Friday, September 11, 2015

Honoring the right to self preservation

Let's talk about honoring someone else's right to self preservation, or subtitle: why I won't be watching Nicole Arbour's "Dear Fat People" video.

A few years ago, I learned a really important lesson from Trudy of Gradient Lair: It's not cool to send someone, "have you seen ____?" messages. I think when I first heard her talking about it, it was in a series of tweets I can't locate at the moment, but the heart of her ideas about this can be found at her piece entitled, "11 Things People Need to Stop Emailing Me." She wrote: 
99% of the time I heard about the same shit you heard about. Thus, I don’t need my Tumblr Inbox filled with a bunch of links to stories that I usually read 72 hours - 1 week before you sent them. Even if I did hear about something, I am NOT required to comment on it if I do not want to. I am not a 24 hour on-demand opinion generation machine. Conversely, sometimes I purposely skip stories because they are stressful, triggering or simply not of interest to me. And for Whites especially, stop emailing me every first grade level article or term you see on race. You’re in race kindergarten.  I am Methuselah. So stop...
At the time, I was like, "Good point," filed this away in my brain, and moved on with my day...but as my own Tumblr picked up in popularity, I started to much better understand the importance of what she was saying. Of course, my white privilege has shielded me from anything near the harassment that Trudy faces on social media. But when Nicole Arbour's now infamous "Dear Fat People" video blew up, I got a taste of how much people need to remember to honor someone else's right to self preservation. And how annoying/disturbing a bulk of "have you seen ____" messages can be.

As Trudy points out, sending something like this to someone can be potentially stressful or triggering. In the case of Arbour's video, I am a fat lady who blogs frequently about fatphobia and being a fat lady and all that entails. So I popped to mind for a few people when someone with a large platform was spewing off vile fatphobic bullshit. I get that. But it seems very different to wait and see if I'm going to talk about it than to start demanding I do. Suddenly my blogging email address and my Tumblr inbox at FacebookSexism had a few dozen mentions of the video. Some were just submissions of screenshots from people talking about it on Facebook. No problem. But some were "Did you see this?" and "What do you think about Nicole Arbour's video?"

I haven't been moderating as much at FBS as I used to for a variety of reasons and the Arbour thing hit right when I was in the middle of one such NOT moderating time frame. But because my inbox had a steady trickle of content related to it, I went ahead and shared these comments, tacking onto another plus size woman's thoughts, who fielded a similar "what do you think?" question:
I have no need to watch it. I’ve heard it all my whole life which is why it’s so fucking absurd anyway (poising it as “finally someone said it” Ha!) PLUS I deserve some level of self preservation so I gotta avoid this one. 
I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the mentality which leads a thin person to send a fat person a gushingly fatphobic video. Or a white person to send flagrantly white supremacist content to a black y'all not see who messed up that is?

I get that these inquiries can be made in good faith...coming from an "I admire you and I want to know what your thoughts are on this" place. But because these questions are typically made to people with a very large and visible social media presence, you can just assume that they've already seen them and they don't need to be prodded to write about it. I mean, if I had it in me to watch Arbour spout off the same BS society had told me every day so I could put my reactions to it out there, I would.

I was so fed up from the whole thing that I deleted 5-6 submissions for FBS about Arbour that would have been otherwise fine content to feature there, shaming people who defended her in comment threads, etc. But I was so over it that they hit the trash bin right along side the "What do you think?"s.

Pause before you send a message like this to someone. Chances are your inquiry of this nature is unnecessary and a quick Google search would reveal 1) similar things the person you are approaching has already written or 2) other sources talking about the subject matter already that you can go read; people who are in the headspace/have the interest/time/whatever to tackle the topic. Shit, even go write about it yourself if you want. Just give someone a break before you try to introduce something into their lives which could not only unduly demand their time and attention, but also hurt them.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.


  1. Totally agree. I still haven't watched the video because I feel the same way. I already know what's going to be said. It's nothing I've haven't heard before. I know she's going to be talking about me and that it's just going to ruin my day. I won't be doing myself any favors by watching it.

  2. First off...let me say, you freaking rock! I'm also a feminist and advocate for body acceptance. While I'm not fat, I would never watch the video itself. I did, however watch reactions to it. Most of them were parodies and "This is bullshit!". That said...I would never ever send suggestions to watch triggering stuff to people...if they are gluttons for punishment, they can watch that stuff themselves--it's a free country :)


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