Earlier this month, a Canadian comedian named Nicole Arbour posted a video called “Dear Fat People.” In her video, Arbour looks directly at the demographic that she calls obese North Americans. Arbour blames these individuals for being overweight. She says that there is no such thing as body positivity and if you are obese it is a problem that you caused for yourself. Arbour has no patience or understanding for obese people and this is made abundantly clear in her video.
Yes, it is true that obesity is a threat to a person’s health. Yes, it is true that the rates of obesity are increasing in North America. Yes, it is true that obese individuals are more expensive for the health care system. But no, it is not true that you can go onto YouTube and incite hatred on any group of humans. No, it is not true that there is no such thing as body positivity. And no, it is not true that 100 per cent of the time being obese is the individual’s own fault.
The responses to the video astounded me. I read through the comments expecting to see people who, like me, were upset by Arbour’s hateful message. Instead, I saw a lot of agreement. The agreement came from thin people discussing how annoyed they are that fat people look for sympathy — I guess I expected that. But agreement also came from people who were or are fat and blame themselves for it. There are so many complicated reasons for a person being fat or obese and genetics is only one of them.
Learning that other people have thoughts, feelings, and lives of their own is something that we learn in kindergarten. This basic lesson should mean that we are understanding of other people and know that we don’t know the whole story behind anyone else’s actions until they tell us. Unfortunately, I often hear people talk about others behind their backs and ignore the possibility that the person had good reasons for doing what they did. This is called gossip. In psychology, the term for attributing another person’s actions as part of their internal disposition is called the fundamental attribution error. The key word here is error.
When gossip happens on a larger scale, it is called stereotyping. What Arbour is doing by saying that being fat is the fault of the individual is large-scale gossip. She is ignoring the fact that people are the result of their life stories and every single person has an incredibly complex history. What she is doing by saying that fat people are fat because of something wrong that they are doing is a classic example of committing the fundamental attribution error — except she did it on a large-scale.
I looked a little further and went beyond just the comments on her video for more reactions from viewers. What I found were articles and video responses from seemingly critical thinkers. To my disappointment, all of the discussion seemed to be about whether or not what Arbour was saying was valid. People were saying “yes, what she said was awful; however, we can’t deny that being fat is unhealthy and only you are in control of your weight.” I did find a couple of people who disagreed wholeheartedly and addressed the fact that overeating is a mental condition. But I was, on the whole, saddened by the critiques that I found.
Very simply, the discussion should not be about the validity of her statement. We should not be focusing on rebutting the points that she made. When Arbour posted that video, she made accusations that were generalizations about a large population of society. That should have been a huge red flag that she was doing something wrong.
No, fat people are not a race nor a sex nor a religion, but they are a population in the same way that people who wear glasses are a population. If someone made a video called, “Dear People Who Wear Glasses” and blamed them for not going out and getting laser eye surgery to fix their problem, the conversation would be very different. No one can look at a large population of people and say that they are all the same. All obese individuals are different the same way that all people who wear glasses are different. All women are different, all black people are different, all Jews are different, and all blonde people are different, etc. How is this not obvious by now?
Why are people focusing on whether or not what she said is true? There is no way that it is true because Arbour did not make her argument on a case-by-case basis. She generalized and that was her biggest mistake. We should not have even humoured her message with so many responses but, unfortunately, we did.
Being obese or even overweight is not the end of the world. According to Nicole Arbour’s video, 30 per cent of North Americans are obese and look: the world is still spinning! We need body positivity now more than ever because the media is committed to making us believe that there is only one type of beauty. More than that, the media is brainwashing society to believe that being beautiful is the only way to be happy and successful. The media is not taking a day off or doubting their campaign — so we can’t either.
We cannot make generalizations about a population of people whether it is negative or positive. Not all fat people are concerned about their weight; not all fat people are fat because of lack of trying to lose weight. This is such a complicated issue and these types of videos set the body positivity movement back. Change the conversation. Stop talking about whether or not it’s true or has valid points. Let’s talk about why a message like hers was able to gain so much traction so quickly. I just hope that what she said wasn’t enough to convince individuals to believe that being obese or fat means that you are less important or beautiful than anyone else.
Sadly, it probably did.
3B Honours Arts & Business, Psychology