Proud2Bme | Dear Fat People: When Bigotry Masquerades as Comedy

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Dear Fat People: When Bigotry Masquerades as Comedy

By Angela Hui--Earlier this September, Canadian actress and comedian Nicole Arbour released a six-minute fat-shaming rant on YouTube that has, understandably, elicited a great deal of controversy. Here’s why her video is not clever or revolutionary but abusive, unamusing, and entirely unhelpful.

Content warning: this article quotes abusive language relating to body image, weight, and eating disorders. Reader discretion is advised.

“Dear fat people. Aaahhh, some people are already really mad at this video!” Considering Nicole Arbour kicked off her caustic diatribe “Dear Fat People” with this line, she clearly knew that she would face backlash for the video and was anxious to ride a wave of controversy straight into stardom. It’s unsurprising, then, that she seemed to do her best to make her video as offensive as possible, spending the core of her polemic mocking, hurling insults at, and feigning concern for fat people but also casually dismissing racism, homophobia, and ableism.

I still can’t decide if Arbour was aiming for some kind of clever irreverence in this video or if she just wanted to do whatever it took to become relevant. Either way, it was thoroughly unimpressive, rife with vile and lazy attempts at humor that one would expect from an inebriated bigot or a troubled prepubescent, not a YouTuber with almost 200 thousand subscribers.

If not for Arbour’s refusal to apologize for her video and the slew of people defending it, I would feel no need to give her patently obvious ploy for popularity any more press. But people need to understand why Arbour’s disparaging offhand remarks can’t just be crushed off as crass humor or tough love. Her video is a product of the society that has engendered discrimination and brazen hatred toward so many marginalized groups; it is a manifestation of this savagely fatphobic, racist, homophobic, and ableist world that we live in.

Arbour’s open disdain for fat people was far from subversive or edgy: she essentially consolidated all of the stereotypes about fat people that are perpetuated by mainstream media, the verbal abuse that fat people are subject to on a daily basis, and the deepest insecurities carried by many who struggle with body image issues into one cruel six-minute tirade, all with an appalling flippancy that was likely used to maximize moral outrage and increase her viewership. It certainly worked: Arbour’s video has accumulated over five million views and drawn the attention – negative and positive – of people all over the world.

I went over the transcript of her video multiple times and found myself equally horrified with each reading. It was as though a gaggle of emotionally stunted and senselessly angry twelve-year-old boys had collaborated in the comments section of a YouTube video to produce the most outrageous and unoriginal excuse for comedy on earth. Fat jokes are about as old as human civilization, and they’ve been tired and unfunny for just as long.

Seven seconds into Arbour’s video, I was already grimacing in discomfort. Was she intentionally taking on the tone of a schoolyard bully? “What are you gonna do, fat people? What are you gonna do? You’re gonna chase me? Really, you’re gonna chase me?” she taunted, as if to say, You’re powerless. You can’t even defend yourself right now because I’m sitting in your computer screen, untouchable. Oh, and while we’re getting started, here’s a quick barb to insinuate that fat people must be defenseless and physically unfit – which, by the way, isn’t even true.

“Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up. That’s the race card, with no race,” Arbour continued. I guess she thought it was a good time to start dismissing racism too at this point. You know, just in case people weren’t already outraged. (“There is a race card; there is a disability card. There’s even a gay card, because gay people are discriminated against, wrongfully so. The gay card’s covered in glitter! It’s f***ing magical... Big sassy black women in church dresses are my favorite thing in the world... I want to keep you around.” Complete dissertations could be – and have been – written to explain what is wrong with those statements.)

Fat shaming doesn’t exist? Tell that to the people who are fired for being fat despite good job performance. Tell that to the people who are resented solely because of their weight. Tell that to the people who are lectured about losing weight every single time they go to the doctor regardless of the ailment they’re facing. Tell that to the people who are taught to feel so disgusting and worthless because of their weight that they contemplate suicide. The existence of fat discrimination is confirmed by hard data, but something tells me that Arbour doesn’t care. Her video is an attack, not an argument.

Less than a minute in, I heard the sentence that knocked the air out of my lungs: “You are too fat, and you should stop eating.” Though I consider myself fully recovered from my eating disorder, it was still a shock to see and hear the real-life personification of the self-hating thoughts I had at the nadir of my illness – that voice in my head that nearly drove me to my grave at age fifteen, that demon in my psyche that felt so impossible to exorcise. Stop eating – a phrase taken verbatim from Arbour’s video that is also ubiquitous in the horrific cache of “pro-ana” nestled in the dark corners of the internet.

Despite everything, Arbour tries to frame her bullying as concern. “I’m not saying all this to be [rude],” she claims, “I’m saying this because your friends should be saying it to you... I will actually love you, no matter what, but I really, really hope this bomb of truth, exploding into your face will act as shrapnel that seeps into your soul, makes you want to be healthier, so that we can enjoy you as human beings longer on this planet.”

Right, Nicole. Your six minutes of invective were clearly aimed at encouraging people to be healthier, because verbal abuse and ridicule are great ways to improve people’s wellbeing. Yes, Nicole, of course you love fat people: that’s why you just spent six minutes rattling off joke after joke at their expense; that’s why you literally just encouraged them to stop eating, because that’s what living a healthy lifestyle is all about.

Except making fat people hate themselves doesn’t actually do them any good in terms of physical and mental health. And needless to say, many people are fat not because of lifestyle choices but because of comorbid health conditions – but honestly it doesn’t matter if someone is fat because of their own lifestyle choices: no one deserves to be subjected to a lifetime of dehumanization, let alone for something as superficial as weight or size. Everyone has the right to be respected, to be treated with basic human decency, and fat people are constantly debased and dismissed by nearly everyone, especially under the guise of “concerns for their health.”

Arbour’s video was not a “bomb of truth” but a mere compilation of the disrespect fat people receive all the time. When Arbour’s YouTube channel was temporarily shut down as a result of the outcry in response to her video, she was quick to claim censorship. “You’re trying to kill comedy,” she asserted – but since when is denigrating an already disenfranchised group of people considered comedy?

Before Arbour accuses us of not being able to take a joke, she needs to learn to make a joke.

About the blogger: Angela Hui is a senior at San Francisco University High School. She previously attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys helping others recover from their eating disorders and promoting positive body image as a moderator at EDRecoveryProbs.com

For more by Angela Hui, check out:

Why #ThighReading Matters

Healthy Body, Sick Mind

Here’s Why We Can’t “Just Eat”

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