Your Fat Friend review – heartfelt, clear-eyed filmmaking

Movie

Jeanie Finlay profiles writer and activist Aubrey Gordon, whose eponymous blog unexpectedly led her to become an online sensation.

Aubrey Gordon never wanted to be famous. In 2016, after an argument with a friend, she channelled her frustration regarding the way society treats fat bodies into a letter, addressing the issue. The letter, published online under the title “Just Say Fat”, went viral and led Gordon to start an anonymous online blog called Your Fat Friend. Over the next few years, she would gain a significant audience and press attention for her writing regarding the experience of fat people, addressing the stigma surrounding weight and the mistreatment that many face in areas including medical treatment.

Proving Gordon’s point, she was often subject to abuse for the crime of existing as a fat person on the internet. Online message boards dedicated their time to speculating on her identity and life until eventually personal details were leaked. With her profile growing in positive and negative ways, Gordon decided to publicly reveal her identity, just before the publication of her book ‘What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat’. In Jeanie Finlay’s new documentary, she follows Gordon’s life during a period of remarkable change, as she reckons with her newfound fame and traces her own journey as a fat woman, dispelling myths and prejudices about diet culture and weight.

While we might like to imagine the worst of fatphobia existed during the 1950s, when heavy-duty amphetamines touted as miracle-working ‘diet pills’, or even during the ‘heroin chic’ era of the 90s when Kate Moss decreed “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, Finlay’s film highlights that existing as a fat person hasn’t become any easier in the age of the internet. Medical misinformation around weight (especially its intersection with race and gender, the whole concept of the BMI, and genetic influence on weight and weight gain) is still rife, leading the media – and in turn the public – to equate fatness with laziness and poor health. Emboldened by the distance of a screen, some people feel completely comfortable saying vile things about others’ appearance. As Gordon points out in Your Fat Friend, these things take a physical and mental toll.

Gordon speaks candidly about the abuse she has faced from strangers just for existing unapologetically as a fat woman in popular culture. She also notes that it’s not always about online trolls – sometimes friends and family can be just as ignorant of the fat experience. More than anything, Your Fat Friend is about the search for personal peace, and an invitation for the audience to reflect on their internal bias towards fatness and other stigmatised characteristics.

Finlay’s signature intimate style utilises fly-on-the-wall recording across a six year period, as well as home photos and some sit-down interviews between Aubrey and her family. Rather than attempting to address fatness as a whole (a subject far too complex for a 90-minute documentary), this focused approach works well, providing a personal, clear-eyed look at navigating the world as a fat person that countless shock-and-awe documentaries have never attempted to. Gordon might not be entirely used to the limelight yet but she’s a charming screen presence who feels refreshingly real and honest.

Your Fat Friend might be the story of one woman’s remarkable journey, but it reflects the experience of millions of people around the world who are made to feel less worthy as a human because they weigh more. It’s a realistic, sensitive but never cloying call for kindness and empathy – something that shouldn’t feel novel in this day and age, but sadly does – and encourages viewers to reconsider how they view fatness, and in turn, fat bodies.

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Published 6 Feb 2024

Tags: Jeanie Finlay

Anticipation.

Finlay is adept at providing genuine storytelling on fascinating subjects.

Enjoyment.

Aubrey Gordon is no different, and this doc is very welcome.

In Retrospect.

A heartfelt, intimate portrait that’s never cloying.

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