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“You can’t love yourself out of oppression”: Jeanie Finlay’s Your Fat Friend

Written response by Gina Tonic It’s rare to come across a piece of media about fatness or a fat person that doesn’t begin and end with self esteem. Aubrey Gordon, the activist behind the popular blog Yr Fat Friend and podcast The Maintenance Phase, has always been pointed in ensuring her work doesn’t revolve around body image. In one of the last scenes of the documentary ‘Your Fat Friend’ by Jeanie Finlay, that follows Gordon’s life through her rise to fame as a spokesperson for fat activism, Gordon sits on a stool at her local bookshop in Portland and announces: “You can’t love yourself out of oppression.” The room claps and I wish I was there to cheer along too.  This precise articulation of a feeling felt by many in the fat people isn’t a one off for Gordon; it’s the reason she’s found such resounding success as a voice box for our community. The film is littered with them; stand outs include “The same things that are cause for concern in thin people are required social performances of fat people”. I’m amazed by Gordon’s ability to verbalise in person as well as on the (digital) page. As a writer and podcast host myself, I often feel a dissonance between my ability to self express in writing versus in on the spot cadences.  The documentary is detailed look at not just the rise of Gordon’s blog, her book and her public status but at the upbringing and society that shaped our fat friend into the person she is today. Gordon’s parents appear regularly, usually separately, to tell us how proud they are of their daughter and express regret at how they raised her. Both take the time to explain how they grew up hating fatness and how they automatically shifted that point of view onto their child. It stings to see Gordon’s family realise in real time how much they have been poisoned by fatphobia in their own lives and that they couldn’t protect their child from the horrors that fat people face every day.  What sucks the venom from the wound is Gordon’s unrelenting perseverance in loving those around her and critiquing the cultural norms that have made fat discrimination commonplace in lieu of anger at the individuals in her life. Gordon collects vintage diet books and laughs at them; Gordon dissects the origins of the body mass index on her podcast - both actions have the same result, pointing the finger at the profit margins that are made from convincing fat people to hate themselves and from encouraging thin people to hate them too. The audience  is asked to question who benefits from their pain. Mid film, as Gordon laboriously peels shrimp at a table in her home - at the same address that gets doxxed later in the documentary and brings subject and viewer to the painful point that fatness doesn’t just repulse people, but inspires homicidal thoughts in them - Gordon reveals that she is a diagnosed atypical anorexic. Alongside detailing her personal experience with disordered eating, Gordon uses the moment to dive into systematic marginalisations in the medical field: How fat people are often encouraged to partake in dangerously low calorie diets by doctors. How the parameters for being diagnosed with anorexia (the non atypical kind) includes having a BMI below 17. That the only difference between atypical and regular anorexia is the specific weight of the patient, a barbaric distinction when considering the condition this diagnosis applies to. ‘Your Fat Friend’ is a documentary that successfully uses key points in the life story of a successful writer and activist to hammer home the systemic oppression that the fat community faces. Not only in terms of medical care, but in accessibility, public safety, dehumanisation and more. Finlay and Gordon have masterfully produced a project that personifies the struggles that many fat people feel too ashamed to put into words. When talking on plane travel early in the film, Gordon says “I try and fail to fit into a space made for someone else” and the implications of her words still ring around my head. I haven’t heard a better way of explaining the fat experience - airborne and with both feet on the ground - than that. Gina Tonic is a culture and sex writer from South Wales who has been named “the writer and editor empowering a generation of fat babes” by Dazed Beauty. With bylines in Vice, Refinery29 and more, in 2020 Gina founded her fat liberation publication, The Fat Zine. Holding the role of Senior Editor and podcast host at Polyester Zine, Gina commissions weekly written content and has interviewed the likes of Gemma Collins, Juno Birch, CupCakKe, Chloe Cherry and more. Gina has a passion for inclusivity, her own generous rack and lemon desserts, and is currently working on her first book. You can catch our #ReclaimTheFrame screenings of YOUR FAT FRIEND, including post-screening recorded discussion with Director Jeanie Finlay and Star Aubrey Gordon 9-18 February. Learn more here.

“You can’t love yourself out of oppression”: Jeanie Finlay’s Your Fat Friend

Written response by Gina Tonic It’s rare to come across a piece of media about fatness or a fat person that doesn’t begin and end with...

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