Not too long ago I had never heard of the Canadian comedian Nicole Arbour, (here I use the term ‚Äòcomedian‚Äô loosely for reasons that will become apparent.) I was led to her recent video‚Äìentitled ‚ÄòDear Fat People‚Äô‚Äìthrough an article responding to it by Lindy West, who relates this kind of body-shaming to a wider issue of female sexualization and her own struggles to overcome it. This interested me because in some ways West‚Äôs argument may seem to take an unnecessary leap from an ignorant woman insulting people who are overweight to women‚Äôs objectified and aestheticised role in society. I‚Äôm sure there are many people who would see West‚Äôs response as an overreaction, or at least a deflection of the issue onto something she wants to talk about. However, after watching ‚ÄòDear Fat People‚Äô myself I have to say I am in complete agreement with what West takes from it‚Äìthe video should be taken seriously for all the outdated values that it promotes. For the most part it‚Äôs not even specifically what Arbour says, but rather the subtext which she unwittingly implies in her judgment of people based on appearances.
The vlog itself is around 6 minutes long and in it Arbour expresses her frustration with overweight people, and details a personal example of how they have a negative impact on her life (she had to sit next to a ‚Äòfat‚Äô person on a plane.) She then rounds off the post with the groundbreaking idea that people should exercise more and eat healthily.
In some respects it seems almost pointless to respond to Arbour‚Äôs video directly, it‚Äôs nothing we haven‚Äôt heard or seen before and her insults are unoriginal and juvenile: for example, saying fat people constantly ‚Äòsmell like sausages‚Äô. None of this in itself is worth our time or tears, but what I do think is worth discussing is West‚Äôs idea that the video is based around something more harmful that simply fat jokes. Arbour‚Äôs video is not receiving attention because it contains radical ideas of social reform, or controversial insult-humor but because she makes it alarmingly apparent that these tired ideas of how people are judged are still very much a part of our society. As such, West‚Äôs response seems entirely appropriate in taking Arbour to be enforcing the pressures which still dominate social mentalities and which she feels particularly as a woman.
Of course, it would be untrue and unfair to say that men would not be affected by Arbour‚Äôs comments, as they are after all directed at ‚Äòfat people‚Äô in general. However it does seem geared more towards women in that Arbour presents herself as the comparison for which they should strive. She is the slim and conventionally ‚Äòhot‚Äô woman who declares herself worthy of our attention because she‚Äôs a ‚Äòblonde who can speak in full sentences‚Äô. She seems happily oblivious to the fact that if anyone is enforcing the stereotype of ‚Äòdumb blondes‚Äô it‚Äôs her. Though she cites her ‚Äòintelligence‚Äô as a means of authority, it is clear that her confidence for making such claims wholly stems from the fact that she does not occupy any marginalized group. That is, she is safe from the discriminations and prejudices that she herself promotes and revels in the knowledge that the average male will find her attractive. It is also hard not to see the irony in her self-proclaimed bravery at making a video that is a ‘bomb of truth’, considering she‚Äôs hidden behind a webcam to deliver her message of ‚Äòself-help‚Äô and ‚Äòpositivity‚Äô.
The problem is, her video cannot be entirely dismissed as she proves that appearance and acceptance are two things that have become intrinsically linked in our society. It is for this reason that I support West‚Äôs comments that opinions such as Arbour‚Äôs feeds into a social mentality that views women as a body. A social mindset which, as West says, often causes women to be ‘blamed when (they) report a sexual assault’ and which means their value and beauty are often seen with an expiry date. Take, for example, how many female actresses you see past a certain age who get cast as a love interest. Hollywood hasn‚Äôt seemed to have invented the female equivalent of the ‚Äòsilver fox‚Äô, instead we‚Äôre given ‚ÄòMILF‚Äô and told that at one point we will be either a comfortable mother figure or perhaps a grouchy spinster‚Äìto find yourself outside of either category is to no longer have any presence in the social mindset.
Arbour has the confidence to make this video because she finds herself on a pedestal she‚Äôs helped to construct, because for now she will receive a consistent kind of attention for being young and attractive. We should take this vlog and others like it seriously because it represents a tenchant and widely held view that objectifies all women and denigrates any who fail to meet socially accepted conventions.
Girl Museum Inc.