Letter Writing

Dear Fat Shamers

Nicole ArbourWe’re feeling a little sympathy for fat shamers today. It’s been a rough week, capped by the news yesterday that Nicole Arbour was fired from her role in an upcoming movie — Don’t Talk to Irene — because of her vicious fat shaming video, Dear Fat People. Canadian Film Director Pat Mills explained:

[I’m making] a dance movie, so obviously we needed a choreographer. We met with a woman who not only did traditional dance choreography, but was a cheerleader as well. She was fun and nice and had a lot of energy. She seemed like a perfect fit for the project. I shared the script with her. She said she dug it and was excited to come on board. And then a crazy thing happened on Saturday — I saw something on the Internet that made me never want to see her again.

I’m gay. I was bullied a lot as a kid. I’m no stranger to ridicule and loneliness. [Her video] is an unfunny and cruel fat-shaming video that guises itself as being about “health.” It’s fat phobic and awful. I was so upset I was shaking.

People with obesity lose jobs, raises, and promotions all the time because of people who make bigoted assumptions about their abilities based upon their size and shape. So clearly, we can sympathize. But if fat shamers like Arbour want to stop making themselves look bad, they need to figure out that they’re making three big wrong assumptions:

  1. Eat Less, Move More Cures Obesity. People with obesity bump into something called metabolic adaptation that makes this a big lie. So this sort of advice for people with severe obesity is not much better than telling someone who’s bleeding to avoid sharp objects. It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
  2. Size = Health. A person’s health cannot be assessed merely by looking at them or stepping on a scale. Plenty of slender people have terrible diets, sedentary lives, heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems. Someone can have a high BMI and be in the best health of their life because of action they’ve taken to improve it.
  3. Telling People They’re Fat Helps. This assumption is disastrously wrong. Subjecting someone to shame and stigma has been shown to lead to weight gain, avoidance of healthcare, and worse health outcomes. This is particularly true for people who eat in response to stress and emotional issues.

We hate to see haters hurt themselves. Arbour shows no sign of recognizing her mistake. She dismisses the story of the lost film gig as gossip and insists, “I’m not apologizing.”

Click here for more perspective from an interview with Arya Sharma and here for more from People magazine.

Letter Writing, photograph © Richard Owens / flickr

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September 12, 2015

4 Responses to “Dear Fat Shamers”

  1. September 12, 2015 at 9:17 am, Annie said:

    It is really hard to sympathize with her. I’ll try but not sure I can. Even surgical intervention (i had RNY) is only partially effective treatment. There are way too many factors no matter how hard one tries to keep healthy keeping us from looking the way the shamers think we should. It would be nice if those folks would read a little science.

    • September 12, 2015 at 9:56 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Annie. I agree. In the end, some of these people are just not going to catch on and they will be left alone to think their hateful thoughts.

  2. September 13, 2015 at 2:18 pm, Valerie said:

    My main issue with fat shamers, or thin rewarders for that matter, is that they use behavior modification tactics for something (weight) that is not a behavior.

    Taxing soda is ok: negative incentive (pay more money) to lessen a behavior (soda drinking), for everyone, without discrimination. Ideally, you would first prove that the behavior change leads to better health, but that is another concern for another day.

    Employers giving free gym memberships to every employee is ok: positive incentive to increase a behavior (exercise), for everyone, without discrimination. Again, there is the unproven assumption that it will do more good than harm, but still, it is a fair intervention.

    Shaming fat people, or rewarding thin people, focuses on a state, not a behavior. I fail to see how behavior modification tactics are supposed to help. It would be like shaming people with cancer, rather than taxing cigarettes or promoting sunscreen. Not useful. Only harmful.

    Put another way, you need both a “why” and a “how” to acheive a goal. Loading more and more reasons to lose weight onto people who don’t have an effective mean to achieve it is just cruel.

    • September 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm, Ted said:

      I agree with you, Valerie, with one quibble. I think sugary drinks at Starbucks etc should be taxed as well as sugary soda, if you’re going to go down that road.