If you think back to movies like Shallow Hal and The Whale or TV shows like Friends and New Girl, all of these have one thing in common – straight-sized actors in fatsuits. Sometimes its purely to make fat people the punchline and sometimes the whole plot is focused on the character’s weight. In 2023, why are we still using actors in fatsuits to portray fat people?!
Some make the argument that the particular straight-sized actor was the “best option for the role, so fatsuits need to be used.” There are a couple issues with this rhetoric. Of course, there are so many talented straight-sized actors in Hollywood. Because of the storylines written featuring plus size people, they typically are used as supporting characters only for comedic relief. How many successful fat actors can you name? Very very few.
If they became famous while they were fat, typically we see that actor lose weight as their popularity increases. Whether it is the pressures of Hollywood, more access to medical care, home chefs and personal trainers, it often leaves a sour taste in our mouths. To see someone who we really connected with as visible plus size representation abandon the community and support diet culture, can be incredibly disheartening. And this seems to be a vicious cycle.
If we focus on The Whale specifically, since it is a recent topic of discussion in fat spaces, what kind of message does it send when the star of this movie wins an Oscar for his performance and the movie wins Best Makeup?
If you haven’t heard much about this movie, the main character gains weight as a result of self-neglect because he is grieving the loss of his boyfriend. According to a journalist for the NY Times, it is clear that the director and writer of The Whale “considered fatness to be the ultimate human failure, something despicable, to be avoided at all costs.”
J. Kevin Thompson, a University of South Florida retired professor of psychology, has spent decades studying the representation of fat folks in media. He states “more recent uses of it [fatsuits] can prove psychologically damaging to both viewers and the actors themselves – and women, both onscreen and in the audience, bear the brunt of the pain.”
Cautionary tales, comedic relief, or as tools to evoke pity – this is how we are portrayed. This use of fatsuits in TV shows and movies contributes to fatphobia and teaches the audience that it’s “okay” to make fatness into a joke or into a tragedy. Not to mention, none of us can just wear our fatness for a day and take it off to escape the societal oppression that comes with it. There is always an authenticity missing when a straight-sized person plays a fat role.
There are absolutely fat actors that would not only bring their lived experience to a plus size role, but would also love to be the representation they’d like to see. For example, Stephanie Lexis, the founder of the Broadway Body Positivity Project, focuses on helping promote plus size people in ingenue roles.
Abby, @morethantracyt, talks about fat representation in media both on her social media pages and on her podcast. She discusses the issues with how fat people are portrayed, fat tropes that TV shows and movies play into, and how things need to change.
In 2023, it is time for casting directors and producers to stop stereotyping fat people and start giving plus size people a chance. Fat folks deserve a chance to be cast in any role, not just one written for a plus size person.
In real life, we have careers, desires, goals, relationships – we lead completely normal lives!
Why do all portrayals of fat people have to focus on their weight? True representation happens when plus size actors can play any part. That is the change we need to see in Hollywood!