As I was talking with my superfat friend Brandy (for whom I’m so grateful — not only is she a lovely person, but we have fantastic fat-related discussions) about size contrition, she noted that it was strange that her co-workers often compliment her sense of style even though she wears loudly-patterned dresses.
“Huh,” I said. “Maybe that’s the Mimi Exemption.”
Mimi is Mimi Bobeck, Drew’s garishly made-up coworker in The Drew Carey Show. In the Drew Carey Show Wiki, she is described as:
“An overweight woman, who wears a lot of make-up, yet has very high but unstable self-esteem.”
(Part of the joke, of course, being that an o* woman who fails to perform appropriate size contrition deserves no self-esteem at all.)
And yet fans of the show seem generally somewhere between tolerant and fond of Mimi, because she falls into a specific role we’re all familiar with: the fat woman who’s inexplicably confident. We pity her, but a tiny part of us appreciates and admires her audacity in existing so loudly. And that appreciation can occasionally create some size forbearance.
An important aspect of the Mimi Exemption is that Mimi must not be in on the joke. For the everyday Mimis out there to receive any size forbearance, they must not be aware that they are considered jokes. Their obliviousness to how far outside the bounds of acceptability they are generates the pity that creates that small amount of forbearance.
Other potential exemptions include the Sex Fiend, the Mom and the Office Mom. (Additions from Brandy: supportive fat sidekick, class clown, model student who will, of course, let you copy her homework.)
I want to be clear that there’s nothing wrong with falling into these roles, either naturally or as survival strategies. Our first responsibility is survival, always. And if using these roles to gain forbearance in a world that wants to erase us even helps us thrive, more power to us.
Do these exemptions play any role in your life?
Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources on body liberation, weight stigma, body image and more. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.