The Thing with Fat Shaming: It Doesn’t Work

Fat Shaming is in the news. Again. This time it comes after comedian, Nicole Arbour, released a fat-shaming video called, “Dear , Fat People.”  The video drags on for 6 minutes and packs in every fat joke known to man: Fat people can’t run, fat people eat too much, fat people should park their cars at the far ends of parking lots, fat people are annoying to sit next to on planes, etc.   It’s the same “Your Mom is so fat”  playground joke recycled for the thousandth time. Watching her video felt like watching people sit on a whoopee cushion for 6 minutes. Whoopee cushions can be funny up to the duration of 30 seconds, but after 30 seconds, you get bored and hope the whoopee cushion does something different, like turn into a magical flying saucer-drone hybrid.  In other words,”Nothing new to see here, people, move along.”

The reason the video went viral, however, is Nicole was hired to be a spokesperson for an anti-bullying film, and after the film’s director saw her fat-shaming video,  Nicole was fired. That makes sense, and I applaud the director for doing so.  Even if her fat-shaming performance was made in jest, obese people get bullied all of the time, and if your cause is chickens, you probably don’t want to hire a fox to represent you.

Nicole is a comedian and comedians are known for dishing out bits of truth that are combinations of  both snarky and comedic.  Nicole’s video was more on the snarky side than the comedic side, and, sadly, the brilliant comedic geniuses who can cleverly dish more comedy than snark are a dying breed. But I won’t fault Nicole for her jokes and their regurgitated themes, nor is my intent to write a blog shaming lackluster comedians, because we live in America, and everyone has the right to say what he or she thinks.  Nicole refused to apologize for her video ( and she shouldn’t have to, because freedom of speech…), and said that her goal was to “start a conversation.” Okay. THAT part deserves a response, because it is painfully ignorant and historically inaccurate. Why? Because the fat-shaming crowd has been having the SAME conversation for 160 years to no avail.  Fat-shaming started in the mid 1800s and hasn’t put the slightest dent in the obesity epidemic.  160 years is a very long time.  In other words, if fat-shaming actually worked, THERE WOULDN’T BE ANY FAT PEOPLE.  But guess what? Obesity rates are only going up.


Fat-shaming started in the mid 19th century in conjunction with the formation of a middle class. The middle class started to associate “fat” with “poor” and fat-shaming was a way to feel more elite and distinguish one’s social class. Fat-shaming propaganda surfaced and brainwashed society to view fat as undesirable, undisciplined and slovenly.  The impetus for fat-shaming has much more of an economic motivation than a health one. Even today, if you ask any city health department’s for its obesity statistics, you’ll undoubtedly find that more poor people are fat than rich people. Start with NYC.  So even if you view fat-shaming as only fat-shaming, you’re probably poor-shaming too.

Picking on fat people is not a new thing. It’s at least 160 years old, and it doesn’t nor has it motivated overweight people to lose weight. Maybe one person, maybe two people, but, on a population level, it can safely be labeled an antiquated, failed approach.

If we should be shaming anyone it should be the Fat-Shamers who completley ignore history and inaccurately think they are accomplishing something new or enlightening the world with their acumen.  Not as such.  To Nicole and people like Nicole, it’s great if you want to “start a conversation” about obesity, health, or whatever.  But you don’t start a conversation by insulting and isolating the hopeful participants of that conversation. You don’t even do it through comedy, because it’s really not that funny and a comedian’s energy would be better spent on trying to become more original, creative and funny than selling out to the ol’ reliable fat joke.   Insulting folks is how you start fights, earn a reputation for being a bully and get fired from jobs dealing with anti-bullying.  There’s no irony there.

I do have a suggestion to all of the conversation-starter wannabes: Start a conversation by not saying anything at all. Just listen. Listen to obese people and their struggles and their stories and don’t say a word. See if your perspective changes. It might. It might not.  And if not, the whoopee cushion is ALWAYS in the closet.


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