“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.