Review: Your Fat Friend
by Elena Lazic
- Jeanie Finlay’s documentary is more successful as a portrait of anonymous blogger turned best-selling author Aubrey Gordon than as an exposé of rampant fatphobia
It can be difficult for those on the outside to imagine what living with a difference is like. Even when a person tries hard to empathise, blindspots can remain, and a lack of awareness can inadvertently end up causing pain. Fat people, however, are a group that few care about, let alone seek to understand. “Fat” is the word Aubrey Gordon, the subject of British director Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Your Fat Friend, released in UK cinemas on Friday 9 November by production company Glimmer Films and Tull Stories in association with Reclaim the Frame, defends as the best way to describe herself and other people like her — she argues that the word is not coloured by a fear and hatred of fatness the way “overweight,” “obese,” “curvy,” and other euphemisms are. It is this fear that Gordon has been revealing and unmasking across many aspects of American life on the blog that gives Finlay’s film its title, posting anonymously for several years about her own experiences living as a fat person, in public spaces but also in her private life.
Finlay’s film is initially content to simply give Gordon a(nother) voice, letting her read from some of her viral blog posts about the ingrained fatphobia within American society in particular. Viewers may already be familiar with these ideas, the film coming some eight years after Gordon started her blog and helped launch a wider debate around “body positivity” and fatphobia more specifically. But the film is at its most interesting when it digs further into those concepts and truly engages with the debates surrounding fatness: the questions of fatphobia in the healthcare system, the fact that most public spaces are not designed to welcome fat people, the ways fat people navigate friendship, the connections between femininity and fatphobia, and the persistence of diet culture despite the fact that diets have been repeatedly proven to be ineffective. These are all fascinating and interconnected dynamics which are rather well presented in the film (though debates around health and fatness are only given a cursory glance, and questions of sex and romance totally ignored), but Finlay seems to deem it necessary to always back up these arguments with references to Gordon’s own personal pain. The film pulls on our heartstrings, as though unsure that its ideas could convince us on their own.
This is all the more frustrating considering that Gordon’s first viral post, titled A Request from Your Fat Friend, actually included the line “I need less sympathy and more solidarity; less pity and more anger.” The film quotes this request but does not exactly obey it, ultimately coming across as lacking in argumentative verve. When Finlay turns to Gordon’s parents, she highlights their failure to truly understand their daughter’s pain and the role played by their own continuing fatphobia. In one shocking sequence, Gordon’s father gets her a cake to celebrate the book’s publication, yet seems unable to stop himself from repeatedly saying to her face that it is low-fat, no sugar. Both parents perfectly illustrate just how deep the demonisation of sugar and fat goes, and how scared many people are of enjoying food at all. But Finlay seems eager to make their behaviour appear more complex than it is, more tied up with personal stories than with societal pressure and ignorance — and therefore more easily forgiven. The film presents a reading by Gordon at her local bookstore as a triumph for the author and a turning point for her father, the moment when he finally begins to see what she has been talking and writing about all this time. In the same way, Finlay’s film too often aims to convince us by fostering sympathy for its charismatic subject, rather than through logical arguments — arguments which Gordon herself seems more than able to defend.
Your Fat Friend was produced by Glimmer Films (UK). International sales are handled by Cinetic Media (US).
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