Your Fat Friend
(UK, 96 min.)
Dir. Jeanie Finlay
“I just am fat. The end. Whoops,” Aubrey Gordon tells the camera with a self-deprecating laugh in Your Fat Friend. “What are we going to do about it?” Not much to do. Tried everything—whoops! The end.”
Gordon is fat. In a culture rife with anti-fat bias, that brings a lot of weight to carry. She’s tried every diet. But days of counting calories, cutting sugar, avoiding carbs, and following whatever fads compel people to obsess about their bodies are behind her. That’s because the emphasis on slimming down generally hasn’t been her idea. It’s been thrust upon her by people around her. Size makes people oddly uncomfortable and, following years of listening and internalising anti-fat jokes or comments, Aubrey recognizes that it’s better to listen to her body. Aubrey decides it’s time to tell people to stop worrying about the size of her shadow. She steps into the spotlight and tells people that it’s time to dispense with the “one size fits all” mentality.
Your Fat Friend chronicles Aubrey’s rise as a blogger, author, podcaster, and all-around voice for fat people. And she definitely wants people to tell it like it is: fat is fat is fat is fat. Rather than worrying about shedding pounds, she wants people do away with euphemisms like “big boned” or, especially, “overweight,” since the term positions skinny folks as the norm.
Director Jeanie Finlay (Seahorse) follows Aubrey over six years as she gets bigger and bigger. Like many self-starters in the digital age, Aubrey tells how she began writing as “Your Fat Friend” and revealing to the world what it’s like living while fat. She writes openly, candidly, and quite humorously about how strange it is to endure daily conversations with people who think there’s something wrong that she needs to fix. Or what it’s like to know that someone’s horror is looking like her, or that being fat is often being perceived as being a failure. Aubrey tells Finlay that, more likely than not, people have no idea how hard a fat person tried.
Your Fat Friend follows a relatively straightforward character-driven profile with an eye for social issues. Aubrey serves as both subject and talking head for the documentary. She shares the research and experience that inform her research and her writing. For one, her background as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights tells her that minds can be changed. On the other, her shelves full of trendy diet books, boasting celebrities who share their ghost-written diet tricks, all of which are the same, remind her how much society remains glued to the idealization of the thin body. Her interviews and her writing incisively tackle the “wellness” fad, which merely refashions anti-fat bias under a pile of goop and rakes in billions of dollars. But, as she any many other people know, diets often afford only temporary relief, if any.
The film also goes for some disarming interviews with Aubrey’s parents, Pam and Rusty, who divorced when she was a child. Pam speaks candidly with Aubrey throughout the film in a mix of formal sit-down interviews and casual conversations. She looks back on her own rigorous efforts to stay thin, while nudging teenage Aubrey to join her in a Weight Watchers program. Mother and daughter laugh about faulty diets, melons, and cottage cheese over lunch, while Pam pecks at the attractive plate of omelette and asparagus that Aubrey whipped up for lunch. Eating like a bird while discussing the culture of fat-shaming speaks volumes about the internalisation of body image.
Aubrey notes that such conversations often prove the strongest bonding moments for women. Pam’s growth through the film may be one of the most striking pieces of evidence for Aubrey’s skill as a voice that can change minds. By simply speaking out loud about it, Pam notes late in the film, she realises how much she felt burdened as a mother to “control” Aubrey’s weight and how much she transferred that anxiety to her daughter.
But while moments that follow Aubrey throughout her journey—a fun and fashionable photo shoot for her book, her first big in-person event, and behind-the-scenes glimpses as she podcasts in a closet—the most revealing aspects of the film are the mundane comments that find their way into Finlay’s vérité footage. One scene, for example, sees Aubrey join Pam and friends for Thanksgiving dinner. They’re all having a great feast and gabbing about Costco’s smoked turkey, but two women at the table crack fat jokes throughout the meal. They don’t direct their comments at anyone in particular, although they lower their voices enough to double the discomfort. Their jokes about eating the meal for 20 minutes and carrying it on their thighs for 20 years make clear the normalisation of anti-fat bias that people hear daily.
Ditto a birthday party that Rusty throws for Aubrey. He makes a great meal with juicy steaks, bubbly, and a custom-made cake. As he serves it, though, he repeats that the cake is sugar-free and gluten-free. He points that out whenever Aubrey takes a bit. Everyone else simply gets to savour it, as best as one can enjoy a sugar-free cake. Aubrey’s deflated face conveys how much more work needs to be done.
And then there are the comments. As Aubrey’s audience grows, so too does the wave of haters. People hiding under the guise of online anonymity tell her that she’s gross, disgusting, and embarrassing. There are curses and death threats. She even gets doxed with her full name, address, and personal information posted for message board trolls to see. (The surname Gordon is an alias.) Even when launching her book into the world, Aubrey worries about becoming a target. But eventually these comments fuel her as she learns to live with haters just as she does the jokes about turkey thighs. They inspire her to keep going, to be loudly and proudly fat.
Your Fat Friend ultimately provides an informative but vivaciously funny journey of acceptance as it shares Aubrey’s voice on another platform as she seeks to break the stigma around size. The film, like Aubrey’s work, lets people feel seen and heard. Its message is important, especially when screened in any theatre with teeny tiny seats—or, better yet, on an airplane to inspire an empathetic look at the people around you.