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Why I’m Not Laughing at That Eating Disorder “Joke” in “A Christmas Story Live!”

Grace Bradley, Communications Intern

As a dancer, I am acutely aware of the comments that are thrown my way regarding dancers and weight. While these comments no longer faze me, as they seem to have unfortunately become a norm, they are still disheartening to hear because they are unnecessary. And that’s just it: these comments are made simply for no reason other than to make a joke at the expense of someone else, and to jump to conclusions about the generalized size and lifestyle. 

Over the weekend, A Christmas Story Live! aired on Fox. This classic Christmas tale is one that my family and I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember, holding as much of a traditional value as the decorations that adorn our tree. This adaptation was met with criticism from fans of the original, and one line in particular really had audiences bothered. One of the most memorable scenes involves the youngest brother (who is deemed a picky eater) being coaxed into eating by his mother (played by Maya Rudolph in this version) as she encourages him to show her how a “little piggy” would eat his meal. This version added a line, where narrator Matthew Broderick commented to the camera, “There’s always one kid in the family who won’t eat. Normally it’s the kid who takes ballet…”

This comment was completely irrelevant. It added nothing of substance to the scene and most importantly, it was an insensitive joke made at the expense of dancers and those with eating disorders. It was a small moment compared to the remainder of the three hour production, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t strike a chord with a number of viewers. Additionally, this adaptation decided to portray the school teachers, Miss Shields, as having OCD for no reason other than to explain why her desk was so neat.

Both of these comments and portrayals disparage those who do suffer from an eating disorder or OCD, as they were both thrown into the script for jest. In terms of the eating disorder comment, this is no small matter in the dance community. While not every dancer suffers from an eating disorder, the practice itself can create an environment where dancers may not be satisfied with their bodies, but that’s not to say that every dancer will be unhappy with their body or develop an eating disorder. 

As we continue into the holiday season, be mindful of what you say and what those around you are saying. Sometimes, people just might not know why what they are saying is insensitive or hurtful. Take the opportunity to talk to them about how their words might be hurtful or bothersome. There is never a reason to make a joke at the expense of someone else: not in a holiday classic or ever. 

Grace Bradley is a senior at Connecticut College majoring in dance and sociology. Working with the Active Minds chapter at Conn College and NEDA, she is an advocate of mental health and eating disorder awareness after personally dealing with both. Grace is dedicated to raising awareness about both of these issues, specifically within the dance community.