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What This Fat-Shaming Comedienne Gets Wrong About Obesity

CREDIT: YOUTUBE
CREDIT: YOUTUBE

Nicole Arbour, a comedian whose style resembles fellow YouTube star Jenna Marbles, had her YouTube account shut down recently after posting a video about fat shaming. Her video, “Dear Fat People,” lambasted the idea that shaming people for being overweight was harmful or that overweight people should be treated as an oppressed group:

Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up. It’s like the race card, with no race. “Yeah but I couldn’t fit into a store. That’s discrimination.” No, that means you’re too fat. You should stop eating … I’m not talking about people who have a little bit of cushion for the pushin’ … I’m talking about the 35 percent of Americans who are obese. That means you are so fat you are affecting your own health. Big boned isn’t a thing … There are no fucking skeletons that look like the Michelin man. Fat shaming. Who came up with that? That’s fucking brilliant. Fat. Shame. Yes, shame people who have bad habits until they fucking stop.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=CXFgNhyP4-A

Arbour then continued to mock a fat family she encountered at an airport, saying they smelled of sausage and complained that the son, who sat next to her, took up too much space in the seat. The video caused a firestorm on Twitter, and many people responded with videos mocking or criticizing the comedian such as television personality Whitney Way Thore and comedian Shawn Halpin.

Despite the fact that Arbour claims to be making this video out of love, as she would do for a friend making bad relationship decisions, Arbour describes fat people in an extremely dehumanizing way. She also makes several assumptions about eating habits, the nature of shaming fat people and people’s motivations for losing weight that aren’t supported by evidence.

Myth No. 1: Fat People Aren’t Discriminated Against

Biases against fat people are pernicious and can hurt their standing at work. According to a research paper published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes this year, people believe obese people are less competent game show contestants. Overweight people also earn less than people who aren’t overweight and work in comparable positions because of biases about laziness and self-discipline, according to a 2008 Yale University study published in the International Journal of Obesity. These assumptions hurt their economic mobility at an early age. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health, released in May of this year shows that the higher the student’s body mass index, the lower their grades were, even though the children weren’t less intelligent than their thinner classmates.

Myth No. 2: People Of Color And LGBT People Don’t Deal With Anti-Fat Bias

Arbour doesn’t really acknowledge the intersection of fat-shaming and racism in her video. When she talks about discrimination, she doesn’t acknowledge that fat people of color exist. Fat-shaming hurts some groups more than others. Many of the stereotypes that we associate with fat people, such as being lazy, incompetent and lacking in self-discipline are the same stereotypes people have historically applied to African Americans. There is also a belief that while white women are lauded for being body positive and “brave,” black women are not, writes Sonya Renee Taylor. Fat-shaming a person of color can be an easy way to disguise comments that are actually racist in nature. Arbour reveals this attitude when she says, “Big sassy black women in church dresses are my favorite thing in the world.”

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LGBT people often deal with a lot of fat shaming in their own communities. As Louis Peitzman writes in BuzzFeed, “But the stereotype of the gay obsession with body image and a six-pack is not unfounded. There is a widely held understanding that being gay means maintaining a certain standard of physical beauty, with very little room for deviation from the norm.”

Transgender women face an even more intense cultural pressure to be thin than cisgender women. Mey writes in EverydayFeminism, “Building up the courage to get dressed, put on makeup, do my hair, and then go out in public to do some shopping only to be told ‘we don’t have anything in your size’ feels like an affirmation of all the times I was told I was a man.” Lesbians and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight or obese.

It’s also a mistake to pretend as if disabled people don’t deal with fat shaming, considering that obesity rates for adults with disabilities are 57 percent higher than for adults without disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Disabled people are at risk for obesity because they may have problems chewing or swallowing food, take medications that cause weight gain or have more physical limitations.

Myth No. 3: Shaming Fat People Shows Them We Care

Arbour makes the argument that she is only shaming fat people because they are hurting themselves and others who care for them by making poor diet and exercise choices. However, advocates against fat-shaming, such as Lindy West, have called this attitude “concern-trolling,” because people aren’t likely to quiz thin people about their eating habits and workout routines, even though they may be very unhealthy. A 2012 study by American and European researchers also shows that people who were obese but metabolically healthy have a 38 percent lower risk of early death and that people who were overweight but fit didn’t have a higher risk of death compared to people with a normal weight.

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And although Arbour makes fun of the idea that doctors are being mean to fat patients, there is evidence that although doctors may not be outright hostile to fat patients, they don’t treat with them as much empathy as they would thinner patients. A 2014 study also shows that not only does discrimination and shaming not help people lose weight, it actually makes them gain weight because they may respond to stress with comfort eating.

The truth is that Arbour doesn’t care about the health of fat people. She does care about dehumanizing fat people and making them feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.