Dear Nicole Arbour: An Open Letter
If I may, I’d like to paint a vivid picture for you. It is one of myself, before I became a medically defined “morbidly obese” individual. Before I was a fat woman, I was a skinny, and socially tolerable child. In fact, I was thin and tolerable until I was twelve-years-old, and by the time I was fourteen, I probably weighed more than you ever will as an adult. If you’re reading this, I bet you’re blaming my parents for my weight, because after all, it’s the parent’s job to control their children’s habits, right? Well, sometimes things are a bit different than they seem.
As I mentioned earlier, I was thin until I was twelve-years-old. But what I didn’t mention is that I was thin until then, because I had never experienced the physical and emotional trauma I would endure at the age of twelve. When I was twelve-years-old, my house burned down, and because of that fire, 45.5% of my body was burned beyond recognition. At twelve-years-old, I was separated from my family, and flown to specialty hospital where I spent Halloween, my thirteenth birthday, and Christmas in a sterile and controlled environment, rather than in the comfort of my own home. With this in mind, do you remember where you were at when you were twelve? If not, I hopes this letter serves as a surge of nostalgia, and that you envision your childhood, and I hope that you were happy then.
During my time spent at the specialty hospital, I had more corrective and life sustaining surgeries than I can possibly remember. For the first month I was there, I was in a medically induced coma because the hospital staff that was assigned to me had to preform procedures that would make anyone cringe. For example, did you know that when your flesh dies, it must be scraped off of your body in order for new skin to grow? Yeah, I didn’t know that either, until it happened to me. I was kept in a comatose state so my life could be preserved, but when I woke up, it was as if months passed by without my recollection, yet still, I was thankful for my life and for the support of my loved ones, and for the intelligence and capabilities of my medical staff.
Fast forward to my release from the hospital.
I was thirteen-years-old when I was released from the hospital, and because our house burned to the ground, my mother and brothers were forced to live in a motel while I moved away and into my grandmother’s house. While living with my grandmother, I entered the eighth grade, had my first crush, and finally made it to high school, and did so while being confined in a neon-colored jumpsuit that closely resembled teletubbie ensembles. Being a “comedian,” you’re sure to laugh at that reference, aren’t you? Well good, because that would group you into the massive amount of people who laughed at the fact that I had to wear pressure garments throughout my educational career. It was when they started laughing that I finally realized I had a disability. I had once been average, but it was then that I realized, I would forever be defined by a disability.
During the summer before high school, I became very introverted. While my peers were making memories with one another, and celebrating the thought of high school, I was at home with my grandmother, sick at the thought of entering another school year looking the way that I did. So instead of making friends and lasting impressions on society, society made a lasting impression on me, and I gained nearly fifty pounds over summer vacation. In the blink of an eye, I went from a thin and tolerable child, to a fat teenager covered in burn scars. Here is the part where I would tell you that I ate to gain a sense of comfort, and that I developed a severe addiction to food because of the comfort I received from the food I was eating, but you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you this, you’d tell me that food addiction “isn’t a thing,” and I ate my way into obesity because I was lazy. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
I suppose you’d stop me here, and tell me your video isn’t directed at me, because technically, I had a disability right? Wrong. You’d probably blame my influences and lack of coping skills, because according to you, only people with medical problems have the “right” to be overweight. But here’s the thing depression IS a medical problem. Social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and body dysmorphia ARE medical problems, and these problems can, and often do cause eating disorders. In my case, it started as a problem with overeating, and quickly turned into a binge-purge situation that left me hating myself more than I did when I was just a jumpsuit wearing burned kid. The cycle seemed never-ending, and even at thirty years old; I still suffer from an eating disorder.
I know, I know. Fat people actually can and often do have eating disorders; your mind must be totally blown right now.
I was able to watch the interview you did for The View, and in that interview, you stated that you made your now infamous video for the sole purpose of offending people. Your reasoning surrounded the narrow idea that the purpose of comedy is to offend people, and you went so far as to say that if you were a man, the video would’ve been taken differently by the masses. While I won’t entirely disagree with the last statement, I will say that it’s a lousy excuse to use as ammunition against the claims you’ve been receiving as of lately. You began your video discussing obesity and how it can deeply and often fatally affect human beings, but in your interview you spoke more of the “satirical” nature of your video and assured the audience it was “just a joke,” and that you were “being silly.” It seems to me like you mask your contempt for fat people with ill delivered jokes and that you genuinely don’t care about the human condition whatsoever.
I commented on this video before it went viral, and brought up a few points you failed to respond to. I know, I know, you’re a busy lady, and I don’t expect you to reply to all of the comments on your social media channels. But, what I do expect, considering the platform you have, is for you to understand the impact this video has had on the people who have watched it. As I commented on your Facebook page, children watch your videos, and yes teenagers are still conserved to be children as well. They watch your videos and absorb what you’re talking about, and I’ll bet not even half of them understand what satire is. Who’s to say that this video didn’t send an overeater off of a cliff? Who’s to say that a teenager suffering from obesity didn’t watch this video, and wished they were dead at the end of it? Who’s to say that impressionable children with mental health issues weren’t triggered by this disgusting display of fat shaming? There is no way of knowing what kind of response this video has caused, but I can certainly say that it hasn’t been a good one.
I am glad that I watched this video in my thirties, because had I watched this video ten or even fifteen years ago, I probably would’ve felt the need to starve myself to death. As many of your viewers are saying, you are not responsible for the mental health of others, BUT you are responsible for posting a video that intentionally triggers people who are struggling. You are responsible for the words you say, the actions you display, and the activities you participate in — and if these things adversely affect other human beings, you are responsible for that too. We may not have to take responsibility for the way others REACT to our actions, but at some point in time, we must be forced to take responsibility for our actions, and you’ve yet to learn this lesson.
I’d like to conclude with a statement that was made by an actual comedian, regarding the ongoing issue of bullying within comedy. In an interview with CBS’ Mo Rocca, Ellen DeGeneres once said, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.” (CBSNEWS.COM, 2012) This just goes to show that you don’t have to be purposely offensive to get a positive response out of people, and if you ever get the chance to read this letter, I hope you’ve found yourself in a more enlightened atmosphere.
An Obese Woman