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Fighting Weight Bias

Nicole Arbour’s Perfect Example of Fat-Shaming

A new video entitled “Dear Fat People” hit YouTube a few days ago. This video features Nicole Arbour, a Canadian comedian, recording artist, actor, writer, choreographer and producer displaying very prominent views of weight bias and fat-shaming.

NicoleArbourDearFatPeople

Well Miss Arbour, you’re right about one thing, some people are already offended and I’m one of them.

Fat-Shaming is very much a thing. It’s an unproductive and emotionally damaging thing.

The saddest part of fat-shaming is that ridiculously cruel people like yourself think that it’s okay.

Your video makes it very clear that you believe that being affected by obesity simply means that you should eat less and move more. While taking in fewer calories and getting in more movement is definitely two of the key ingredients to weight loss, that formula doesn’t work for everyone.

I never sat in my doctor’s office and accused him of fat shaming when he told me that as a woman affected by morbid obesity I was at a higher risk of illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, severe edema, chronic depression and some forms of cancer. I took those things pretty seriously actually. In fact since my struggle with obesity lead me to all of those conditions if anything I was scared to death that I was going to be dead before I turned forty.

Oh you’re not talking to me? That’s great. Thanks for excluding me from your negative body image campaign. But wait, you are talking to me because I too was once affected by the disease of obesity.

Let me define obesity for you. Obesity is a condition that is associated with having excess body fat, defined by genetic and environmental causes that are difficult to control while dieting. Individuals affected by obesity should not be defined as being their disease. You don’t tell someone with cancer that they are cancer. You don’t tell someone with depression that they are depression. You don’t tell someone with AIDS that they are AIDS. Miss Arbour, human beings are not defined by diseases and illnesses they suffer from diseases and illnesses and making light of people’s suffering is a really unkind and inhumane action.

People that suffer from obesity wear it externally. The can’t hide it.

You can tell by just looking at them that they suffer from the disease. Unfortunately for them people like you seem to think that because they wear their disease in a physical way that it’s alright to make fun of them, belittle them and sadly, try shame them into fighting their disease in the manner that you see fit.

The problem with that is that you can not tell by looking at someone what actions they are taking to fight their disease. You can not tell if they suffer from some other illness that caused them to gain weight. You can not distinguish whether they have been so emotionally and physically abused that they used food as a coping mechanism. You can not tell whether they went to the gym this morning. You can not tell whether they suffer from depression. You can not tell if they are eating 900 calories a day or eating 3500 calories a day. But because they wear their disease in a way you can see it you assume it’s okay to attack them and tell them that they should be making better choices.

Most people who suffer from obesity are not sitting there intentionally making choices that cause them to gain weight. As someone who once weighed over four hundred pounds I can honestly say that I never consciously sat there going “Oh let me see what I can do to gain more weight today.”  

Most people who suffer from obesity would love guidance and help with weight loss. That’s where the theory of eat less and move more fails. Because for most of us that have suffered from obesity the problems go much deeper than simple calories in and calories out. Most of us have tried that method to recovery from obesity and failed over and over again.

The comparison of being a shop-a-holic to obesity as a disease is asinine. While some people who suffer from obesity do in fact also suffer from food addictions comparing a disease to an addiction is like comparing people to dinosaurs. Some people who suffer from cancer do so because of an addiction to cigarettes and nicotine. Last time I checked though the only damage anyone has ever done through a shopping addiction was to their bank account and possibly their emotional well-being.

You’ve done a really good job at showing the world what fat-shaming, weight bias and weight discrimination is all about.

Your story about being at the airport and your experience with the “Fat Family” and “Jabba the Son” is classic example of these things. You assumed that because the boy you are talking about suffered from obesity that he wasn’t suffering from any other illness. You made this assumption based on his physical appearance and nothing more.  You decided that because “he was fine, he was just fat,”  it was alright to be rude, inconsiderate and mean. You decided that nothing else about that boy and his life mattered and that he should be making better choices based on absolutely nothing but his physical appearance.

What if that family’s son suffered from Prader-Willi syndrome? What if he suffered from Cushing’s syndrome? What if he suffered from a thyroid disorder? What if that family was on their way to a specialist to try to get their son help and treatment for his obesity? You have no clue what that family was going through or why that boy was considered disabled. But here you are showing your lack of education and empathy by expressing your disgust for the overweight boy sitting next to you on a plane and trying to brand it as caring.

“Shame people who have bad habits until they fucking stop.”

“If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I’m okay with that.”

“I don’t feel bad for you because you’re taking your body for granted.”

These comments are not caring. These comments are cruel and malicious. But somehow you think these comments  are okay because you put a disclaimer on them.

“I’m not saying all of this to be an asshole. I’m saying this because your friends should be saying it to you.”

Nobody’s friends should be saying these things to them.

As someone who once suffered from obesity I can say that nobody belittling me, making fun of me, making jokes about me, expressing disgust about me or trying to shame me into losing weight ever helped me.

All those things ever did was make the situation worse for me. Those very things drove me deeper into depression. They made me feel unworthy. They made me feel hopeless. They made me feel like I didn’t matter. As someone who suffered from a food addiction and had a relationship with food to try to compensate for the relationships that I couldn’t have with people it drove me deeper into the darkness.

When people like you talked to me like this I turned to food to make me feel better. People like you making me feel like I was repulsive, implying that I smelled bad and making me feel like my mere presence was an intrusion in their world made me feel like I didn’t deserve to be a part of it.

That Miss Arbour is assisted suicide.

Let me tell you what DID help me…

Support helped me. Kindness helped me. Someone talking to me in a way that expressed care and concern without making me feel ashamed of myself helped me. Education helped me. Access to treatment for the disease of obesity helped me.

You end this video by trying to redeem yourself with “The Truth”

“The truth is I will actually love you no matter what, but I really really hope this bomb of truth exploding into your face will act as shrapnel that seeps into your soul, makes you want to be healthier so that we can enjoy you as human beings longer on this planet.”

Miss Arbour the truth is, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you care one small iota about those that struggle in the battle against obesity. What I believe is that you just used your fame and celebrity status to attempt to send a message and thought that the tough love and humor approach you chose to take would convey that message. You failed. What you did was make fun of a group of individuals that are already highly stigmatized.  I think you sought a laugh at the expense of others because you like many others in the world today believe that weight bias and fat shaming is acceptable because it is a commonly tolerated form of discrimination and hate.

“Think of me as one of your ride or dies.”

To all of those out there that suffer from obesity please hear me when I say this. Weight Bias, Weight Discrimination and Fat-Shaming are NOT okay.

Luckily for us though, there are some true ride or dies out there trying to make the world a better place and trying to raise awareness of this sort of behavior. I’m one of them.

After overcoming my own battle with obesity I changed my entire career path and went on to become a professional weight loss and wellness coach. I went on to gain an education in how to help others through coaching healthy behaviors and helping others with behavior modifications that would arm them with the tools they need to achieve weight loss and live happier and healthier lives.

After losing over 250 lb. I went on to become a fitness instructor in order to help inspire and motivate others to find the fun in fitness. I went on to try to teach others to use exercise as an emotional outlet to battle the sort of emotions of unworthiness, shame and hopelessness that people like Miss Arbour perpetuate in the world.

OAC-Member-BadgeAfter receiving access to care and treatment for obesity I went on to become a proud member and supporter of the Obesity Action Coalition, an organization that is dedicated to giving a voice to individuals affected by the disease of obesity and helping them along their journey towards better health through education, advocacy and support.

There are people out there like myself and over 50,000 other members of the OAC who are determined to fight to eliminate weight bias and weight discrimination and offer a community of support for the those affected by obesity.

Miss Arbour’s method and message are all wrong. We will never win the fight against obesity through shaming or making fun of the people affected by it. Obesity is not a joke. It is not something to be ashamed of. Obesity is a disease that comes with very serious health ramifications and many of us need more than “eat less and move more,” as a method of treatment.

But thankfully, like many of my fellow members and supporters of the OAC I will stand up and fight for that treatment and stand up and fight for you when someone like Miss Arbour tries to minimize and depreciate the complexity of this disease.

For anyone out there that saw this video or heard this message and felt ashamed of where you are in your battle with obesity, I am here to tell you that you are not the one that should be ashamed of your behavior. Miss Arbour and the people who sign her paychecks are the ones that should be ashamed of their behavior right now, not you.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.

NKOTB Inspires my Body Confidence

So there I was dancing around the room naked in front of the mirror. For someone who struggles with body image issues after massive weight loss, being able to do that without stopping to find a flaw and pick at something you don’t like about yourself? That is quite a non-scale victory moment in and of itself. I had to stop and double-check and make sure that the blinds were drawn and that nobody could see me rocking out to one of my favorite NKTOB songs as it started playing while I was put on lotion.

I was feeling like I was a sixteen year old girl, standing in front of the mirror naked dancing around like I was on stage with the five boys that owned my heart. Yeah roll your eyes, I was indeed a first generation block head. And no, I was not using my hair brush like a microphone. It was my lotion bottle. Don’t judge.

For months I have been trying to find the extra cash to buy tickets to their upcoming concert in Charlotte, NC. (The closest venue they are playing to where I live) Even after what happened when my best friend and I went to their meet and greet. And with everything else that suddenly came up my suddenly in my life. Well, it just didn’t happen. I probably could have afforded tickets if anyone that I knew was actually as big of a fan as I am. Then I could just buy one ticket but when I’d also pay for the privilege of making someone else go with me, that’s definitely not in the post bankruptcy Pandora budget.NKOTBGroupShotWeb

Several months ago, I had the money and could have bought the tickets. But I wavered back and forth, trying to decide if I really wanted to go after my best friend got slighted and disappointed when we attended the Dallas show of their last tour with meet and greet tickets.

I danced around my room sans my clothing last night grooving to not only one, but three of their songs as they came on back to back. I realized how good I felt in that moment. I realized that I had made a mistake. I should have bought the tickets and I really shouldn’t have based my relationship with the band on how someone else felt. Even if that someone was my very best friend.

I make a point out of fighting weight bias and fighting weight stigma and since my friend felt that perhaps she had been slighted by her weight I wanted to rescue her and make her feel better. But there is something else that I have learned in the last year or two since that concert: sometimes we create that bias and stigma ourselves.

See me? I’m the walking billboard. It’s hard being the big girl in the crowd. It’s even harder being the big girl in the crowd when your now skinny friend who lacks the ability to know how not to sparkle comes up with a plan to try to get someone’s attention. While I believe that Tora was entitled to her feelings–they are real and valid and  I wish that she never had to feel them–I also came to my own conclusion that it might have had a lot more to do with us and our actions (or lack thereof and personal sensitivity to the subject) and a lot less to do with the band members.

But my question of do I go or not? Can I go after telling everyone that I was upset my friend was so disappointed and felt it was related to her size? Can I support a band that had even a small part of someone I care about feeling that way? Will she be angry at me if I do go? [ See Related Article ]

dsc_2264-1All these questions made me hesitate and second guess myself, and in the end I decided to take the money that I would have spent on the concert tickets and buy myself something really nice at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend event I was attending. So I bought myself the 2015 Dooney and Bourke limited edition Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend purse. I heart it. I heart it much.

The purse is lovely, but as I danced around my room like a teenager getting my heart rate going, I remembered something my father taught me. Sometimes you have to focus on how people treat YOU.  My experience at that meet and greet was absolutely amazing. If you had told sixteen year old me that someday I’d get to meet, hug and talk to each member of New Kids On The Block I would have signed any sort of pledge you asked me for. I’m talking obsessive-teenager-I-owned-all-the-merchandise-fan here, guys. As a young lady meeting them was one of my biggest dreams. As an adult it was still of the top 5 items on my bucket list.

Each one of them was amazing. They were kind and complementary.  Jordan Knight made my century when he rubbed the back of my head not once but twice! Donnie Wahlberg paid me the best comment I’ve ever gotten by someone who doesn’t really know me personally regarding my weight loss when he told me that he wanted to hug me but more than half of me was already gone.

And that moment when Jordan Knight crossed a crowded room to head toward the stage and made a point to walk over to where I was, give me another hug and rub the back of my head that second time, well let’s just say my heart still drops when I think about my hands on his waist and his on the back of my head. In fact, my heart just skipped a beat. Yes, that really did happen. I have it on video. I kid you not.photo-3

I’ve had a really rough few months financially. Things went downhill really fast in the beginning of the year when I was trying to juggle taking care of myself and assisting in financially taking care of about five other people. My family in Oregon. My roommate and though not nearly as much as I once had too, my mother. I’m just learning the income flow patterns of the fitness industry. I’m in the second year of a new career and I’m trying to recover from the 6 digits of debt that 3-4 years of focusing on weight loss and reconstructive surgery cost me. I just started drowning fast when trying to stand on my own two feet for the first time ever while still having so many people who need my help.

The good news. I am standing on my own two feet for the first time ever.  Even though I did have to declare bankruptcy, I haven’t fallen flat on my face, and that is a better financial me than I have been since I left home at sixteen. I can do this. I just can’t afford the little extras like getting my nails done, concert tickets, traveling for weight loss conventions and flying all over the country to run half marathons anymore. There are no more credit cards that I can use with the best of intentions to pay it back later. Shopping wasn’t really my transfer addiction. Experiencing life was. That’s how I explain it to my closest friends.

I’ve learned a good lessons out of this. Lessons are experiences points I accumulate. Learning them allows me to make better decisions next time.  Next time I know what not to do in order to ensure that I get a more positive outcome.

Last night’s lesson was a special one. Last night I remembered that even in times when I feel like the struggle is too hard and road ahead is too long. There are five men out there whose voices can make me stop what I am doing while they are signing. Listening to their music motivates me and gives me a sense of self and a sense of strength that though it is inside of me I can’t always dial into.

IMG00014When I was a lonely, overweight and sad teenager they helped inspire me to dance around and pretend that someday a boy like them would love me. [ See Related Article ] When I was a 30 something adult suffering from morbid obesity at 420lb. they helped inspire me to move. My first form of exercise was slowly walking around my neighborhood listening to their reunion album The Block. Now that I am approaching my forties as a healthier me who struggles with body image issues, they are the musical source that touches me deep enough that I can spend twenty minutes in front of the mirror dancing around naked without once stopping to find some excess skin I don’t like and tugging on it to see if it tightens up an area of my body that I am insecure about.  I can waste hours of my day off doing this to myself if I allow it. True story.

I’m not perfect. I don’t always make the right decisions. I should have bought the tickets instead of the Tinker Bell purse. But live and learn. Maybe next time instead of wishing I had bought nose bleed tickets I’ll be making better financial decisions and buying a front row bar seat so I can remind those 5 men who I am. I’ll see if I can get Jordan Knight to rub my head again and who knows, throw my bra onstage or something. Dream big. I am not lying. I would do this. I’d likely do many things that someone out there somewhere is likely to disprove of.  Freebie List. You understand.

Today however,  I’m a little pouty. So I’ll allow myself to pout for a moment. I can’t afford $200 for decent tickets for two. OK. I’m done. Now instead of pouting  I’ll throw on a NKOTB play list that includes all my favorites songs. I’m talking from the days of Jones Beach 1988 all the way to The Remix. I will enjoy knowing that I’ve had the opportunity to meet them and that nothing has changed in my relationship with them in the last twenty-seven years. They still touch my heart and some other parts of me, with their music.

And… Jordan Knight rubbed my head. Twice! Plus long after the concert is over I will have that gorgeous Tinker Bell Bag around my neck. So there is that.

It’s all about appreciating the experiences you’ve had, being grateful for what you’ve got and finding the joy in the lesson that life is teaching you.

And now, I’m going to go dance around naked to “Block Party” which is the song that inspired my fitness career.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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