A couple of days ago, I watched a YouTube video called “Dear Fat People”. It’s supposed to be “What we’ve all wanted to say to fat people” and it’s roughly about six minutes of Nicole Arbour, a pretty, thin, charismatic blonde woman attacking and fat shaming people who already have enough awfulness to deal with and really didn’t need any more.
Right in the beginning, she says, “Dear Fat People. Aaaahh some people are already really mad at this video!” I could almost hear her screaming “look at me”. Nicole knew that this video would instantly generate a lot of anger, attention, applause, and hate. She’s so openly and blatantly trolling for attention, my initial reaction was to try ignore her. After all, “do not feed the trolls”, right?
Here’s the problem with “do not feed the trolls”. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, and before long, the video had gone viral. Now, there are a thousand response videos and blogs detailing exactly what’s wrong with fat shaming in general and this video in particular, and I don’t need to join them.
What I want to talk about is how, in this age of constant, direct communication with each other, we deal with somebody saying or doing something we don’t like.
The first reaction is to tell everyone not to have a reaction. “Ignore the trolls.” “Don’t get so offended.” “Let it go.” “It’s just words.” “It’s just the Internet.” “It’s not real.”
The problem with this attitude is it’s so out of touch with reality it’s laughable. “Words on the internet” have made and broken careers. They’ve saved and destroyed lives. The Internet is no longer some cool gimmick; it’s an integral and important part of our lives – a cornerstone of our society. And words are one of the most powerful tools humans have developed. The pen IS mightier than the sword, even when it’s not a very sharp pen or a very blunt sword. Telling someone to “just ignore” a fat shaming video that has gone viral is like telling someone to “just ignore” being punched. You’re asking them to “just ignore” the malicious spreading of harmful prejudices that actively and negatively affect their daily lives.
The second reaction is to get really angry and start yelling, and with social media now giving most of us direct communication links to each other, yelling at someone who said something you don’t like has never been easier.
If you do a search for @NicoleArbour on Twitter, you will find literally thousands of tweets directed at her. Right now I’d say she’s getting about 300 mentions an hour. Most of those mentions are people calling her an asshole. Now, this is true and fair. Nicole makes videos in which she bullies people who are already pretty beaten down, “Dear Fat People” being just one of them. She’s ignorant, judgmental, and mean – a nasty combination. She is an asshole.
But, and here’s the thing, while yelling at her might make you feel better momentarily, it’s not actually going to solve anything. In fact, like all mob justice, it’s probably going to make the situation worse. Already people are using this excuse to slut-shame and body-shame. People are calling her ugly, old, and telling her to kill herself. And, of course, dudes are grabbing the opportunity to be misogynistic and sexually aggressive and be applauded for it.
It’s not just random trolls either. Here’s how one popular YouTuber responded to her:
. @NicoleArbour please stop putting “comedy” in you mouth and replace it back with cocks of more successful people.
— brian redban (@redban) September 6, 2015
Another YouTuber uploaded a video called “Nicole Arbour might have had sex with a whole hockey team”, where he rambles on about a girl he used to know who he calls “Dickhole” who he thinks “might” be Nicole Arbour.
All of this is done in the name of “empathy”. There’s clearly something wrong here.
So what the fuck do we do? We can’t “just ignore” people promoting and spreading horrible things without ever calling them out on it, but we also need to start thinking about how easy it is to be part of an abusive hate mob these days, and how these hate mobs are probably doing more harm than good. It’s especially easy to turn people who have done something wrong into human punching bags, for everyone and his dog to take their pent-up aggression out on. This trend is getting more and more disturbing, especially when it feels like every other month we find ourselves a “bad woman”, whether she’s a hunter or a fat shamer, that it’s totally OK to be misogynistic and sexually aggressive towards as much as you want to and still be hailed as the good guy.
Well, what we need to do is try to more often make sure our reaction is the third reaction: focus on countering ideas rather than fighting people. When someone has used their space on the Internet to say something you don’t like, by all means address it: Sincerely, thoughtfully, and in your own space. Rather than tweeting insults at them, speak out about why their prejudices negatively affect you, and why they’re wrong. Amplify the voices of those who have provided good counter-arguments, and/or who don’t have the platform they deserve partly because of the exact prejudices that you’re trying to fight against. Do not, by any means, ignore them or be silent, but also speak up in a way that might actually help the world rather than just punish an individual.
And so, while Nicole Arbour said something I really don’t like, here is a video from someone saying some things that I really do like. YouTuber Boogie2988 explains why fat shaming really doesn’t help anyone, especially fat people.