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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.

The Teeter-Totter of Weight Bias

DssButton2FB2-150x150As a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach, I often use the illustration of a teeter-totter when sitting down with a new client to go over the theory of “calories in, calories out” and to explain the importance of putting good fuel in our bodies to support vigorous activity.

As I lay in bed restless tonight, I am thinking about an article I read about people who sit on both sides of the spectrum of weight bias. That is, those who know what it’s like to be overweight and struggle with obesity but are not anymore and now live as people of so-called normal size.

In thinking about this strange predicament, that image of a teeter-totter resurfaced.

 

Being the Chubby Kid

As a victim of emotional, physical, verbal and sexual abuse in my childhood, my mind is my playground. My imagination was my escape mechanism from the time I was very small child. As I grew older, food became my friend, confidant and lover. Before I even realized it, my escape into food had pushed me into the furthest reaches of the weight spectrum.

From as young as five years old, I recall being the chubby kid that nobody wanted to pick for dodge-ball and the target of weight biased jokes. “Fatty Fatty two by four she can’t fit through the kitchen door” is one of the first childhood rhymes I remember the “mean kids” chanting at me.

I remained the largest child in my class long into high school. That fact affected my relationships with both girls and boys alike. I was an unpopular outcast who got teased and ridiculed. In the sixth grade, I became the target of a school bully – shocking, considering that the bully was a boy very much in the same predicament as me.

He was heaviest boy in our class, endless teased himself, and in reaction he started punching me as his way of lashing out. One day, after he shoved me out of the lunch line and into a wall, I asked him one day with tear-filled eyes, “Why do you pick on me?” His answer was to punch me in the stomach. Confused and bewildered, that night I asked my father “Why do they hate me so much?”

His reply: “Because you’re different and unique and sometimes that scares people or makes them jealous and people do some really mean things when they are scared or jealous. They make fun of the thing that makes you different because it’s the only thing they have to justify their feelings.”

 

A Traumatic Adolescence

As I got older, this life lesson followed me as I grew in age and, unfortunately, also in size. As the bullying continued, I continued to question why people seemed to hate me so much. I also developed coping mechanisms to deal with it with what I felt was an inevitable fact. I was overweight, actually now I was plagued with obeisty.

So I became sexually active. I dressed in all black. The other kids called me “goth” and considered me uncool for it. I began to cut myself and the other kids accused me of doing it simply for attention. I cried myself to sleep at night, wondering why nobody understood me. I wasn’t doing any of these things for attention, but to try to feel better.

Sleeping with boys made me think someone loved and cared for me. Dressing in black, I thought, was figure flattering. I cut myself because when I got to a point where I was emotionally numb, the pain reminded me that I was still alive. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to win. The more I tried to survive, the more the bullies tried to push me underwater.

I did have a few brave moments when I stuck up for myself. One time a girl in my class took a note I had written to a boy we both liked and she photocopied it, passing it around for lots of other kids to see. I confronted her, asking why she hated me so much. Her answer was sharp and simple: “Because you are fat and ugly.” With nothing to lose I challenged her, demanding to know, “Why do you care that I’m fat?” She had no response.

I was fifteen at the time and I had spent nearly a decade – most of my life at that time – being  of the victim of weight bias, bullying and fat shaming.

 

Coming of Age

When I finally decided to take my life back from obesity, I was shocked that my true battle was to stop seeing myself as a victim and learning to see myself as a survivor. From there I learned to live, to thrive and strive. I’m proud to say I lost my weight, I have won that round in my fight against obesity. In this victory I told myself, “I will never again be defined or disliked by the number that shows up on the scale or the way my body looks.”

But oh how wrong I was. Because I hadn’t learned yet that in the world of weight bias, there was a teeter-totter – and a whole different end of the spectrum.

I’m new to the world of being slender. It’s ironic how hard I fought to get here – thinking if I did I’d win my battle – only to find new battles to fight and new demons to face! Body image issues took their toll on me, and I found myself associating the extra skin that hung from my body with my former abusers and the emotional addiction that perpetuated my obesity for so long.

To help free myself of the remnants of that past, I turned to reconstructive plastic surgery. I fought with body dysmorphia – that is, not being able to see the true image of myself in the mirror. I also felt haunted by “ghosts of the past,” the people whose behavior drove me to inflict so much harm on myself.

I beat myself up emotionally when the number on the scale, along with the Body Mass Index, told me that despite the fact that I’d lost more than 250 lbs, I was still “overweight.” I allowed that emotional self-abuse to hinder where I wanted to go in life and who I wanted to be. I put off my career in the weight loss, wellness and fitness industry because I thought I needed to be perfect before I could help others fight obesity.

Thankfully around this time of my life I found an organization called the Obesity Action Coalition, an organization that fights weight bias through education and empowerment. I got the amazing opportunity to attending their inaugural “Your Weight Matters Convention” in 2012. There I was able to sit at a “Lunch with the Experts” table with Dr. Robert Kushner, M.D. who helped me realize that neither the BMI nor an extra 5-10 pounds of weight loss was going to change how effective I could be or how inspirational my story would be to those that employed me seeking help in their weight loss journey.

Over the past three years, my membership to the OAC has taught me more than I can ever write in one article. It has also given me the courage to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination whenever I see them.

You’ll understand the irony, then, when I tell you that it was at the third “Your Weight Matters” Convention this month in Orlando, Fl. that I discovered for the first time that I would battle weight bias no matter where I fall in the weight spectrum.

 

A New Day, A New Battle

Without going into the details (and perpetuating a lot of drama), I found out that someone had made a very harsh and superficial judgment about me based on this new body I’m working so hard to love.

I have to say I was shocked when I first found that out. Part of me thought it was a joke. But over the past three years of being in the weight loss community there seems to be a recurring cycle of drama and bullying. I’ve seen individuals targeted and shut out. I’ve seen others discouraged from associating with those so-called outcasts and I’ve heard from people who felt pressured to alter themselves and their friend lists just to fit in – or at least to prevent themselves from being the next victim. I’ve heard stories and recounts of this sort of behavior that predate my own presence with this community.

It puzzled me at first, how a group of people who have fought such similar battles – and have had such similar experiences with bullying, weight bias and stereotyping – could behave that way. You would think our common experiences would bond us together in a united front, make us join arms and rally for the same cause and empower us to support one another. After all, we’re all fighting the same fight against a disease that impacts more than 93 million people in our country.

But there I was facing a situation I had been through so many times. The fact that I was on the other side of the spectrum didn’t make it any less hurtful. I found myself once again asking that question, “Why do they hate me so much?” Apparently, now it’s because I’m skinny and my breasts are too big.

The shock I felt at that moment is about the same as the shock I felt when plastic surgeon told me that there wasn’t enough fat left on my body to perform the procedure I was asking him to do. My jaw hit the floor.

Never in my whole life did I think people would dislike me for being “too thin.” I won’t even touch the ridiculousness of the comments about my breasts.  After taking a moment to recover from that information, I asked, “Don’t you find it a little hypocritical that we’re sitting here at a convention that fights weight bias and weight stigma and that we protest judging and shaming people for the size of their body, the number on scale and their outward appearance and yet, that is exactly what I am apparently being judged for?”

 

Balancing Your Core

The answer to that question made me angry. Yes, it is ironic. It’s stupid really. And it needs to stop. I’ve sat on this experience for a few weeks now. I’ve dissected it to figure out what lesson it was supposed to teach me. Now, as I lay in bed tonight with that image that teeter-totter in my head, I’ve finally sorted out what I want to say.

While I was in Orlando, I met with a remarkable woman named Melinda Watman, the chair of the Weight Bias committee of the Obesity Action Coalition. I explained to her why I’m so passionate about fighting weight bias, why I wanted to be a part of OAC’s Weight Bias Committee and why the OAC’s Bias Busters programs calls to me.

Every year that I attend the OAC’s convention something absolutely life changing happens to me and I learn something I would never have had the chance to learn otherwise. This year, I learned that there is two very different sides to weight bias and that each of them are equally stigmatizing. I also learned that stigma, in general, is a lot less traumatizing when you have a solid foundation and a strong perception of your core strengths and beliefs.

Because when I was told that some people didn’t like me because they thought I was too thin or they thought my breasts were too big, I didn’t react the way I did so many years ago. I didn’t crawl into the solitude of my room and weep. Instead, I stood firm in my convictions and called it for what it was: weight bias.

The truth is, neither the size of my body nor the size of my breasts define who I am. When I am gone and the winds have called my name for the last time, neither of them are what the world is going to remember me for. In fact, I rather hope that the only numbers in my eulogy are the years I existed in the world. Instead, I hope to be remembered for the person that I am and the way I lived my life.

As an exercise instructor, my class and I stand in front of the mirror constantly moving our bodies in an effort to improve them. There are days I like what I see, and there are some days I don’t. But at the end of each day, the only person that has to like my reflection is me.

So if you ask me what I took away from the OAC “Your Weight Matters” 2014 Convention this year, my answer is very simple, I took away not only the education, but also the realization that if I want to truly stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and bullying I have to be prepared to do it from all sides and angles.

In the gym my clients often quote my tips on maintaining good posture while exercising and to build their core strength: “Shoulders back, girls out, core engaged.” Finally tonight, I understand why that teeter-totter was so prevalent in my mind. Because no matter what side of the battle of obesity you are on, if you can stand in the middle of that proverbial teeter-totter and engage your core, retain you balance and posture, you’ll be much stronger in your stance and your fight.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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About (Pandora) The Author

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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