Rants & Raves

By Lynne Murray

Recently supermodel Tyra Banks submitted to the "fat suit" make-up process, allowing special effects experts to pad her ultra-thin body to look as if she weighed 350 pounds.  Evidently fat suit technology has advanced to the point where she could go on a blind date, and have a man accept her as an actual fat person—while rejecting her as a woman.

Due to a scheduling glitch, I missed the show, but have heard some reports.  An interview with Tyra Banks is at the very end of this page, followed by one with Marilyn Wann. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0511/07/pzn.01.html

Some who saw the show argue with the credibility of her appearance.

One woman on My Big Fat Blog suggests that the make up might not have been as accurate as advertised, "To be honest she looked ridiculously unnatural in that outfit, especially from the shoulders up." Posted by lumyn on November 5, 2005 at http://www.bigfatblog.com/archives/001747.php

If the make-up and costume people fudged a little to make Banks look less attractive, or if perhaps the blind date was manipulated so that she could be rejected, this is just evidence of how even "documentary" television is drama, and conflict must be maximized. If Banks had gone to the Goddesses BBW event and danced the night away with admirers of the larger figure—well, it would have been a different program. (One I'd like to see, actually!)

I was sorry to have missed the fat suit event of the year.  But a few days later, on November 14th, Entertainment Tonight's Vanessa Minnillo began a week of reports wearing a similar "350 pound" fat suit! 

Her journey included a walk in Central Park to see how she would be treated as a heavy person trying to get a little exercise.  Minnillo was shocked.  "It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.  As someone in the public eye, I've dealt with my fair share of people staring at me, but for the first time in my life, I found out what it's like to have people turn away and avoid eye contact—in fact, do everything in their power to steer clear. It was shocking. It was hurtful."

She rallied, however and toward the end of the day began taking the initiative to make eye contact herself and speak up to get people's attention.  They responded more cordially.

I can vouch for this useful technique, by the way.  Myself, being fat, an older woman, and now walking with a cane—once, twice, three times invisible.  When others may wish to exclude you, I have found that simply making eye contact and speaking up help a great deal.  They won't diffuse all rudeness, but they go a long way, and you feel more like you're standing up for yourself, which in fact you are!

Unfortunately, in television and movies, a thin actor wears a fat suit purely for the dramatic effect of taking it off. 

In Just Friends, lead actor Ryan Reynolds was originally shown in the poster for the movie wearing a fat suit. The poster has since been changed to show him as his "thin self."  The plot of the movie follows the Reynolds character, who was fat in high school.  The girl he loved thought of him "like a brother."  Although he has lost weight and earned a glamorous job as a music executive, he still can't get out of the "just friends" box. 

The character explains it using hockey metaphors, "The 'friend zone' is like the penalty box of dating, only you can never get out. Once a girl decides you’re her 'friend,' it’s game over. You've become a complete nonsexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp."  In the trailer, another character tells the hero, "To me, you'll always be fat," making the point that even to have once been fat damages a man's image as a sexual entity. 

I haven't decided whether to see this movie, but I hate the idea of a fat person as nonsexual.  That certainly hasn't been my own experience!

One size acceptance activist suggested that Just Friends might have been made to stir up more body anxiety in men, so as to create more of a market for diet products. I tend to discount conspiracy theories just because, so few people are that organized.  But one way to check for diet industry influence would be to look for product placement in the film.  I'm sure the diet industry wouldn't say no to more male clients.

The backstage drama around actors in fat suits makes a point that is never stated out loud.  Behind-the-scenes footage shows the make-up and padding being put on with great technical skill and growing horror on the part of the actor—who is probably living every actor's worst nightmare.  Then when the acting job, or "underground documentary" is done, the fat suit is removed, restoring the actor with great relief to her/his "normal weight."

All this focus on the actor's journey into fatness and out again, makes the nonverbal point that the unpadded, thin actor is normal.  By wearing padding he or she is stepping into a deviant and sick world, and then gladly leaving it by stripping off the suit. 

The myth here is that fatness is abnormal.  If we wish to become normal we must remove our "fat suits".  Tyra Banks, Vanessa Minnillo and Ryan Reynolds all did this and instantly returned from rejected losers to sadder, but wiser, thin people. 

Humans have as much diversity in size as dogs do. Yet if every dog we ever saw depicted in movies, television, and magazines was a Chihuahua, any larger dog would soon begin to look strange and freakish.  Yet St. Bernards, Labradors, and Great Danes are just as normal as Chihuahuas.  They just naturally come in a different size.  There is no right or wrong body type.

I think these fat suit experiments were well meant.  Both Tyra Banks and Vanessa Minnillo very sensibly (and briefly) interviewed actual women in the same weight range as the fat suits they wore to impersonate them. 

However, there's a special warm place in my heart for the man who stopped Vanessa Minnillo on the street in her fat suit and told her she was beautiful.


© Lynne Murray