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Nicole Arbour in ‘Dear Fat People’

This past week, a video has gone around by YouTuber and comedian Nicole Arbour, whose past hits include such titles as “Dear Instagram Models”, “Why Girls Are Crazy” and “Why You Really Got Divorced.” In this video, entitled “Dear Fat People” the wannabe shock-vlogger decided to go after her new target, which was pretty much anyone who is fat.

I won’t link to the video, or pretty much any of her other videos, because I refuse to assist in her channel getting further hits. However, here’s some of the glorious highlights of that 6-minute hate fest.

‘Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up,’ she says. ‘That’s the race card with no race. “Yeah, but I couldn’t fit into a store. That’s discrimination”. Uh no. That means you are too fat, and you should stop eating.’

‘If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m okay with that,’ she says. ‘You are killing yourself. I’ll sleep at night. Maybe I am jealous that you get to eat whatever you want.’

‘Obesity is a disease?’ she asks. ‘Yeah, so is being a shopaholic – but I don’t get a f***king parking pass. It would make a lot of sense if I did. I am the one with all of the bags.’

‘I am not saying all of this to be an a**hole.  I am saying this because your friends should be saying it to you.’

Actually Nicole, you’re just being an asshole.

So let’s start with the facts: fat shaming is a thing. Fat shaming and other forms of body shaming are a way for people to impose society standards and their own upon you and your body. It is a type of discrimination that is rendered against those who are considered overweight, and especially those who are considered obese in our world. It comes in many forms, from advertisements that tell you to lose weight so you’ll be happier (‘just shed those pounds and you’ll be frolicking in this field like me!’) to the poor media representations of obese people, to blatant and outright hatred like that expressed by Arbour above. Fat shaming exists. It also doesn’t work.

This, from Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research Health Behavior Center at UCL:

 “Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution. Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”

Yup, that’s a scientific study, Nicole. Stick your fingers in your ears all you want, but the science and years of experience from plenty of fat people out there says that fat shaming does not work. Getting on YouTube and supporting fat shaming in defiance of the scientific evidence puts you right up there with anti-vaccers and climate-change deniers, people so intent on supporting their own bogus viewpoint that they won’t pay attention to actual facts. Fat shaming fits every definition of bullying and does not work.

In fact it has the opposite effect. People who experience body shaming are prone to have more problems, like depression and anxiety, eating disorder issues, body dysmorphia, etc. And to me, that’s a no brainer moment. I don’t have to sit here and think hard about the fact that shaming someone doesn’t increase their overall life quality. That’s not a stumper. The part that gets me is how other people don’t see that.

The good part is, plenty of people did in the case of Nicole Arbour. Her video was pulled from YouTube for violating terms of service, for which Arbour screamed censorship. Next, blogs all across the internet responded with articles blasting the hateful video, and YouTubers began tossing out their own response videos decrying the fat shaming Arbour espouses. My favorite video comes from Whitney Thore of My Big Fat Fabulous Life, whose whole video I’m going to link here at the bottom. But Thore tells it like it is about what it’s like to live as a woman being fat after gaining weight from poycystic ovarian, stating, “You can’t see a person’s health by looking at them.”

Tess Holiday, the fabulous plus sized model had a fantastically dismissive response:

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And that’s where I stand on Arbour and her kind too. Yes, her kind. Everyone’s met one in their lifetime. The self-righteous, hateful kind who hold to the idea that they have a right to shame another human being for how they look. That they can judge someone for how many pounds they are, or what they look like in clothing. You’d think Arbour would have seen one or two after school specials growing up to know that bullying isn’t okay, but clearly the lesson didn’t take.

Arbour says she’s just telling it like it is, and it’s no secret that shock comedians have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. What Arbour and many others still seem to be missing is that the age of ‘all press is good press’ is coming to (if not already at) an end. It’s no longer a game online of just getting your name known. Now people can just Google your work and see what you’ve said, and make their own judgements. Case in point, what happened to Arbour after she posted up this video.

You see, Arbour was relying on the out of line content of her six minute bit to get her attention. And it did. She was fired from a movie after director Pat Mills saw her ‘Dear Fat People Video’ because – wait for it – the movie was about young dancers discovering body positivity! Way to shoot yourself in the foot there. And it’s the response by director Pat Mills of Don’t Call Irene (which I’m going to be checking out in response to this move) that makes me feel like maybe, finally, folks are getting the point.

Arbour certainly didn’t. She responded by defending her video, saying she wasn’t really shaming people. That it was all an act.

“I don’t shame people. It was an act. It was one bit and I do a new bit every single week. I don’t hate anyone. I don’t shame anyone. I don’t actually believe in bullying at all.”

“The video was about obese people. I was very specific that it’s not the average guy with some cushion for the pushin’. [The message is that] we really care about them and we want them to be healthy because I’m selfish and I want them to be around,” she told BBC. “I don’t think it’s a cheap laugh. Twenty million views isn’t that cheap. I’m an equal-opportunity offender and it all goes back to comedy.”

Oh, so it was just acting. And besides, it was about obese people, not regular people who have some “cushion for the pushin'” (which is just the worst term ever, please stop using it right now, this instant). Fact is, if you don’t think that what you said is shaming, Nicole Arbour, I don’t think the word means you think it means. And just because it’s comedy doesn’t mean that people won’t think you’re awful for what you’ve said. There’s a clap back headed your way from a lot of people, Nicole, and it’s pretty awesome.

body-positivity-and-imageThere’s no denying that this issue is a personal one for me. As a woman who has been fat all my life, having hit about two hundred pounds at the age of twelve, I have literally spent twenty years of my life dealing with the stigma of being overweight. I’ve had the unfortunately not so unique experience of enduring callous, hateful, disgusting, often terrifying comments thrown my way. I’ve had people tell me I should kill myself for being fat. I’ve had kids chase me in the subway, snorting at me and screaming ‘fatty!’ while others looked on.

I’ve had people I respect, trust, and love tell me such heartbreaking things that, I’m sure, they thought were just helping. Things like:

  • “When I look at you, I see the beautiful person trapped inside all that fat, waiting to get out.”
  • “If you don’t lose weight, no man will ever want to marry you. Then you’ll never have children, and die alone.”
  • “There’s nothing beautiful about being fat, it’s all just a mess that makes me sad to look at.”
  • “You don’t need to wear a nice dress, nobody’s looking.”
  • “God, I look so bad today. But at least I’m not fat. If I was fat, I’d just kill myself.”
  • And this, when I asked a guy out and he turned me down: “You know how some people don’t like some kinds of porn? I don’t like fat people porn.”

These are all quotes said to me, each by people I know: family members, friends, co-workers. The last was a guy I knew in college that I wanted to date. And you can bet that I remember his name, all right. I remember he was a funny, skinny nerd guy who wrote video game music and lamented about the way he was bullied for being a nerd in high school. I remember him as the guy I never spoke to again, whose name is now synonymous with hypocrisy.

So when I say I’ve heard this all my life, that I didn’t need the science to explain to me that fat shaming doesn’t work, you can trust in my experience. And that this article comes with no small amount of happiness to see the responses

Fat bodies in our society are reviled, belittled, hated, and fetishized. Those who are overweight are ignored, demeaned and shunned. We are expected to accept vile bullying because society still accepts that fat is one of the worst things a person can be. Fat shaming is expressed in every part of our culture, in every place people build communities, even those that are meant to be accepting, inclusive, and safe. And it’s because people still perpetuate the notion that fat is the worst thing that you can be.

But there’s a silver lining in this story. If you google Nicole Arbour now, all the articles that come up as the top searches aren’t about her, exactly. It’s about how she was fired from a movie because of her hate-filled little video. And if you look at nearly all the comments responding to this nonsense, you see people calling out her video for what it is: jealous, narcissistic hatred. Hatred from a woman so trapped within the rat race of societally acceptable beauty that she would turn against other human beings and mock what they look like for the sake of five minutes of fame.

Well, she’s famous now, all right. Only the tide has started to turn, maybe, just a little. And the same #bodypositivity folks Arbour was so prepared to mock might just have a louder voice than she does. Because love of yourself and others does have a louder voice than hate. Afor once, maybe we’re seeing an example of it.

As of right now, I’m celebrating a little victory.

In my last post, I talked about the body shaming that is rampant within the cosplay world. I pointed to several websites that made their bones out of making fun of ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ cosplayers. The whole explosion of blogginess happened because of a Facebook page called Fat Cosplayers, in which some internet troll decided to post up photos of people for the sake of making fun of them. Me and tons of other people on social media went to Facebook to report the page.

Less than twenty-four hours later, that Facebook page is gone.

And in my mind, I’m saying: We won.

I’m celebrating. This is a minor thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but before I go back to my work at grad school or my freelancing today, I had to celebrate. Because that’s one against bullies. That’s one against the insensitivity of the world. We take what we can get.

Today is known as Spirit Day, a day when people speak up about bullying and stand up against such behavior for the future. So let’s have a little story time today about why anti-bullying is important. We’re going to open up and be super, completely honest.

Let’s tell a little story about Shoshana.

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That’s my “Yeah, what now?” face.

Hi. This is me. I’m fat. I’ve been this way more than half my life.

I’ve been fat since I was eleven years old. Before that, I was a horsey-limbed little colt of a thing, running around playing sports. Then puberty hit and, wouldn’t you know it, I grew to nearly 5’11” in one year and developed all those women-parts that cause you to suddenly look WAY older than you actually are. I also gained nearly one hundred pounds in a year. It didn’t hurt that I was super depressed that year and took to eating as an answer. Why was I depressed, you ask? Because I was bullied pretty hard. There was a girl in my class who hated me for some reason who made it her business to make my life a living hell. She broke into my locker in school. She slammed a window on my wrist. She called me names. When I spoke about being adopted, something that was very difficult for me, she came out and said: “The reason you can’t ask for money from your folks [for a school trip] is because you’re not their real child.” Years later, this girl swore up and down she didn’t mean anything by any of it. But I remember her. I remember her name, all those years later, and I remember how she would always say her hair was auburn and not red. I can’t forget.

I went through high school being teased. I had no friends. I ended up dropping out of high school and staying home because I was so depressed, I couldn’t walk down the hallways. I got nailed for not being as religious as the kids around me, for feeling uncomfortable with some of the bigoted nonsense in my community. I felt alone in my skin, with nowhere to turn. It didn’t help that I was developing what we later discovered was bi-polar disorder and my mood swings were awful. But I discovered the internet, stayed home and stayed online. Why? Because it was easier than dealing with the terrible things that people would say to me. I ate because I was sad and because, frankly, I didn’t give a damn anymore. I figured there was no reason to take care of myself. I should enjoy what I could because there was no being happy in life. I was depressed, suicidal, and eating to forget. I thank God I never discovered drugs or alcohol during that time period or MAN would there have been issues.

I pulled myself out of it to go to college. And there I discovered a world of diversity. Of people who looked like me. I discovered the world was big, wide, and full of all kinds of folks. Still, I had trouble. You train a person for years that anyone, at any time, can come up and hurt you, you’re going to get someone who doesn’t trust easily. I joined a sorority, tried to have friends, tried to date. And this is where I got some of the most harsh lessons in what it’s like to not be like other people. I was a bi-sexual, bi-polar, terribly sheltered Jewish fat girl. I was like the slow moving gazelle in the herd- easy pickings for bullies and the chronically insensitive.

I still remember the first guy I had a major crush on. His name was David. He liked video game music and was Jewish. His dad went to synagogue with mine. My father thought for sure I’d met someone finally that I might get together with- happily ever after. I thought this guy was hilarious and, during a party at a local bar one night, I asked him out. He was pretty wasted and we were joking around. He turned to me and laughed so hard and said he didn’t think he’d ever go out with me. I asked him why not. He said: “You know how people like certain kinds of porn? I don’t like fat people porn.”

I remember where I was standing when he said that. I remember how cold it was. I never spoke to him again. That was over ten years ago now. I can’t forget.

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Me at Stonehenge 2005

I went on in college. I left school to get my life together. I did martial arts as my profession for eighteen months, starved myself on a practically liquid diet in the hopes of losing weight, and always felt awful that I wasn’t in the same shape as other people. I would run in class until I thought I was going to throw up and faint. My martial arts master would always frown at me as though I were a disappointment. I left that school and went back to college. I went overseas and discovered that if you need to buy clothing in London and you’re fat, you are going to have a hard time. I had people on the London Tube say I was too fat to sit on the seat with them. I went to France and had a woman there call me a “fat kike” (a Jewish slur I’d never heard to my face). I ended up in the hospital and nearly died from a stupid gallbladder failure and decided, right then, that I wanted to fix up my life. I made new friends, who I loved and adored. But who would still say things like:

“Sometimes I see the beautiful person trapped inside all that fat.”

“You could become a vegetarian, that would fix all your weight problems.”

“You just need to stop eating all that stuff. I mean, you can’t eat like normal people. You have to try extra hard.” 

I remember every name. I remember every person, what they said, where I was. I can’t forget.

I remember my female friends, who would make mouth noises about being accepting and loving of everyone no matter the body type, look at me sideways when I would say I was into someone. And if I said I was interested in the same person they were, I would watch them shrug that off, as if to say: “It’s not like you have a chance.” I would call them on it, too, and watch them protest. “But that’s not what I was thinking! Of course not! I’m so sorry I made you feel that way!” Yet the next time the issue came up, the exact same thing happened. I was the fat girl, the invisible one. And it was a bitter joy that at least, to them, I was invisible in certain ways and yet acceptable as a friend. At least I wasn’t alone anymore. But I still remember each of those moments, and each of the hurts. They mark a long list of bullying tactics, insensitivity and invisibility that has plagued me all my life.

This is me now, in my LARP costume for Freya at Dystopia Rising 2013.
This is me  in my LARP costume for Freya at Dystopia Rising 2013. Photo by Catie Griffin.

I’m not invisible anymore. I’ve created for myself the life I always wanted, where I have good people around me and the opportunity to create as a way of life. I no longer accept bullying in any forms. I don’t accept ‘it’s just a joke’ as an answer from those who say that they are ‘really nice people’ and ‘would never want to hurt someone else.’ I call it out as I see it. I learn to let things go and to forgive because people aren’t bad, but they can make stupid, apathetic, hurtful decisions.

But I don’t forget. I can’t forget that to some people, I am other because of how I look. That to many, I’m invisible unless I open my mouth and the power of my voice carries me beyond their prejudices to validate me as a human being. I will never forget those sideways looks, the pity in people’s eyes, and the years it took for me to not give in to just bitterness. I won’t forget how hard it has been to hold onto hope.

Hope lives. It lives in every friend who has given me a supportive hand, who has never judged me when I put a fork to my mouth in their company, or who stood up for me when some ‘well meaning’ asshat on the street says how sad it is to see a young woman like me ‘in my condition.’ Hope lives in the lovers who have called me beautiful and made me believe them, and no matter how we parted company, I won’t forget their names either. Hope lives in friends who have commiserated with me, and who have supported me, and treated me like a person who exists and is relevant.

Hope lives and I live because of hope every day.

That’s my message for Spirit Day, folks. Hope lives for those on the receiving end of bullying. And hope even lives for the insensitive, the chronically hurtful, the bullies out there. There’s hope enough for you too. I believe that, I’ll never forget it. I just hope you can find that too.

Update (10/4/2014): I was recently contacted to clear up a misattribution in the article below. Please note that the quoted transcript of the Heroes of Cosplay episode 2 conversation previously stated that Jessica Merizan was one of those speaking. It has since been corrected after I was contacted by Ms. Merizan and the proper speaker was attributed. My apologies to Ms. Merizan for the confusion and any trouble it may have caused. 

As it is the week after New York Comic Con, I am spending my time recovering from my heady infusion of nerd culture. Yet instead of happily recounting various wonderful experiences I had at NYCC this year, I am writing this article. And it starts with an apology.

I’m sorry. I didn’t know, guys! You can’t hold it against me. I’m simply a busy woman who doesn’t have the time to keep up on all the tiny bits of minutia and unwritten rules that make up parts of the geek world. It just isn’t my fault that folks didn’t tell me right off the bat that there are rules about who can and cannot cosplay. I wasn’t informed that, if you are fat or ugly, then cosplay is just not for you.

I’m glad I found out! I mean, what would have happened if I’d started my upcoming cosplay plans only to discover all that money had been spent for nothing and…

Wait. Wait, what was that? Hang on. Let me get this straight: there aren’t any such unwritten rules? Cosplay is open to anyone who might want to be involved, regardless of who they are or what they look like? That it’s a culture based upon geek celebration and creative displays of fabrication and not the perpetuation of horrible beauty stereotypes that we encounter in every part of our society? You mean there’s a place in cosplay for someone that looks like me?

Really? Because to listen to some people, you could have fooled me.

Heroes-of-Cosplay-logo-wide-560x2821Case in point: Syfy channel recently showcased a new reality series called Heroes of Cosplay. This show followed the antics of several well known cosplayers as they went from convention to convention with their costumes, entering competitions and generally getting into the dramatic hijinks one expects from a reality TV show. I was excited to sit down and watch this show despite my nearly allergic level aversion to reality TV because I was excited to see how these supposed ‘heroes of cosplay’ went about picking their projects and making their costumes. And while there was a great deal of that going on, I was also treated to a good look at some 100% home grown USDA brand body shaming. The first episode showed a young woman struggling with her confidence over how she looked in her Merida costume. That was excusable. Here is a young woman feeling self-conscious, something anyone can identify with. The fact that later on in the episode she made it clear she believed she lost the competition because of her weight started to be a little uncomfortable.

By episode two, we had spiraled directly into body shaming. During a meet-up between all the contestants, several of the women agreed that if you are bigger you shouldn’t cosplay. In the uncomfortable silence, only Chloe Dykstra spoke up to defend the right of anyone to cosplay. If the editing on the show is to be believed, she was largely disagreed with or either the subject was ignored. The transcript of what was said goes as follows: Yaya Han started the conversation “Cosplay pet peeves.”

Riki LeCotey: People are obviously, like, ‘well, I’m really big, what can I do?’ And it’s like, if you’re a big muscular dude, go be Superman.

Chloe Dykstra: I think anybody should be whatever they want to be, whatever.

Riki LeCotey: But the thing is, if a three-hundred pound person wears Superman, and they put themselves out there, and then it gets on the net, how is that gonna help?

Chloe Dykstra: I mean, I guess, but do you think because of that they shouldn’t dress up as Superman?

Monika Lee: I think a lot of people can’t handle that criticism.

Yaya Han: I feel like as a cosplayer you have the responsibility to know what you look like. You have to really look at yourself in the mirror and know, you know, if my boobs are out I’m going to get **** comments.

Must be so hard, thinking you're the top of the game and dumping on other people.
Must be so hard, thinking you’re the top of the game and dumping on other people.

It is important to note that the conversation was heavily edited by the production staff. It seems clear that the conversation was lead so that these women would give statements that could be edited out of context. However, it is important to note that these women signed on to put their names to whatever came out of the production to represent them in the public eye. Moreover, they signed on to become known as a ‘hero’ of the cosplay community, a representative on camera of the ideas that make up cosplay.  Whether these statements were manufactured by the production company after the fact or not, these reality TV stars were willing to be associated with the sentiment. This, coupled with ongoing commentary during episodes by ‘celebrity’ judge Yaya Han regarding overall body shaming (slut-shaming another big-name cosplayer Jessica Nigri over what she thought was showing too much skin) makes Heroes of Cosplay a train wreck of an example of the cosplay community. ‘Heroes’ indeed. I’m not impressed.

The outcry from the cosplayers I have spoken to and seen online has been heated about the show. Many have pointed out that these so-called ‘heroes’ don’t speak for the cosplay community and that it is largely a place where people can come to just have a good time. Yet despite that outcry, there is still the lurking specter of fat shaming. There are blog posts around the internet about situations in which overweight cosplayers are called out, publicly embarrassed or harassed online. ohnoes

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are the websites dedicated to fat-shaming folks for just trying. Because I feel like this is bad enough to warrant some public attention, I’m going to simply point to the worst of them out there in their troll-laiden glory. I’m calling out that putrid little website Cosplay Train Wrecks under their ‘fattie’ category. Then there’s this gem, called “Americans Fail At Cosplay, So Stop!” That’s right, America, just stop cosplaying. We’re all doing it wrong.  There’s Your Cosplay Sucks that decides to pick on… well, just about everybody.

One particular heinous example got my attention this week. It’s the reason I’m writing this article in the first place. It’s called Fat Cosplayers and it’s a Facebook group. The photos put up are taken from other cosplay sites and tagged with comments including calling people ‘whale’ and equally offensive things. (I urge folks to take a second and report the site to Facebook if you can). The creator decided to mark it as ‘a joke’ as if that makes it better. Because that’s what trolls do to make everything okay again after they say offensive things. They remark that ‘it’s just a joke.’

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not funny.

Body shaming was something I was made aware of the instant I became aware of cosplay. I was told it’s part of ‘what to expect’. It’s one of the reasons I balked at the very idea of putting on a costume at conventions. I’ve personally witnessed fat shaming as well as ‘ugly’ cosplayer shaming from folks at conventions of all kinds, from snickering behind hands to flat-out snarky, nasty comments aimed at people while they were in earshot. It was upon examination of a lot of these situations that I hit upon the heart of the matter. While there may be those within the cosplay community who are critical of other people’s work and their representation of characters, the predominant amount of body shaming and ridicule doesn’t seem to be coming from other cosplayers. It’s the cosplay spectators doing the shaming. It’s everybody else. The rudeness out of people’s mouths are from photographers, media of all kinds, lookie-loos and fellow con attendees who come to gawk or take photos with cosplayers, as though they were some kind of wildlife attraction, and then often trash the people they don’t find appropriate.

Excuse me, cosplay audience, but let me ask the question: who the hell are you to judge other people’s fun?

It takes a lot for someone to stand on the sidelines and point at someone and laugh. It’s high school bullshit, immature childish behavior at its worst. And it honestly has to end. This kind of bullshit body shaming is something I have zero patience or tolerance for in the rest of the world, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see it in a geek community. Thankfully there seem to be plenty of cosplayers, including and especially plus sized cosplayers, who are standing up and speaking out against all the negativity. And right now, I’m saying this: I’m going to be one of them.

And this is going to be my first costume. Ellierender Yeah. That’s right. Ellie from Borderlands 2.

For a long time, I was afraid to cosplay because I didn’t want to deal with whatever negative attention might fly my way for being heavy. I was afraid of the comments and I let it stop me. That’s not going to happen anymore. I’m going to cosplay. I’m going to cosplay stuff that isn’t just Ursula from the Little Mermaid (though I plan on doing a kickass 80’s punk Ursula because screw you, that’s why, haters, I’m going to make her more badass than before). And with every step of doing it, I’m going to say the same thing: I’m not here for the haters, but the haters gonna hate. And if they hate in my general direction, they’re going to hear back from me.

To quote Chloe Dykstra on Heroes of Cosplay:

I don’t know who made up these rules. There’s like some grand cosplay lord who’s like, “You shall not cosplay something if you are overweight!” That’s ridiculous. Cosplay is about having fun and being who you are and who you want to be.

Call that naive all you want, Yaya Han, but that seems to be the real spirit of the cosplay community, not the elitist crap being tossed around. And I for one want to be part of THAT community, with that spirit of inclusion. That’s where I’ll be with my cosplay, my support, and my war face for anyone who wants to step. Until then, I’m going to make my costumes and have a good time. Haters, slink back off to the anonymous internet holes you crawled out of – that’s where you belong.