Cruel, ignorant and hurtful: three of the mildest ways to describe the ‘Dear Fat People’ video on youtube that went viral over the weekend. The video was posted by Nicole Arbour, a self-proclaimed Canadian “comedian”. But attempts to get laughs off the back of other peoples’ struggles with their bodies is not funny, it’s cruel.
Arbour is not only cruel, she’s also predictably stupid and self-righteous. Not too far into the video she pumps out the ‘I’m saying these things for your own good’ line that’s been used a thousand times before, as if obese people somehow have no awareness of their own bodies.
But fat shaming leads only to self-hatred, low self-esteem and acts of self-harm. Far from being the way out, shame keeps people trapped in this vicious cycle.
As a woman, Arbour should be well aware that every day her body, like the bodies of women all over the world, is vulnerable to judgement from men, the media, other women, social pressure, the fashion and advertising industries, religious attitudes and, probably, herself. Instead of being sensitive to this vast net of scrutiny which traps people between images of who they are and who they should be, Arbour’s “comedy” contributes to the oppression.
There are few things that people are as sensitive about as their bodies. Since ‘Dear Fat People’ appeared a few days ago, hundreds of youtube responses from people of all sorts – young, old, fat, thin, male, female, black, white – have popped up. The typewriter news site got it all covered.
Some people cry as they recount their own battles with their bodies, others are so angry they have trouble putting a brake on the expletives, and many express a concern for vulnerable teenagers already struggling to accept their bodies.
Apart from being cruel, Arbour is also a coward. People detect maliciousness when they see it, and this video provoked a whole stream of commentary denouncing Arbour’s maliciousness dressed up as “comedy”. Being too pathetic to respond, Arbour shut the commentary down.
Clearly she is not out to open up a conversation about health, as she claims in the video. Instead, she rehashes a bunch of tired old “fat jokes” that most people stopped laughing at decades ago before the body acceptance and body positive movements prompted people to consider differences in body shapes and sizes with more empathy and intelligence. None of Arbour’s drivel is new, none of it is funny, and none of it has anything to do with health.
This is not to deny that obesity exists and is indeed increasing, particularly in Western countries. The Australian Government’s Institute of Health and Welfare reports that 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. A 2014 study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet claims that obesity rates in Australia and the US are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world.
But obesity, like any other eating disorder, does not happen in a void. Just as anorexia is not a simple case of having no appetite, obesity doesn’t happen just because people like eating lots of cake.
Obesity is complex. It is not purely a health issue; its causes are also social, psychological, environmental, metabolic and genetic. Overweight mothers are more likely to have overweight children. Cheap, unhealthy, easily available food is aggressively marketed, particularly towards children. Depressed people are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour, reflected in their eating habits.
Overstressed, overworked people short on time often rely on fast food to get through the day. Weight increases when people are suffering from a lack of sleep. Severe hyperthyroidism causes rapid gain weight regardless of diet. Arbour’s cheap shots ignore all these factors.
Don’t bother watching her video. Eat some cake instead.