When I saw actress Emma Thompson in a fat suit, the shame of being picked last in P.E. suddenly came flooding back.
For the upcoming musical fantasy film, Matilda, Thompson has been pictured reportedly wearing a fat suit for her role as the fictional headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull.
Of course – how else would the film industry portray an antagonist, who is evil, ugly and has a nasty disposition, than with a slim actress in a grotesque fat suit?
It’s especially so sad at this moment in time, as plaudits continue for Thompson’s role in the sex-positive Good Luck To You, Leo Grande.
Yet, fat suits have been so normalised that some people probably haven’t even noticed – and that is what is so frustrating.
It’s not the first time Thompson has been pictured in body-altering prosthetics, either – she was photographed boasting some fake bingo wings and jowls for her role in The Legend of Barney Thomson and it was revealed that she wore a fat suit for her role as Karen in Love Actually.
You know, the presumably size 16, ‘frumpy’, comfortable-shoe-and-floor-length-skirt-wearing middle-aged wife that was inevitably cheated on?
As a bigger woman, I find this caricaturisation of my body type utterly dehumanising, and degrading.
It’s not ethical, authentic or representative of any lived experiences whatsoever.
I highly doubt that any actor that bears the brunt of a fat suit – as if it were a chore or a cross to bear what society has deemed to be overweight – knows the pain of not finding clothes that fit.
Or the person next to you on the plane sighing when you sit down in the middle seat; gym instructors telling you to ‘work harder’, strangers telling you to ‘keep going’ when you run past them on the street, doctors telling you you’re obese (even though you’re the average size for a woman), or girls at school avoiding you simply because you’re just too fat.
In primary school, a boy used to call me ‘Emmie the elephant’ – he’d follow me around the playground waddling and making trumpet noises.
I was 10, and while I can laugh about it now with my self-esteem in a better place, I won’t deny that it hurt and has left its mark.
At times, I feel like I’ve had to work twice as hard, and make my voice heard, for employers to take me seriously, with a common assumption being that, as often the fattest women in the room, I was lazy, or not worthy to be more than part of the background.
Plus-sized women especially are often punished for being the size they are as they’re seen to be rejecting the strict confines of society.
I remember seeing so many slimmer girls being picked for sports, or chatted up in clubs, purely based on the idea that their body fitted into the ‘right’ mould that society had cast for my gender for generations.
So, yeah, seeing slim actresses in fat suits hurts.
It’s fatphobic and proves, yet again, that plus-sized women have to work harder to be recognised for jobs that should, by right, be theirs.
Actresses like Amy Adams, Courteney Cox, Renee Zellweger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts, Mila Kunis and Sarah Paulson have all worn fat suits in the past – and while they’re extremely talented women, they’re all slim.
Prosthetics are not a good enough excuse for purposefully not hiring plus-sized actors. It’s disappointing that in 2022, we still can’t recognise the talent and humanity of plus-sized people.
I can perhaps understand if aspiring actresses were made to wear fat suits in bids to ‘further’ their career by not speaking out, but seasoned stars like Thompson and Zelweger surely have the power and respect under their (apparently ‘bulging’) belts to confess that this isn’t cool?
Prosthetics for fat characters are designed to be ugly, too.
They’re wobbly, dimpled, grotesque, and unattractive.
They’re humiliating, and don’t treat the plus-sized community with the dignity or respect they deserve.
It’s hardly a coincidence that actresses that do wear fat suits often portray characters that are unloved, undesired and often non-sexual, as well.
That, or they are used for comedic value – encouraging harmful stereotypes and suggesting that it’s acceptable to make jokes at plus-sized people’s expense.
In 2001’s Shallow Hal, Paltrow plays overweight character Rosemary Shanahan, who the film’s protagonist Jack Black has to be hypnotised to find attractive and fall in love with her inner beauty.
Paltrow admitted that: ‘It was so sad. It was so disturbing. No one would make eye contact with me because I was obese.’
Paulson, who donned a fat suit to play Linda Tripp in Impeachment: American Crime Story, told the LA Times last year: ‘There’s a lot of controversy around actors and fat suits, and I think that controversy is a legitimate one. I think fatphobia is real. I think to pretend otherwise causes further harm.’
But what have these women actually done for the plus-sized community? I’m yet to feel encouraged or represented by them as actresses.
Harmful stereotypes and fatphobia still exist, and slimmer actresses are still heaving themselves into heavy foam prosthetics without feeling the repercussions – they just get paid to pretend to be overweight.
Continuing to ignore the countless talented actors in the plus-sized community in favour of slimmer people is so degrading.
It’s indicative of the same shame that has been placed on people who aren’t slim for decades, and that is still rife today. It’s humiliating and it feels like we are constantly being punished for being the way we are.
It’s behaviour that belongs only in Miss Trunchbull’s chokey.
And to take a line from 1996’s Matilda: ‘I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’