YouTube ‘Martyr’ Nicole Arbour Is Wrong About Fat-Shaming
It looks like a multi-day brouhaha over YouTube censorship may be put to rest now that Nicole Arbour’s channel has been restored.
During the six-minute video that started the controversy, the comedian monologues about how “fat shaming” is not a thing.
She also lambasts people who are “body positive” about being fat and does a series of unfunny, dumb-sounding voices, which are apparently a skinny white blond chick’s attempt at doing an impression of an overweight person.
“They smell like sausages,” she whines with great gesticulation. “That’s just their aroma. They were so fat, they were that standing sweat fat.”
Arbour says she briefly lost her YouTube channel after posting a fat-shaming rant, though the BBC reports that others “accused her of deleting her own channel to gain sympathy.” A spokesperson from YouTube responded to The Daily Beast on the alleged Arbour shutdown, saying: “With over 400 hours of video uploaded a minute, we don’t comment on individual videos or channels. However, in cases where a channel or video is incorrectly flagged by the community and subsequently removed, we work quickly to reinstate it.”
Arbour claims the video was sarcastic and in good humor—although many critics found it neither funny nor clever.
More important, the video was wrong.
It goes without saying that shutting down Arbour’s channel—if that is indeed what YouTube did—was uncalled for and hypocritical.
YouTube permits an array of graphically violent, racist, homophobic, and sexist garbage to be posted. Of all the videos to set off alarms and channels to be penalized, Arbour’s simply wasn’t it.
While likely a gesture of support for overweight and obese people, YouTube’s alleged censorship enabled Arbour to claim the title of free-speech warrior and gloss over the inaccuracies in her rant.
Arbour claimed that she was specifically targeted because she is a woman. “If I were a guy, people would have lol’d n moved on,” she tweeted Tuesday.
Certainly, female comedians often face criticisms that their male peers avoid—especially when it comes to material that is considered “coarse,” “gross,” “sexual,” or “aggressive.”
But the Arbour fracas speaks to a larger problem that is not related to sex. We’re a little too trigger happy to police (attempts at) humor.
Even though it is commendable to be sensitive to people’s insecurities and needs, monitoring different forms of speech, especially when it is a form of comedy, is a dangerously restrictive road.
Censored or not, Arbour’s channel was back up and running by Tuesday.
The true failure of Arbour’s fat-shaming rant was not its insensitivity or even its lack of humor, but that it was full of misinformation about the very real discrimination people who are overweight and obese face.
For one, Arbour says she has nothing against people with “a little cushion for the pushin’” or “people with a specific health condition.” Rather, she is taking aim at “the 35 percent of North Americans who are obese.”
This disclaimer makes no sense because a number of obese people likely have some medical condition that inhibits their ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Whitney Way Thor, star of TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life, made a counter video in which she pointed out how wrong Arbour is by citing her own Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis.
“While PCOS is not the only reason I turned from a 130-pound 18-year-old to an over-300-pound woman, it is a really big contributing factor,” Thor says. “You don’t know whether that person has a medical condition that caused them to lose weight. You cannot tell a person’s health from looking at them.”
Arbour also failed to note that being fat is a documented source of discrimination.
Here are just a few disturbing examples:
A 2012 UK survey found that 54 percent of doctors approved of denying non-emergency treatment to people “unless they lose weight.”
At the time of that study, some British doctors were already denying IVF and fertility treatments to women based on their weight.
Canada also had a debate in 2011 over refusing fertility treatment to women whose BMI was 35 or higher.
Some doctors argued it was dangerous for women of high BMI levels to carry a pregnancy to term, but Dr. Anthony Cheung of the University of British Columbia pointed out the bias to the Globe and Mail: “We don’t say, ‘Oh sorry you smoke, so we can’t treat you—it could result in pre-eclampsia, or small babies.’”
Two years ago, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) barred obese scouts from attending the national Jamboree.
Those who had a BMI of 40 or higher were rejected from the annual event.
BSA defended the choice by saying it published its height and weight requirements years in advance, so scouts had time to lose the weight.
Of course, that presumes adolescent boys have sufficient say over their food choices, let alone the maturity and wherewithal to institute a diet and exercise regimen.
Women bear the brunt of weight discrimination.
A Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity 2013 study found that male jurors were more likely to find an obese female defendant guilty than a lean female defendant.
There was not a difference in opinion, regardless of the sex of the study participant, when evaluating obese and lean male defendants.
A 2012 study conducted by researchers at the University of Monash in Melbourne, Australia, and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom specifically looked at the biases facing obese female job applicants.
It found a “strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for the job.”
“I think what’s really interesting about [Arbour’s] video is we have a female comedian talking about how fat-shaming isn’t a thing, but the evidence shows that fat-shaming is a thing, and particularly a thing for women,” Jennifer Bennett Shinall, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt Law School, told The Daily Beast.
Shinall has specifically researched weight discrimination in the workplace and found that women who have “public interaction occupations,” like secretaries and saleswomen, face the greatest bias.
“It’s a shame that we have a female comedian in a sense trivializing an issue that’s really a women’s issue,” she said.
“I think one of the reasons weight discrimination is shrugged off as not as significant as racism or sexism is because, to put it in legal terms, there’s the question of whether weight is mutable—changeable or controllable,” Shinall added.
Increasingly, doctors and researchers are finding that humans may not have as much power to control their weight as was once believed.
However, a nuanced conception of weight maintenance is completely absent from Arbour’s video. Instead, the comedian seems to genuinely believe you can tease and torture people into weight loss. “If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m OK with that,” Arbour says in the clip.
Now that Arbour can no longer squeeze more attention out of YouTube censorship debate, her 15 extra minutes of fame may burn out completely—and maybe even some good will have come of it.
To paraphrase the comedian herself, if we’re offended so much that we realize weight discrimination is a real problem, I’m OK with her trolling, unfunny video.