It’s big and it’s bold, it’s fat, fun and fearless. And to any detractors out there, including fat-shaming YouTuber Nicole Arbour, it’s ‘get a life’.
When, in a fit of desperation, Helene (Aarhus, Denmark) posted, “does anybody want to have sex with a fat girl?” she stepped into a world of “fat freedom,” she says. It was truly liberating. Not the sex, necessarily, just the new-found realisation that out in the wider world (and especially on social media), other women were not only celebrating their curves, rolls and folds, they were shaking and moving them in a state of blissful frenzy.
Louise Unmack Kjeldsen and Louise Detlefsen’s Fat Front, screening in IDFA Frontlight, comes to Amsterdam hot on the heels of a high profile Danish release. Joining Helene in the film are Norwegians Marte (who feels, she says, like a Rubenesque masterpiece out of time) and Wilde (a body activist and amazing disco dancer). The fourth member of the quartet is the Swede Pauline who, despite setting up a sustainable clothes market for fat people called Fat Ass, strikes a discordant note. She is still desperate to lose weight – “I struggle every day not to hate myself,” she confides.
“Through Instagram, we became aware that there was a growing movement and we came across some Scandinavian profiles,” comments co-director Detlefse. “It was so crazy. It was young, fat women and they seemed so unashamed, taking photos of their own bodies, dancing, a life-reassuring feeling. We started following all kinds of persons and reading about the activists and the thoughts behind the fat movement.
“It was a really personal process – how do I get out of this feeling of being wrong, feeling imprisoned in my own body, feeling ashamed, denying myself all the things that other people of my age do, the kind of life they live? But for others it was more like a structural activist [approach to] the whole diet industry, the discrimination against women for this body shape norm that only 3% of women can actually achieve. It was on a very different level.”
Detlefsen points out how a critical moment in choosing the project was a survey in Denmark which questioned women between the ages of 15 and 25 on the relationship with their bodies. 50% of respondents were very critical.
“We were really surprised, wow 50%, so we discussed this with our daughters and they said, no that can’t be true, it must be much more than 50%.”
The production team put a lot of effort into the casting process, Detlefsen adds, at the same time researching other weight-connected problems such as mental health issues, isolation and loneliness.
“But these were people who just said no, enough of all the problems, let’s try to do something to get away from the victim. And to really start living their lives. So we put up some rules for ourselves, that our main characters would have these problems, but they wouldn’t be the dominant thing in their lives.”
“We wanted them to be outspoken and also to be women who in their Instagram posts would show their body. We felt both visually and artistically the way that the audience looks upon the fat body is part of their activism – a kind of provocation. You get very aware that it’s very awkward looking at a fat person, because media has no fat people driving the narrative.”
In the film, Canadian YouTuber Nicol Arbour’s notorious and inflammatory anti-fat rant is referenced to remind viewers, if needed, of the degree of ire that fat engenders. “She’s got millions of hits on YouTube and it became a very big debated thing that year (2015),” stresses Detlefsen of the reason to include the clip. “It was something that everyone in the movement saw and debated. She’s more a symbol for what all the skinny people and the critical voices say.”