struggling.

This isn’t to say that there may never be another joke told about an eating disorder. On May 18th, 2015, Stacey Prussman was the keynote speaker at the 12th annual Candlelight Vigil for eating disorders at Linden Oaks Hospital. Prussman is a stand-up comedian and eating disorder survivor. During this event, she spoke about her struggles and her recovery, and her speech included jokes. Each joke she made, however, highlighted the need for awareness and the reversal of stereotypes. As a survivor in attendance, I found the jokes to be appropriate and they received a warm response from other audience members.

If the message a joke puts out is damaging to any individual or group of people, then it may not be appropriate. It is not edgy or cool. This applies to comedians, regular people and television hosts. If you’re going to joke about eating disorders, cancer, feminism or racial tensions in the United States, make your jokes count.

Inspire social change and a better understanding. Do not reinforce fear, ignorance and stigma with your humor. Using comedy to raise awareness of any illness or cause will further your growth and the growth of those listening, and cause people to think about what’s happening in the world right now.

In short, is it ever okay to joke about eating disorders? Sometimes. Look closely at what you hope to accomplish with your joke and what message it is putting out. Think before you speak–your words have power.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments below!

About the blogger: Dana Land is a psychology student at DePaul University. She spends her time practicing burlesque, growing her collection of plants and rolling her eyes at offensive stand-up comedians.

Also by Dana:

Recovery Takes Time: Why I’m No Longer Ashamed of Taking Medical Leave


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