For the first time ever, YouTube has censored a comedic video based on its content. One would think when it finally happened it would be due to violence, sexually explicit content or language. There’s any number of videos I could link to here to highlight the intensely troubling nature of much of the content found on the site, and its comments section is widely known to be the bottom rung of the Internet. Easily the most disturbing comments made on the Web, and any writer can tell you there are many, can be found at the bottom of videos on even the most mundane topics like cooking and fashion.
YouTube is also the home of celebrities who have made themselves known on the platform. A makeup artist has garnered a contract with major brands earning more than $1 million in revenue. Singers have earned themselves recording contracts. Comedians have also looked to the platform to cash in. Admittedly, I don’t know or care about any of them, but a story on one of them drawing the ire of the Internet Outrage Machine caught my eye.
Comedian Nicole Arbour uploaded what many are calling a “fat shaming video” to the site, which for the first time censored the content of a comedian due to a potential break with its guidelines. In the end, the video didn’t break them and was reinstated, so Americans can watch as Arbour makes fairly mundane jokes about how fat people run slowly, eat a lot and are endangering their health. With the exception of some foul language, the video is itself pretty vanilla in its content, and Arbour repeatedly says its purpose isn’t to shame, but instead to motivate viewers to stop overeating, start exercising and get healthy. No YouTube personality could convince me to stop eating the baby Snickers that populate my freezer, but it was a valiant attempt.
Arbour might not be particularly funny, but she does actually make some valid points about the “body positivity” movement, which focuses on accepting everyone, everywhere, regardless of the health ramifications of decisions that render a significant portion of America obese (you can ask my doctor, I’m one of them!). Naturally, she has become the Internet’s Worst Person Ever. An activist, Whitney Way Thore, who has appeared in the TLC show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, posted a video response pushing back against Arbour’s message, claiming it was “particularly heinous” and deceiving. Her video response has garnered over 14 million views compared to 22 million for Arbour. She said “Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression. These are illnesses that affect millions of people worldwide, from skinny to fat and everything inbetween.” While it’s true that heart disease can happen to anyone, it happens far more often and not by coincidence to those whose body mass index (BMI) is classified as obese. Thore ended her video with a feel good, warm fuzzies pep talk to all of her “fellow fatties.”
What was missing from Thore’s response, filled with the typical politically correct rhetoric around justifying one’s self and choices to the world, was this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Thore spends a significant amount of time explaining how a condition (PCOS) was a direct contributing factor to her weight gain. She discusses how other fat people may also have health conditions, which people on the street might not be aware of when they see them. In the days before bullying was treated like a capital crime and an executable offense, most parents gave the same advice mine did: “A person can only make you feel badly if you let them.” Thore spent an inordinate amount of time explaining herself to a stranger on the Internet, and millions of people watched and likely supported her by doing so.
How much of the “bullying epidemic” would be solved by raising our children to just have thicker skin? My mother always told me: “People can be mean, they can be judgmental. But their opinion of you shouldn’t affect your own feelings of self-worth. If they do, that’s an issue for you to work on.”
Where is it that our children are learning to be so thin-skinned? Every time an Internet outrage forces an individual into the fetal position pleading for forgiveness, children absorb the fact that the adults around them take every slight, even by strangers on the Internet, to heart. Before embarking on a press tour for Jurassic Park, Chris Pratt joked that he was issuing a pre-apology for anything inappropriate he was bound to say while talking to the media. Few individuals–celebrities or everyday citizens–who are the target of the Internet Rage Machine are willing to push back against it and say what I grew up hearing from my mother: “Suck it up, Buttercup.” If that’s too old-school, take a page from Taylor Swift and just “Shake It Off.”