Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Dear Nicole Arbour.

This article appeared in The Independent this morning. Below is the unabridged version. 

Hi Nicole,

I recently went viral because of a blog I wrote about being rejected by a Tinder date for being too fat. I'm now running a campaign against bullying and bodyshaming called Healthy Happy Hot.  I want to address couple of points you made in your video, “Dear Fat People”.

Fat-shaming is not a thing”

It definitely is. It's when people bully and undermine others for being overweight. Like, for example, making a video expressing your disgust at an overweight young man who does nothing more than sit next to you on the plane.

If I offend you so much that you lose weight, I'm happy”....“I hope this truth bomb works...”

Oh, Nicole. It really doesn't work that way. After my blog went viral, I was contacted by people all over the world sharing their stories. Check out the comments under my blog, on my instagram, on my Facebook page from people who've been affected by bodyshaming. I've had emails from people in their seventies who were bullied in their youth and have never recovered. One man broke my heart telling me how a girl was sat next to him on a train texting her friend with her phone tilted up towards him that she was “sat next to someone FAT”. Out of the thousands – and I mean T.H.O.U.S.A.N.D.S. - of the messages I've received, not one was from someone who'd been bullied into making positive, healthy changes. Not one. Quite the opposite. In most cases it either leads to people developing eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, or the people hiding themselves away to eat, and eat, and eat, putting on more weight because they're too frightened or embarrassed or ashamed to change. Even when an overweight person tries to make a positive change, the knives are out. Overweight people are too intimidated to go running because of the abuse they suffer like Lindsey Swift (whose kick-ass response made me jiggle my jello with joy). The amazing This Girl Can campaign started because so many women are afraid or ashamed of the way their natural bodies move. So no, Nicole. You're not helping. You're hurting.

You don't need body positivity. Just eat well and exercise”

It's true that obesity is an epidemic in the West. But if losing weight were just a question of eating less and moving more, do you think 35% of American and 25% of Brits would still be overweight?
The concept of #bodypositivity came about to encourage women of all shapes and sizes to love, respect and care for their bodies. Eating well and exercise is an important factor in that, but the key thing is loving your body whatever it looks like, so that you WANT to care for it. I've had emails from 16/14/12-year-old girls telling me their terrified that they might be overweight when they're older. They're not terrified of breast cancer. They're not terrified of heart disease. They've been inspired to write to a stranger because they're terrified of becoming fat because they'll be shunned by their friends, they won't get boyfriends, and they'll be judged, criticised and bullied by the ignorant, the shallow and the unkind. #BodyPositivity promotes health and happiness for everyone. What kind of sociopath takes against that?

Plus size means plus heart disease.”

Which nutritionist did you get these fact from, Nicole? Which dietician? Because I spoke to Lucy Aphramor, a former NHS dietician who, disillusioned with the one-size-fits-all ideal that weight-loss automatically equals better health, founded her own practice Health At Every Size which focuses on improving individuals' self-esteem to inspire them to make sustainable changes in eating and exercise behaviours without focusing on weight or size, and has produced spectacular results in some of the country's poorest and unhealthiest areas.
I also spoke to nutritionist Sophie Pelham Burn, who expressed concern that so many of her clients “assume body weight to be a proxy indicator for health, which is simply not true. Skinny does not equal healthy, neither does athleticism.”
In the UK anyone from a size 12 up is considered plus size. Which means that the average British and American woman, is plus size. You can't judge someone's blood pressure by their size. Or their cholesterol level. Or their metabolic profile. “Plus-size” is a concept invented by high street fashion chains so that they can charge women an extra £2 for an extra inch of fabric. It has no meaning outside of Topshop.

Fat family at the airport....”

I found this portion of your video particularly grotesque. There's nothing “kind” or “encouraging” about this story. It's irredeemably, eye-wateringly cruel. You're bullying a disabled family. Yes, it's likely that they're disabled because they're overweight. Yes, it's likely that they're overweight because they live unhealthy lifestyles. But that doesn't change the fact that they're disabled, and entitled to and deserving of additional support. You think they don't know that they're fat? You think they can't feel the waves of disgust radiating from you? You don't say how old the son was, but do you think he doesn't know how his family is judged by people like you? How do you think that makes him feel?

According to Wiki, you started dancing when you were three. That probably wasn't your decision. You were born into a family that priorities health and physical activity and that was ingrained in you from a young age. Great. But not everyone has that. This boy didn't have that. How dare you attack him for it?

I'm not saying it to be an asshole”.

This video is ignorant and cruel at best. At worst it could be dangerous. Here's why:
At the beginning of this video you name check the singer Kesha. Kesha spent the best part of last year in rehab recovering from anorexia and bulimia, which had been brought on in part by industry pressure to look skinny, and constant degrading comments from her then-manager who told her she looked “like a fat fucking refrigerator”.She wrote on the subject:

I felt like part of my job was to be as skinny as possible, and to make that happen, I had been abusing my body. I just wasn’t giving it the energy it needed to keep me healthy and strong. My brain told me to just suck it up and press on, but in my heart I knew that something had to change.... I had to learn to treat my body with respect.”

In this video, you personify the worst of the internet. As I watched, I expected you to rip off a mask, Scooby-Doo style, to reveal an unmoderated Reddit page, overrun by trolls, meninists and health concern fascists. Of course, being so abrasive about such an emotive issue is going to garner you attention. It's cheap, but obviously very effective. And the fact that you relabelled the video MOST OFFENSIVE VIDEO EVER means you know that. You call it satire. But it's not. Because you didn't make this video for the 35%. You didn't make it for that family at the airport, who I hope don't recognise you and realise it's them you're talking about. You made it for others like you. The girls who text their friends that they're “sat next to someone FAT”, the men on Tinder who criticise a woman's body if she won't send him nudes. It's not satire, Nicole. It's bullying. It's hate-speech. You're attempting to empower yourself by undermining and demonising another group of people who are different from you. In short – yes, you ARE being an asshole.

I agree with you about one thing you tweeted in the wake of all this, though. “If I were a guy people would've lol'd and moved on”. It's true that a male comedian wouldn't have met so much negativity for being a bully. As a female who's made a mistake, you will take much more flak than a man would have for the same mistake. The internet is a dangerous place for a woman with opinions, Nicole, and although our opinions are clearly very different, I still hate to see a woman get publicly skinned alive. If you want to talk about that, email me at . However, if you choose to rectify that mistake by apologising, the positive impact could be enormous. It might make someone reconsider before they say or do something hurtful that they can't take back. Make it good, Nicole. Make it something positive. Maybe even #bodypositive.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Empathetic Honesty (or Don't be a Bad Human).

Apparently, Socrates* said it. Before you say something, ask yourself – is it kind, is it necessary, and is it true? If what you're about to say doesn't meet at least two of those criteria, don't say it. Pretty good rule of thumb if you ask me.
The value of honesty is often perverted and warped in defence of unkindness. “But I'm only being HONEST!” screeches the wide-eyed bully after undermining and belittling someone because of the way they look or speak, or where they're from, or how much money they earn. Honesty is important – of course it is – but so is kindness. So is compassion. So is empathy.
A few months ago, after going on a few dates with a very nice man, I received the following text:
“I've just been asked by another date if we can be exclusive, and I'd like to see where it goes so I'm really sorry but I'm going to have to stop seeing you. I had a lot of fun, thank you lovely and good luck xx”
Naturally, I was a little disappointed. He was a great guy and I was hoping I'd get to know him better. But what a lovely way to be let down. He's absolutely truthful – there's no fey talk of “slowing things down”, he's not “really busy at work”, he's not “confused about what he wants”. I won't be seeing him again because he's met someone who he prefers to spent his time with. He conveys the honest truth, directly and kindly. What more can anyone ask?
Empathetic honesty doesn't mean being evasive. It doesn't mean being selective with the truth. You can communicate sensitive information while treating the recipient with dignity and compassion.
Be Kind to Everyone (yes, that means everyone).
I was in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, during the festival. In a busy bar at 3am, a vicious-eyed man with poison in his voice and chemical violence in his veins screamed obscenities at me for some perceived slight. And I mean screamed - his blood-red face inches from mine, until his spittle flew and his eyes bulged with frenzied hatred. My friends flanked me and drove him away but, deeply shaken, I went home.
The next day, Edinburgh being Edinburgh, I saw that man's face on a poster for his comedy show. Then I found him on Twitter. His most recent tweet was a picture of himself posing proudly with his family, sweetly captioned with an expression of his love for them. As I looked at the picture, he looked like an utterly different man to the creature who'd abused me in the bar. I feared and hated this man, and it seethed like a snake pit in my belly. The next day as I left Edinburgh, I tweeted him and asked how his family would feel if they knew that a few hours after that photo was taken he'd be shrieking obscene insults, over and over again, at a woman he didn't know in a bar (I waited until I was long gone, of course. I didn't want to meet him again).
A few hours later he sent me an email offering the sincerest and most genuine apology I've ever received. He told me he'd been frightened by what he could remember of his own behaviour that night. He'd been trying to find me to apologise. A sequence of terrible events – stolen money, a bereavement, a friend in hospital – had befallen him all at once. And while he stressed that these events didn't excuse his behaviour, he admitted that he was terribly, terribly hurt, and that his actioned reflected his sorrow and his rage and his loneliness. He answered my question – he told me his family wouldn't recognise him, would be afraid of his behaviour, would see he was hurting and try to help. Even as I read the email the hatred in my heart evaporated. I was surprised by the physical sensation – it felt like the exhalation of a long-held breathe. Turns out that hating someone is EXHAUSTING. It takes as much effort to hate a human as it does to love, with none of the rewards. Buddha* nailed it – bearing a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
I immediately accepted his apology. I deleted my tweet. I asked him to please not let it happen again, repeated to him exactly what he'd said to me that night, not to labour the point or to make him feel more remorseful than he evidently already did, but to make sure that he knew what he'd done and that, regardless of circumstance, it was unacceptable.
Although my manner of contacting him was admittedly confrontational and spiteful, I'm so glad he responded the way he did. He was clearly enduring a horribly challenging time. I honestly hope things get better for him.
“Be kind to everyone, for each of us is fighting our own battles”. Google can't decided whether this is from Plato, Philo or Dolly Parton*. Whoever said it, if we all spoke and acted with compassion and empathy, we'd all live nicer lives.
*Sources: Pinterest, Facebook and InstaQuotes. If you know the correct origin of the ideals mentioned and feel compelled to share, knock yourself out. But remember – I'm not an academic. I'm just a lady trying to discourage people from acting like tools.
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