“Dear Fat People”: A Response

Image02This post is in response to Nicole Arbour’s now infamous video “Dear Fat People”.

For the record, I’m not calling for an all-out censorship on comedians or jokes. I think that great jokes can be written about anything – rape, incest, the holocaust, and, yes, even fat people. But, like Lindy West, I do think that it takes a certain amount of finesse to be able to write and execute “good” jokes about these so-called taboo topics. And before anyone accuses me of thinking otherwise, I just want to say, for the record, I don’t think that comedians should be shamed or censored for daring to joke about taboo or off-limits topics. But, at the same time, if you tell a shitty joke and you get called out on it, don’t make it about freedom of speech or about censorship in comedy. Sometimes a joke just doesn’t land. Instead of being a whiny crybaby, figure it out, and do better next time.

Personally, I don’t think Arbour is very funny (I took a look at some of her other videos) and her faux-edginess comes across as fake and trollish. I think she’s trying really hard to be Jenna Marbles 2.0 and is failing spectacularly at it. In short, I don’t think that she’s a good comedian. But that’s not what this article is about.

This article is for me to specifically address one of the things that Arbour said in her video. Specifically the following fat phobic and wildly short-sighted remark:

Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up. That’s the race card with no race. “Yeah, but I couldn’t fit into a store. That’s discrimination.” Uhhh, no. That means you’re too fat and you should stop eating. Everybody just needs to make more sense! There’s a race card, a disability card, there’s even a gay card. Because gay people are discriminated against. Wrongfully so.

Actually, Nicole (can I call you Nicole?), fat people are discriminated against in a number of horrible and really shitty ways. Weight discrimination affects fat people in a myriad of ways and in a variety of settings. (Not just your shitty fat phobic video.) Anti-fat/pro-thin attitudes, like the ones you espouse in your video, are really damaging to the health and psychosocial well-being of fat people, especially since fat people tend to hold the same anti-fat attitudes as everyone else in society. As a result of internalizing the social stigma against fatness, fat people tend to “hold strong, consistent, negative implicit associations and being overweight and exhibit no preference for ingroup members. Indeed, this ingroup devaluation was demonstrated across specific stereotypes of overweight individuals (i.e., laziness and stupidity) as well as evaluations of general worth” (Wang, Brownell, & Wadden, 2004). This ingroup devaluation means that they lack the protective barrier that other minority groups – who do have ingroup preference – have and, as a result, suffer from more negative experiences due to their weight and the stigma surrounding it  (see also: Schafer & Ferraro, 2011).

The effects of fat discrimination, obesity stigma, and weight bias on individuals extends to practically every aspect of a fat person’s life including (but not limited to): employment (including hiring biases, fewer promotions, and salary disparities/inequalities), housing, education, legal matters, media, personal and sexual relationships, and healthcare delivery (Puhl & Brownell, 2003; Puhl & Heuer, 2009). Not only does fat discrimination have psychological impacts on the individual – fat people are more likely to suffer depressive episodes but also have low self-esteem, low self-acceptance, and low life satisfaction – but there are also the social costs. Social costs that are compounded when you also consider that women (Fikkan & Rothblum, 2012) face a higher price when it comes to being fat than men.

The hatred toward fat people in this society means that people would do everything in their power not to be fat. For example, in their study, Schwartz, Vartanian, Nosek, and Brownell (2006) found that lean people would prefer to be divorced, severely depressed, unable to have children, and live shorter lives than to be obese. Another study found that patients who had undergone gastric bypass surgery and had lost 100 pounds as a result would rather be blind, deaf, lose a leg, or have heart disease than to gain back the weight they had lost (Rand & Macgregor, 1991). Every single respondent in Rand and Mcgregor’s (1991) study said that they would give up being a multimillionaire if it meant that they could be a normal weight.

That’s beyond fucked up.

Oh, and by the way, fat shaming (aka victim blaming) and bullying doesn’t motivate people to lose weight. If it did, there would be no more fat people. A simple Google search could have told you this. Hell, if you look into the academic literature on the subject (in their article, Sutin & Terracciano (2013) provide a quick and dirty overview), you’ll find that weight discrimination might actually reinforce fat people’s intake of calorie-rich and fatty foods as a way to deal with the stress of being discriminated against in the first place!

In your video you couch your criticisms of fat people using the umbrella term of “health”. There is no correlation between health and weight. Certainly, obese people can be unhealthy, I’m not going to argue that there aren’t some health risks to being obese if you also have a shitty diet and don’t exercise. However, normal weight people, for example, could be unhealthier than someone who is fat. In fact, a lot of “normal” weight individuals have health problems that go undetected (e.g. high cholesterol, high blood pressure) because they’re not screened for these issues because they (supposedly) only effect fat people. (This is how thin privilege harms the not-fat.) Additionally, a number of scholars have begun to question the assumption that being fat automatically means that a person is implicitly unhealthy since weight stigma in healthcare settings (including negative attitudes among medical students, physicians, nurses, and dieticians) complicates things, especially since research also indicates that fat people receive a poorer quality of care than do normal weight individuals (Puhl & Heuer, 2009; Sabin, Marini, & Nosek, 2012).

Furthermore, due to weight stigma and discrimination, fat patients often delay or forgo routine preventative care (or are sometimes denied it by their healthcare providers), which prevents early detection of problems, increasingly the severity of those problems when they do occur (and also increasing the healthcare costs of addressing those problems) (Schwartz, O’Neal Chambliss, Brownell, Blair, & Billington, 2003). Furthermore, a number of scholars and studies have also begun to indicate that “social factors are implicated in health problems associated with obesity alongside the widely recognized physiologic causes” (Schafer & Ferraro, 2011). In other words, there are indications that weight stigma as well as weight discrimination can actually affect disease processes within the body (Ferraro & Shippee, 2009; Glass & McAtee, 2006; Muenning, Jia, Lee, & Lubetkin, 2008).

ImageNicole, you are the embodiment of thin privilege and if you think that your hateful video isn’t part of the problem then you’re willfully ignorant. And, I don’t for a second believe your claims that this video wasn’t meant to bully fat people; that the video was meant to be satire, a “joke”, or “a bit of fun”; or that you did this as “an intense form of truth-telling” because fat people are unhealthy.

Stop lying and just admit that you hate fat people. I’d actually respect you for that instead of hiding behind all this bullshit. You see, the awesome thing about thin privilege (other than the sweet social and economic benefits of not being fat) is that you can still get away with being awful to fat people because fat people are the last minority group where hatred towards them is not only accepted but also encouraged! Fatness is – and will continue to be – one of the last acceptable basis for discrimination in society.

And that’s what really pisses me off.

References:

Ferraro, K.F. & Shippee, T.Y. (2009). Aging and cumulative inequality: How does inequality get under the skin? The Gerontologist, 49, 333-343.

Fikkan, J.L. & Rothblum, E.D. (2012).Is fat a feminist issue? Exploring the gendered nature of weight bias. Sex Roles, 66(9), 575-592.

Glass, T.A. & McAtee, M.J. (2006). Behavioral science at the crossroads in public health: Extending horizons, envisioning the future. Social Science and Medicine, 62, 1650-1671.

Muenning, P., Jia, H., Lee, R., & Lubetkin, E. (2008). I think therefore I am: Perceived ideal weight as a determinant of health. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 501-506.

Puhl, R. & Brownell, K.D. (2003). Ways of coping with obesity stigma: Review and conceptual analysis. Eating Behaviors, 4(1), 53-78.

Puhl, R.M. & Heuer, C.A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity, 17(5), 2009.

Rand, C.S. & Macgregor, A.M. (1991). Successful weight loss following obesity surgery and the perceived liability of morbid obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 15(9), 577-79.

Sabin, J.A., Marini, M. & Nosek, B.A. (2012). Implicit and explicit anti-fat bias among a large sample of medical doctors by BMI, race/ethnicity, and gender. PLOS One, 7(11), e48448.

Schafer, M.H. & Ferraro, K.F. (2011). The stigma of obesity: Does perceived weight discrimination affect identity and physical health? Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(1), 76-97.

Schwartz, M.B., O’Neal Chambliss, H., Brownell, K.D., Blair, S.N., & Billington, C. (2003). Weight bias among health professionals specializing in obesity. Obesity Research, 11(9), 1033- 1039.

Schwartz, M.B., Vartanian, L.R., Nosek, B.A., & Brownell, K.D. (2006). The influence of one’s body weight on implicit and explicit anti-fat bias. Obesity, 14(3), 440-447.

Sutin, A.R. & Terracciano, A. (2013). Perceived weight discrimination and obesity. PLOS One, 8(7), e70048.

Wang, S.S., Brownell, K.D., & Wadden, T.A. (2004). The influence of the stigma of obesity on overweight individuals. International Journal of Obesity, 28, 1333-13337.

Terry Pratchett and Literary Snobbery

Just in time for the release of the latest Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones decided to pen an article criticizing the late, great Terry Pratchett and his series of Discworld books. As Jones exclaims in the first paragraph of his article “I have never read a single one of [Terry Pratchett’s] books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.”

So…you’re criticizing a set of books and an author that you’ve never even bothered to read. But Jones assures us that it’s totally cool because he “did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.” He then goes on to associate the Discworld books with “trash” and ordinary “potboilers”.

Never mind that Jones is critiquing works that HE’S NEVER EVEN READ let alone understood. But he seems more upset that Terry Pratchett’s death elicited such a “huge fuss” than say Gabriel García Márquez or Günter Grass, who Jones feels is more deserving of “emotional outpourings” of grief because they write “actual literature” that has more artistic merit than some basic fantasy novel. But Jones is so wrong about the Discworld series; as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out:

The Discworld series evolved from cheerful fantasy pastiche into complex political and social satire, lampooning literary clichés and exploring issues of social class, religion, and cultural heritage.

In his critique, Jones comes off as self-aggrandizing snob who thinks that he understands the “great works” that he venerates but who’s actually just hanging onto the guise of high literature like some hipster who defends himself by stating that “Actual literature may be harder to get to grips with than a Discworld novel, but it is more worth the effort. By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.”

Pause for MASSIVE FUCKING EYEROLL.

I’m a voracious reader. I read “actual literature” and popular fiction. I enjoy both. I don’t see one as being better than the other by virtue of being “ambitious”. Ambitiousness is all well and good, but it’s not the be all and end all of what’s worthy to read.

Jones’ article left me unsatisfied and a little annoyed – the entire thing came off as some asshole twat’s pathetic attempt at trolling in an article that was obviously meant as click bait. The author came off as a wanker with absolutely zero credibility in his criticism. It’s the worst form of literary snobbery – elitist, classist, and pretentious for the simple sake of being elitist, classist, and pretentious.

Full disclosure time: I wasn’t a fan of Jonathan Jones to begin with – he once critiqued the current state of graphic fiction (i.e. comic books and graphic novels) as banal, pretentious and simplistic. At that time, I decided that I wasn’t going to defend graphic fiction to someone who purposely misses the point.

But not this time. As important as graphic fiction has been for me in my life, Terry Pratchett’s work has been more important to me.

I have to say that, in the end, for a man whose profession is that of a professional literary critic, Jones’ lack of understanding as to why Pratchett and his work are so widely beloved and respected was simply embarrassing. His wasn’t just an unpopular opinion, it was a woefully misinformed one. To criticize anything you should at least experience it for yourself first. But that would be beneath Jones and his so-called high literary sensibility.

Perhaps Damien G. Walter said it best:

I also hold a Masters degree, have been a senior university lecturer, and am a columnist for The Guardian, the very same bastion of middlebrow values that Jonathan Jones penned his opportunistic attack on Terry Pratchett. Unlike Jones however, I see no conflict in being both an intelligent educated human being and loving the fuck out of Terry Pratchett’s discworld books.

In fact, I would argue that having that intelligence and education gives you more insight to see just how bloody brilliant and clever Terry Pratchett and his works are.

“Creating notable, brilliant art does not absolve you of your faults.”

There’s a very powerful article over at Gawker written by Dee Barnes, who is responding to Dr. Dre’s public apology for physically assaulting “the women [he’s] hurt”. She concludes her article by writing:

The hypocrisy of it all is appalling. This is bigger than me, and bigger than hip-hop. This is about respect and awareness. As a result of speaking on my personal experience with violence, I have been vilified. Women survivors of violence are expected neither to be seen nor heard, and the pressure increases when it involves celebrities. No one wants to see their heroes criticized. And if they are African American, the community at large becomes suspicious of an underlying motive to tear down a successful black man. Excusing pop culture icons from scrutiny over their history of violence against women because they are elevated to “hero” status is wrong on so many levels. Creating notable, brilliant art does not absolve you of your faults. In the past, great art was enough to exalt men of their bad behavior, but in 2015 it’s no longer the case. Survivors have a right and an obligation to speak up (#NoSilenceOnDomesticViolence). We are too loud, too correct, too numerous to be ignored.

The next time some assfuck tries to defend Woody Allen or Roman Polanski because they “make great art”, I’m going to pull this out of my pocket and make them read it because WORD.