Encourage healthy lifestyle choices over harmful fat shaming
“Olive, can I tell you a little something about ice cream?” Richard asked.
“Yeah,” said Olive.
“Well, ice cream is made from cream, which comes from cow’s milk, and cream has a lot of fat in it. … So if you eat ice cream, you might become fat, and if you don’t, you’re going to stay nice and skinny, sweetie.”
This quote comes from the film “Little Miss Sunshine,” a story about girl named Olive Hoover whose family embarks on a road trip so that she can compete in a beauty pageant. Olive learns from her father what a calorie is at the age of seven in a diner.
This moment is probably soldered into the memory of any girl in the United States―the moment she learns what a calorie is. Our privilege allows society to construct the image of the perfect figure.
Plastered on the covers of fashion magazines are photos of girls who have achieved this image. Only recently have we started to change this perception with campaigns like The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty or “Love Your Body Day.” At the same time, the discussion rarely veers toward what weight actually means in the United States, and we need to understand what that indicates about our health.
Stereotypes are aimed at those who fall on both ends of the spectrum — overweight and underweight. This vicious language often makes victims immovable rather them encouraging to change.
So when I heard that YouTube comedian Nicole Arbour had published a video titled “Dear Fat People,” I was prepared for the worst. To begin with, the video wasn’t even slightly funny. Instead, it served as a platform to shame people who perhaps lead unhealthy lifestyles — a serious blow to already low self-esteem.
At one pointed in the diatribe, she expressed, “Fat shaming. … Who came up with that? That’s f**cking brilliant! Yes, shame people who have bad habits until they f**cking stop!” To her credit, Arbour points out a very important statistic: 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. Conditions related to obesity include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
We shouldn’t be like Olive’s mother Sheryl and simply say, “It’s okay to be skinny and it’s okay to be fat; if that is what you want to be, it’s okay.” But we also shouldn’t be like Arbour and body shame. Rather, we should realize we are all in dire need of a nuanced discussion about what a healthy weight and body image really is.
Maybe that is the function Arbour’s video will serve. Responses to her video have been more on point. Kendall Rae expressed in a YouTube video, “You [Arbour] are destroying lives of young women around the world.” After struggling with her weight for many years due to a medical condition, Rae had developed bulimia, destroying her body from the inside out.
Her sister, who struggles with the same genetic condition, suffers from anorexia nervosa. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Rae’s story, along with many others, shows the complications that come along with discussing weight. People frequently solely attribute obesity to binge eating disorder, which is caused by insatiable cravings that encourage someone to eat in excess. Often, the eating is done in private, and it results in an intense feeling of shame surrounding the act. According to ANAD, around five million women and three million men in the United States are afflicted with the illness.
However, the obesity crisis is more complicated than overeating. It is also tied to income inequality and lack of access to good food. Food deserts are typically found in low-income rural areas and urban neighborhoods, and increase risks of obesity and other diet-related illnesses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts. Additionally, as Americans are exposed more and more to a fast-paced consumer appetite, we are at serious risk of consuming unhealthy food and living unhealthy lifestyles.
When people see overweight people, they don’t conjure up statistics about the obesity crisis this country is facing, but rather, they think of words like “disgusting” and “repulsive.”
They ask, “Why is she doing this to herself?” With that same grain of logic, or lack thereof, when someone sees an underweight person — possibly struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa — they become overcome with jealousy.
They ask a barrage of questions like “Are you going to die?” or “Why are you doing this to yourself?” They make statements nothing short of logical fallacies: “I can’t believe you, of all people, care so much about something so superficial. You want to change the world,” or “Chocolate helps.” All these statements are aimed at disarming the victim, ostracizing them rather than empowering them to change. It is framing the wrong conversation, and it is dangerous.
You can’t understand someone’s health exclusively from their weight. Myriad factors determine health and overall well-being. It is essential that we change how we view weight. Hopefully, in all of its offensive glory, Arbour’s video will encourage a public discourse on healthy. For now, we, like Olive, can enjoy our new conversations à la mode.