A Stockpile of Points Against the fatphobic Film The Whale

March 1, 2021

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Content Warning: This post discusses a potentially triggering, fatphobic film, The Whale, especially harmful to the superfat experience. Mention of eating disorders, intentional weight loss, drugs, weight loss surgery, healthism, death, & white supremacy.

About The Film

In a wildly unwelcome yet unsurprising turn of events, another one of those fatphobic, “inspiration-porn” films is headed our way. The Whale starring Brendan Fraser, is about “a 600 pound recluse who hides away in his apartment eating himself to death.” The film is being adapted by Darren Aronofsky from a play written over a decade ago. It follows a depressed superfat, gay man who is estranged from his daughter. The synopsis alludes to a transformational end in, you guessed it, life-changing weight loss. The play states that the main character has “one last chance at redemption.” Articles boast that the film ends with “a transcendent epiphany and a feeling of hope.”

This movie will create emotional discussions within the fat community, inevitably triggering some of us, but it will also undoubtedly perpetuate the dehumanization of fat (and especially superfat) people. I am writing this piece in preparation for the film debut, because we as fat people cannot just avoid watching the movie and dodge the harm it will cause. There will be images and video disseminated through the internet, with the intention of disgusting the viewer. Scenes of fat bodies doing simple things like eating or moving will provide plenty of “shock and gawk content,” as I call it. We will be subject to these triggering images and the insults that will soon be hurled our way in defense of this entertainment, should we challenge it. Almost every fat person has a story about the time they were called Shamu.

Fat bodies aren’t here to be a spectacle. Fat bodies aren’t here to be gawked at. We do not exist solely to inspire others of what not to be. We don’t exist to show you that our bodies can be overcome. Fat people are all each individual, complex, and dynamic human beings.

So here’s a list; A list of reminders and challenges in critique of the narratives in this movie; A Stockpile of points you can keep in your back pocket if needed.

  • Intentional weight loss does not work and is unsustainable 95% of the time. Christy Harrison has a post about this titled, The Truth About Intentional Weight Loss, that also has more resources.
  • Weight loss surgery is physically harmful long term and is itself a life threatening surgery. It is often pushed on fat people while in a vulnerable state, after being told it is a last resort to live. The lifelong effects to the patient’s overall physical and emotional health are downplayed and results of fat/inches lost are magnified. There is even evidence that procedures like bariatric surgery may actually reduce life expectancy in super fat patients.
  • Not all superfat people hate themselves or are depressed. Some of us are depressed. Some are not. Sometimes it has nothing to do with our size. Who are your favorite fat people on the internet? How do we explain happy fat people then?
  • The superfat folks who are depressed about their bodies are not actually depressed about being fat, they are depressed because they live in a world that excludes and mocks them. It is how superfat people are treated that is the problem, not the fatness itself.
  • There are superfat people who walk, run, lift, laugh, eat, have jobs in person, take the bus etc. The idea that if you are a superfat you must be immobile and a “recluse” is a stereotype and fails to acknowledge that fat people can have lives outside of our homes, especially when given the right support and adaptive and accessible equipment/spaces if needed.
  • Meeting the requirements of being mobile and living life outside the home are not a prerequisites for humanity. Fat homebound people deserve respect just as much as any non homebound person.
  • People with immobility and disabilities are not worthless if they can’t leave their homes. Not being able to leave their home does not mean their lives aren’t fulfilling. Homebound people can live fulfilling lives.
  • Nothing is as simple as “eating themself to death.” It’s not lack of discipline that would lead someone to use food as a coping mechanism to the point that they make themselves sick. There are socioeconomic, societal, systemic, and chemical reasons this could happen. Eating disorders are real and yes, fat people can also have them. And yes, fat people can have other forms of eating disorders that involve restriction and starvation.
  • Poor health is not a moral failure. We do not question thin people about their eating habits, drug use, or risky behavior before deciding that they are worthy of respect. Societally risky behaviors are often praised when thin people do it. How many times have you seen a thin, attractive woman being glorified for eating a burger messily on camera? She’s cool and she’s real. She eats.
  • Eating disorders disproportionately impact youth. ED’s are linked to societal fatphobia as seen in: popular media, Euro-centric (read; white supremacist) beauty standards, and statistics on bullying, self harm, mental illness, and children dieting. Our society’s fear of fat is at the root of so much suffering of our youngest and most vulnerable. Additionally, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second to opioid overdose.
  • You cannot assume someone is healthy or unhealthy based on their size and/or weight. If it is true that there are thin people with cancer, high blood pressure, knee replacements, bone diseases, heart disease, diabetes etc. That means we cannot say definitively that fatness directly causes such illnesses, (even though this happens to fat people seeking medical care time and time again). It is our body’s entire make-up including but not limited to genetics, environment, access to resources, and choices we make that impact health. Thin people are given the freedom to be complex. So should fat people.
  • When medical doctors are historically anti-fat, that means our medical statistics and data cannot go unquestioned and un-critiqued. Doctors with anti-fat bias results in low quality of care. Why is there a link between fat people and having multiple ailments? Perhaps fat people are more hesitant to go to the doctor because we don’t want to be treated improperly or dismissed over and over again.
  • Superfat people do not exist for your inspiration porn. What is inspiration porn exactly? Originally created in reference to the disability community’s experience, “inspiration-porn” is used to describe media that depicts people with disabilities as overcoming something tragic or a hardship despite their “debilitating” disability, therefore being objects to inspire the viewer. Have you ever watched something and thought, “Wow if they can do that, I definitely could!” Inspiration porn. This is most often displayed through images, videos, or feel-good articles that sensationalize people with disabilities. The same concept can be applied to fat people, as society often views us in a similar way, and only gives us the freedom of complexity of experience when it relates to our weight and how to lose it. We have value outside of being able to offer you motivation to not be like us.
  • “Finding beauty in the most unexpected places” is a tagline of the original play and may come up in discussions about the film. This tagline is saying that fat bodies cannot be beautiful. That fat people could not possibly have beautiful, fulfilling relationships, romantic partners, active sex lives, or experience love. The average thin viewer may not yet view our fat bodies as beautiful but we know better. A lot of people know better that fat people are beautiful. Don’t forget that.
  • And last but not least, the title of the film is quite literally the most obvious indicator that it is not meant for fat people but meant for thin people to gawk at fat people. The imagery associated with the title, “The Whale” is that of dehumanization; an animal so large and unruly it cannot be confined to four walls. Further, describing the main character as “eating oneself to death” reduces fat people to animal-like creatures without the very thing that separates us from animals. “Humans possess many cognitive abilities not seen in other animals, such as a full-blown language capacity as well as reasoning and planning abilities.” As mentioned before, it’s not as simple as eating oneself to death. At least not for humans. For a fat person to literally eat themself to death they would have to be without human levels of consciousness, a willingness to live, reasoning and planning abilities.

The Big fat lie

Does the thin majority think that the root of our fatness is that we are not evolved enough to know how to be thin? They believe we lack understanding and discipline. How convenient to deflect responsibility for the fatphobic ideals they themselves perpetuate. What better way to inspire them than to set the precedent that fat people are beyond repair and then to tell a story of the miraculous epiphany that brought a superfat to the super-thin light? It’s inspiring because it’s a lie. Nothing is that simple and you can’t hate yourself thin. Thin people applaud themselves for believing this big fat lie about big fat people. When they do, it only subjects them to being further duped by capitalism, diet culture, and ultimately upholding white supremacy. That doesn’t serve anyone now, does it?

Remember, my fat reader, you are valued. You are complex. You are more.

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