A publicity stunt is defined as “a planned event designed to attract the public’s attention to the event organizers or their cause.” By this definition, this is exactly what Nicole Arbour attempted and succeeded to accomplish with her “Dear Fat People” You Tube video. Thanks to this post, her sarcastic-style videos went from an average of a few thousand views each to millions. Now, before I go any further, if you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it here. Check it out and come right back… Let me guess - are you back after watching less than a minute of it?! Yeah, I don’t blame you, that’s just about as much as I could stomach too. (Although I’ve had to watch that, and a number of her other videos, on repeat for research… safe to say I’ll be heading to the boxing gym for some psycho-therapy later today.)
Arbour’s “open letter to fat people” generated so much attention over the long-weekend that her channel was temporarily unavailable. Arbour’s post also attracted attention from some of the biggest media organizations in the world, including CNN, BBC, Huffington Post and People. But, among the headlines: “Canadian You Tube star slammed…” “You Tube star faces controversy…” “A viral takedown of You Tube star…” next to none of them were positive in any way shape or form – no pun intended. Sufficed to say, very few have come out in support of Arbour, her video, or her choice of comedy.
Comedy! Yes, that is how Arbour defines what she does. According to her, it’s funny to call out a population of people who struggle daily with hateful stigmas, discrimination and health problems. Nicole considers it comedy to compare overweight people to zombies, to claim that those who are plus-sized smell like sausages and sweat out Crisco. She thinks it’s hysterical to deny that there is such thing as “fat-shaming” and to order people “to stop eating because you’re too fat.”
At the end of the rant, Arbour encourages viewers to leave a comment, declaring that she thinks the feedback will be pretty funny. Fine, except when the comment section blew up with the rage of countless displeased and offended viewers, she didn’t seem to be laughing. In fact, it lead her to disable her comment section and post another seven-minute video in defense of what she calls “comedy.” This time, she claims that, “If you can’t handle the truth you’re a f—king psychopath.” Oh and, “You have to be really f—king slow to be offended by satire.” Thou doth protest too much, methinks.
But, if satire is what she’s calling it, let’s unpack this one a little bit. It’s true, satire is a popular form of humour. She herself even references one of the better-known sources of satirical comedy, “The Simpsons.” Other famous satirical comedians include Chris Rock, Russell Peters, Mindy Kaling, to name a few. The difference between these names and Nicole Arbour is – well, besides actually being famous and funny – they make fun of themselves. Chris Rock is known for his slapstick commentary about the black culture. Russell Peters makes fun of his Indian heritage. Mindy Kaling continually jokes about herself. You don’t see these successful satirists calling out other, highly discriminated, populations – no, they make fun of what they know, what they can relate to and it’s taken as tongue and cheek because they are in on the joke. A rant about fat people, coming from a pretty, skinny white girl is simply not funny. It’s mean.
But besides the obvious, her commentary is also hugely misinformed not to mention incredibly dangerous. Among the massive inaccuracies – first, Arbour declares that size discrimination is not a valid discrimination like racism or homophobia. Wrong, according to The Canadian Obesity Network, which states that, “The impact of bias and discrimination against people with obesity is comparable to that of racial discrimination, and it’s just as common.”
This leads into her next point, which is to deny that fat-shaming exists altogether. Fat-shaming not only exists in the cyber world, with overweight users getting death threats and unbelievably destructive comments hurled their way, but it also exists in many parts of the “real world.” A number of studies have been done to prove the discrimination of overweight people in the office. On average the more you weigh the less you get paid, thanks to the biases about laziness and lack of discipline. It’s also prevalent in the classrooms, with studies proving that larger students generally get lower grades despite the fact that their intelligence is at the same level as their thinner classmates.
The “comedienne” also rants on and on about the fact that there are special parking spots for overweight people. As of now, there are parking spots for handicapped people, expecting mothers and families but nope, no such luck for those who are overweight… But good try.
Finally – she makes the assumption that anyone who is overweight is inactive and eats poorly. I can tell you for a fact that this simply isn’t true. As a personal trainer and nutritional consultant I deal with clients of many different shapes and sizes. It should go without saying that size has no indication on the care they take for themselves. Some of my thinnest clients have some of the worst health habits, just as some of the curvier ones are in wicked shape, working out regularly and eating well. This generalization is simply inaccurate. Also – head over to plus-size model and body-image crusader Ashley Graham’s Instagram account and tell me she’s not fitter than most.
But, at the end of the day, for me, it’s not just about the video being in poor taste or being factually wrong in every way, mostly, it’s about the video being a clear cut example of bullying. There is an extremely high correlation between obesity and depression – not just in adults but in children too. Nicole is speaking to (or more like barking at) the one in 10 children who are not only battling the disease of obesity (which, no Nicole, is not the same thing as being a shopaholic!) but are also likely to be battling mental health issues as well. While she claims that she is calling them out so they are forced into taking better care of themselves, in reality she is only making their circumstances worse. It’s proven that more shaming leads to greater weight gains and a lower sense of self-esteem. So, if helping society is the goal here, she’s grossly missed the mark.
In conclusion - Nicole, next time you attempt to tear down the esteem and self worth of an entire population, why don’t you just go pick on someone your own size? Maybe then someone will think you’re funny instead of taking you for what you really are, a cyber bully, looking for attention.