Yes, Virginia, there is a fat Santa joke on Valencia Street. And it doesn't bring good cheer.
It's in a shop that won't be identified here: No publicity under the tree for naughty shopkeepers.
Their seasonal window display is a grotesque, larger-than-life, three-dimensional, beer-can-in-brown-paper-bag-accessorized Santa with a lower half shaped like Jabba the Hutt. (Because negative depictions of fat people go with cruel stereotypes about poor/homeless people who have mental illness or substance abuse issues, like rotten egg goes with groggy nog.)
You are a kind-hearted child, Virginia. I see you're not laughing or rushing to have your photo taken on Santa the Hutt's lower belly folds. But many of your fellow San Franciscans are.
When I heard about this miscarriage of mirth, I knew just what to do. Ten dollars of art supplies later, I'd made a Willendorf Selfie Station. (The statue of WIllendorf is one of the earliest known sculptures of the human form. And she's a fat rock star! Well, limestone.)
My friend, artist Mark Obermayr, helped me assemble it and try it out. It worked!
One of the shopkeepers found out about our event on Facebook and posted a defense/non-apology that closed with, "Whatever your opinions may be, we're not solely motivated to make fun of people." Thanks!
The shop's website says they want to "poke fun at holiday excess." While they sell $168 executive hoodies!?!
In his Facebook comment, the shopkeeper said they weren't mocking fat people because "Santa isn't a person." If you buy that, I've got a hoodie to sell you.
The shop is doing a month-long fundraiser for 826 Valencia, a non-profit that offers writing tutoring to youth in the Mission district. Good for them! But how do young fat people feel, as they walk past the shop's Santa the Hutt display, on their way to meet their writing tutor just down the street? If young fat people also face meanness because of skin color or family income or gender identity or sexuality or other difference, how will they find the strength to make it to that tutoring appointment? What will they think about their future place in society, when they see people lining up next to a caricature of a fat figure?
How do the shop's fat employees feel about the display? Or does the shop hire any fat people -- who make up one third to two thirds of the population? (Discrimination based on height and weight are against the law in San Francisco.)
The shop brags that only 20 percent of its merchandise is made overseas. How would the fat people who do that work feel, knowing the fruits of their labors are promoted with jokes about their body type? If they could afford a pair of the shop's $100 pants, they wouldn't be able to wear them. Men's sizes go up to the statistical average waist size for American men, 40 inches), and no larger. The largest size of women's pants is six-inches smaller than the average American woman's waist.
As Yelp reviewer Amy L. wrote:
"I live in this neighborhood, and walk by this store every day...I am giving this store 1 lousy star because of their current Christmas promotion...I get that they think they're being 'funny' with this promotion, but honestly, it's repulsive and mean-spirited. In short, it's absolutely obvious to anyone walking by that they're making fun of fat people in an obscene and over-the-top fashion. I'm sure it's some sort of hipster joke I'm just not cool enough to get, but every time I walk by, I'm struck again by how mean-spirited it appears. In short, it's fat-bashing...Do they want to be an inclusive, positive company that makes all potential customers feel welcome, or do they want to be the schoolyard bully?"
Here's an even better question: When you see a fat joke, do you line up to join in, or do you speak up to stop it?
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Marilyn Wann is author of the FAT!SO? book and creator of the Yay! Scale™, which gives compliments instead of numbers.