I’ve been avoiding watching the Dear Fat People video made by Canadian YouTuber Nicole Arbour. When the articles denouncing Arbour’s fat shaming became the inescapable “Uptown Funk” of headlines, it felt a bit like catching wind of a hate crime that happened just a few blocks from home: I wanted to watch it and read all about it, but I wasn’t sure if satisfying my curiosity was worth enduring the uninvited chill of proximity. I’m not fat anymore, no longer the obese woman whose slow walking becomes an obstacle for pedestrians or whose conspicuously sweaty forehead in the middle of winter inspires revulsion, but I think I’ll always identify as the fat girl feeling embarrassed at the McDonald’s drive thru that I was for most of my life. Based on sight, BMI, or vegetable intake—the infallible empirical markers we use to determine the who’s who of fatness—I may not be the intended target for the mean jokes anymore, but they still inspire the same painful wince of lived experience.
It was just after Arbour announced that “fat shaming is not a thing” in her video when I realized that I’ve actually met Arbour before. I ran into her once at the Border’s parking lot as a guy in a black Honda Civic who casually called me a fat bitch because I had the audacity to get to the third parking spot before him and decide to actually park in it, despite clearly needing a brisk parking lot hike to melt away all my fat. I saw her at a restaurant as a middle aged woman who looked at me like a fly rubbing my grubby legs in her soup when I kindly asked her to scoot in her chair so I could get through to the restroom. I saw her disgust camouflaged as boredom in the eyes of so many guys who only met my gaze in public out of societal guy guilt, despite being terrified I might misconstrue the courtesy of eye contact as romantic interest. Arbour may be a comedian, an up-and-coming YouTuber, a controversial viral sensation, or a boob contourer par excellence, but fundamentally she’s broken record performing the same old “omg ew fat ppl” shtick we’ve all already heard before.
Arbour is performing the familiar hackneyed fat shaming choreography as if it’s something new she just discovered, like a girl at a bar demanding the DJ play her new favorite jam “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” because even though it was released in 2007, she just heard it for the first time on Spotify the other day and that means we all have to endure her supermanning that ho when we’ve all happily moved on with our lives. In between profanity that feels like attention-seeking Tourette’s and numerous not-so-subtle attempts to emulate fellow YouTube star Jenna Marbles, Arbour’s monologue is a laundry list of every “I know you are, but what am I?” example of fat shaming commentary that exists. A quip about how fat people should park further away from the door in the parking lot to burn calories? Check. An anecdote about sitting next to an overweight person on an airplane? Check. A reminder that all weight-related insults are really just meant as wake-up calls to alert fat people of their infirmity and remind them that they should really do something about their fatness before they, like, die? Check and check.
In all honesty, I’m glad Arbour’s video is getting attention, and not just because the video’s content and Arbour’s formulaic traffic-earning tactics are total garbage; I’m glad Dear Fat People has sparked conversation because it’s made me realize that fat shaming has actually come a long way since the predictable parking lot and airplane routine. Fat shaming is still very much “a thing,” despite Arbour’s insistence of the contrary, but at least it’s become more sophisticated, more nuanced, more subliminal. Our thinking has shifted from, “What do we do about fat people roaming parking lots?” to “How do we represent people of all sizes in the media?” We still have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging to see that more and more people recognize that Arbour’s “comedy” is nothing but self-righteous bullying. More importantly, despite Arbour’s defense of her video, it’s reassuring that Dear Fat People inspired a conversation focused on fat shaming, not playing devil’s advocate to legitimize Arbour’s pugnacious pontifications about obesity.
Cheers to you, Ms. Arbour, and thank you for reminding me that even though there may not always be hope for you (or those like you), there’s still hope for the rest of us. While you’re busy holding someone’s fat in place on your next flight, the rest of us will be over here holding out hope for a society where we can talk about health and obesity without being judgmental and unkind and enjoy comedy that’s clever and fresh without relying on the lowest common denominator fat jokes.