The only notable thing about Arbour’s video is, perhaps, how dated it feels: while fat people still face daily harassment and systemic discrimination, body-positive activists have gotten enough of a toehold in the public consciousness that, in 2015, most mainstream, non-anonymous media outlets at least have the decency to use coded language when they shame us. Arbour’s rhetoric, by contrast, feels positively 2009: “What are you going to do, fat people? What are you going to do? You going to chase me? I can get away from you by walking at a reasonable pace.” “Fat people parking spots should be at the back of the mall parking lot. Walk to the doors and burn some calories.” “They complain, and they smell like sausages, and I don’t even think they ate sausages, that’s just their aroma. They were so fat that they’re that ‘standing sweat’ fat. Crisco was coming out of their pores.”
Broadly speaking, even comedy has moved away from fat jokes that obvious. (Who’s lazy again, by the way?) Arbour showed up late to a losing battle and declared victory. It is, frankly, embarrassing. “I’m over here putting my ass on the line,” she wrote ostentatiously on Twitter, “and being hella brave to try and change the world in a new way.” Indeed, it is “hella brave” and “new” to tell fat people to eat less and exercise more – much like the bravery of Braveheart, or the brave girl from Brave, or the weird old guy who used to come into my work when I was 17 and try to sell me pyramid scheme weight-loss pills that I’m 99% sure were tapeworm eggs mixed with Adderall. The bravery of thin people who exploit and abuse fat people for profit is truly unmatched.
I used to spend time squabbling over health and calories and insurance premiums with bad-faith internet jerks like Arbour. I’ve wasted innumerable hours and tears trying to prove my humanity as a fat person. I’ve always thought that if I could just lay my life bare enough, find language visceral enough, write evocatively enough about the ways anti-fat stigma has made my world smaller and dimmer, that it would eventually connect with people, human being to human being. But with Dear Fat People, I just can’t. It’s too pedestrian. Too lazy. Too old. It has been covered ad nauseam, and it doesn’t deserve my vulnerability.
So, instead, I want to pull back and say this, to all the Nicole Arbours of the world: You know what, Nicole? I fight for you.
Whether you like it or not, whether you realise it or not, your life is tangibly better because of fat women who live unapologetically, who wedge the gates of acceptance open wider every day. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman who wants to be more than just a body. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman whose body is scrutinised and policed every moment of your life. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman who wants to be taken seriously in comedy. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman who wants to be heard, not blamed, when she reports a sexual assault. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman who will eventually age and be told you are without value. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman vulnerable to any number of emotional and physical maladies that could, to your surprise, make you as fat as me. I fight for you in your capacity as a complex, fully formed human being with the right to autonomy over your body, even if that body gets fat.
I fight for you even when you are cruel, even when you are making money off the back of fat people’s pain, even when you refuse to fight for me. Because I know that it is hard to have a body, that insecurities make us mean, and that male approval can be a comfortable harbour while it lasts.
But you will eventually be kicked out of the club, and when that happens, you may find yourself grateful to those of us who have built a new one. Safe journey.