Mirrors are powerful tools. They allow people to reflect on themselves and marvel at their appearances, admiring the color of their eyes or the whiteness of their smiles. However, mirrors can be weapons too. With America’s obsession over body image, mirrors can create warped reflections of a person, causing self-hate and humiliation over her physicality. Whether it’s through Photoshopped advertisements or the influence of peers, the pressure to have the “perfect” body leaves people feeling ashamed of themselves for having another slice of pizza or skipping a day at the gym. Usually, though, we young people attempt to ignore the cruel remarks of society by blasting Beyonce’s “***flawless” or reading body positivity blogs, but sometimes we lose our grip on our confidence.
On Sept. 3 over one million people sacrificed their confidence when they viewed “Dear Fat People”. The YouTube video is comprised of Nicole Arbour’s rant mocking “body positivity” hashtags, claiming “fat shaming” isn’t a valid concept, and rudely describing a story about how she had to switch seats in an airplane for a man who was overweight and disabled. To say the internet famous vlogger’s video is offensive is an understatement. It is an appallingly harsh six-minute rant that left me, and other viewers, I’m sure, cringing and infuriated. Why did Arbour assume that she was helping people by posting this video? How could she say, “The truth is, I will actually love you no matter what,” yet take a stance that is exclusionary to so many of her potential subscribers.
Days later, when Time published an interview with Arbour, I got my answer. Arbour claimed that her fat-shaming video was a joke, telling Time, “I feel it’s really important that we make fun of everybody. I think [what] brings us together and unites us as people is that we can poke fun at all of us.” She also stated that she hoped the video would encourage people to eat healthier and exercise more. This interview would be the only time I would ever laugh at anything Arbour had to say.
Hundreds of response videos came flooding in throughout the week that the video was posted, many of them claiming that Arbour was not a comedian, but, rather, a bully. Yet Arbour failed to grasp the arguments her hurt, impassioned critics relayed to her. She did not apologize for the fatphobic content of her video, nor for her ableist comments either. She derailed the discussion of fatphobia and ableism immediately: in a tweet, Arbour declared that the only reason behind the criticism of her video was that she didn’t “look like a typical comedian.”
“If I were a guy,” Arbour tweeted, “people would have lol’d and moved on.”
The sexism that Arbour feels she experienced is no different than her cruel judgement about people’s weight. If she believes that people should be accepted equally despite their “look” or gender, then why does she ridicule “body positivity” and harass those who struggle with health issues? Many people can’t control their weight due to their disabilities. According to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disability, obesity rates are 57 percent higher for adults with disabilities than those without, and it isn’t because these people are eating unhealthy foods. Their medications can contribute to weight gain, as well as a lack of accessible environments, such as parks and exercise equipment. Arbour’s ignorance towards those with physical and mental disabilities is further proof that her claim of sexism is a poor excuse to explain the negative reception of her video.
Intersectional feminists work to respect everyone no matter what gender, race, or body size they are. No person of any gender should feel ashamed about their appearance; instead, we need to embrace our insecurities and stand up to the patriarchal regime that teaches us to feel embarrassed about our flaws. For too long we have been taught to conform to socially constructed standards of beauty, exerting ourselves for an ideal that, in all reality, is unattainable. We, as people who live under these arbitrary and fatphobic principles, need to tear down these socially institutionalized concepts of beauty and rebuild a new standard of beauty. Establishing self-esteem through supporting each other is the first step to accomplishing this imperative task.
In a couple of months, “Dear Fat People” will slowly fade away from the public eye, as do most viral videos. But it is important to remember that for some people Arbour’s cold message will stick with them forever. A person’s body belongs only to that person, and people like Arbour have no right to claim someone’s weight as her own concern for the sake of poorly executed comedy.
Casey is a sophomore fiction writing major with a minor in Spanish. She loves Parks and Rec.
Check out more from this month’s issue here.