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Body Image: The Celebrity Fat Suit

October 28, 2011

Who is this person? And why should we care?

Remember when Tyra Banks donned a fat suit for a day and suddenly COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD THE PLIGHT OF THE OVERWEIGHT? Add Melissa Gorga to the parade of attentionwhores who have hopped on the “social experiment” train with the final stop in LaLa land. Who?, you ask. Well, apparently this hot mess is the sister-in-law of Teresa Giudice of The Real Housewives of New Jersey (gag me with a spoonforkknife) and I really have no clue who gave her a contract to conduct this disaster, but they should really start to rethink their life purpose.

Now, when Tyra was “fat” for all of 15 hours (that’s actually a lot longer than I expected…is she even awake for that long in a given day? Maybe that’s why she’s always acting like a strung-out mess–more sleep needed!), she firsthand experienced taunts and ridicule that impacted her greatly.

At the end of her 15-hour fat suit stunt, Banks had the luxury of taking off her costume and returning to her supermodel figure. She said she hopes people will learn a lesson from the poor treatment she endured.

“There’s no excuse for rudeness. There’s no excuse for ugliness. And there’s no excuse for nastiness and that’s what I experienced,” Banks said.

Remind me: Which one is photoshopped?

Yeah, Tyra, you really get the average woman who struggles with her weight now. Because it’s not like on any given day you don’t have 10 different people whose primary concern is the way you look/keeping you in shape/dressing and feeding you. And it’s not like most people spend a lifetime struggling with their bodies and body image–no matter their shape or size, because it affects all types–while you fools spend hours putting on and then taking off an insulting “fat suit.”

And can we just discuss these juxtaposed images for a second here? On the left of each sample, we have Gorga and Tyra in bikinis with their breasts hanging out all over the place, flat tummies, perfect makeup and windblown hair…on the right of each sample, we have these same women in very unflattering outfits, glasses, frumpy hair…oh yes, and at least 200 pounds heavier. Now, I’m not saying that they have to sexualize the overweight version of themselves, but why is it that they have to go to such extremes to make a point? There is a majority of overweight people (myself included, who has been 10-20 pounds overweight for most of her life) who do not look/act/dress/present themselves in this degrading and unflattering way, and yet still suffer with body image issues that are perpetuated by the bombardment of…well, images of the people on the left and the dialogue that surrounds exactly these absurd social experiments and weight in the media in general.

I was unaware until my google resarch began that apparently this experiment has roots in “real life” (whatever that means these days) as, a few years ago, Ali Schmidt–a high school athlete–spent 24 hours in the makeup and costume of a 250 pound girl for a documentary competition and to see what her overweight mother and brother struggled with on a daily basis. How does it feel to be fat in high school?

“It was awful. The most awful experience of my life,” she said. “I was in the lobby of my hotel and this 45-year-old man came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God, look at the junk in that trunk.’ And from that point on I just started bawling.”

At school, Schmidt was greeted with cruelty and indifference.

“The boys were bluntly mean, saying things right to my face or laughing in my face. The girls refused to look me in the eyes,” she said. “The regular me would have said something, but the me in the fat suit couldn’t do it. Socially, it would be committing suicide.”

Schmidt’s self-esteem plummeted during the experiment.

“It shattered all of my expectations. My self-confidence hit the ground.”

Ugh. Seriously? Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time sympathizing with someone who can say that putting on a “fat suit” for a day was “the most awful experience of [their] life.” Now, I’m all for sociological experiments. Nickeled and Dimed, Black Like Me, and The Stanford Prison Experiment are just  some of the many fascinating and invaluable experiment/undertakings/studies done that exposed incredible psychological and societal findings. But what exactly is the purpose of a thin person posing as a “fat” one for a day? What is to be gained (har har)? Does it actually impact whatsoever the way we view overweight people in our society and/or change the discourse surrounding this issue of bigotry? In an online chat with Ms. Schmidt, someone from my hometown (not me! but I wish…) posed this very question:

Washington, D.C.: As a woman who has battled her weight all her life, I find these “thin person walks in fat’s person’s shoes” stories underwhelming. What exactly is the viewer supposed to take from the movie?

Ali Schmidt: First off, I don’t proclaim to know all of the trials of obesity but I think it’s important to at least have had a glimpse into this other life. What I think one should get out of the movie is the emotional side of obesity that many are not exposed to. Many people disregard the emotional side effects of being overweight. I just want this movie to shove it into other people’s faces that overweight people do have feelings when they are attacked and made fun of.

It is fascinating that this is what we listen to, this is what makes us finally perk up our ears and pay attention as a society: someone posing as the “other.” You could publish countless articles every single day about the torment that overweight people bear, the burden that working class people shoulder, the pain that people of color experience, the inhumane ways that people in power treat those weaker than them but…who would listen? What are we doing to actually impact and change the dialogue and societal implications of the issues that are being continually exposed but never altered? And how and when will actual change occur?

(Images courtesy of Dlisted–my all-time fav site, and Fitcommerce–a really interesting site I just discovered!)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Fedora permalink
    October 28, 2011 5:40 pm

    Oh my god, this was my favourite line-
    -I just want this movie to shove it into other people’s faces that overweight people do have feelings-

    Finally, another myth busted!
    I would next like a documentary that seeks to prove fat people do bleed if cut, and they are not in fact all made out of cheese. So many mysteries, who will shove the answers in our faces!?

  2. October 28, 2011 6:56 pm

    I think you are posing really interesting questions here. If you take Geneen Roth’s work into account it seems like the thing that the experience of putting on a 15 hour fat suit or a 6 month fat ‘suit’ (re the previous post) doesn’t give you access to is the deeper rooted psychology of being overweight. I’m not talking about being abnormally fat and interacting with an environment that is hostile to you but about the psychological trauma that led you to that lifestyle. I have problems with Geneen Roth’s supposition that her story is everyone’s story but I do believe that it is not just her story, that many people are led to unhealthy physical lifestyles because of their experiences with unhealthy emotional lifestyles. It’s interesting to hear actually with the previous fit2fatter how being physically unhealthy in turn causes one to feel emotionally unhealthy as well and many of the comments that highlight the difficulties that will accompany the fat2fit aspect are insightful. Someone who has been drawn to an unhealthy lifestyle because of emotional trauma will have mountains more to overcome than Mr. Fat2Fit and so let’s be careful about how much weight we give to his experience, or rather how much we expect others to replicate his experience.

    Hangry seems to be hovering around the notion of the, in my opinion, rampant orientalization that is occurring with these fat suiters. If you approach weight as something to be ashamed about because you clearly are above being fat then you are going to introject shame into your new fat self and all that does is reinforce your pre-existing ideas about weight. I’m sorry but you cannot learn anything you didn’t already believe by this kind of performance and frankly your audience doesn’t need to be reminded that society is cruel to the overweight. All this does is perpetuate the notion that weight is our social currency and the more your have of it the less you are valued. This is what contributes to disorders. What we need is a discussion on health and as far as I can tell, Tyra’s fat suit has nothing to say about that.

  3. sexy curmudgeon permalink
    October 28, 2011 9:59 pm

    Thank you thank you for this MUCH NEEDED post. I always found the phenomenon of celebrities dressing up in fat suits incredibly unsettling, and I think you’re pointing to all the reasons why…for one thing, we’re willing to listen to their stories and experiences, and we feel free to gawk at their “horribly transformed” appearances, because we know that underneath there is a “beautiful person”, who of course actually deserves society’s attention.
    (And as a sidenote -seriously fat suite tyra? What decade is that hairstyle from?)

  4. November 1, 2011 6:37 pm

    This post is amazing! My favorite line: “Now remind me, which one is photoshopped again?” I totally agree with you on this – I thought the Gorga stunt was horrible and if anything increases cruelty and misunderstanding when it comes to weight and weight stigma in our culture.


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