As a fan of Maintenance Phase – the highly informative podcast that debunks weight loss and wellness fads that has only grown in popularity over the almost three years of its existence – Aubrey Gordon has been a knowledgeable, likeable and forthcoming authority in challenging health myths, along with her co-host, Michael Hobbes. Open and honest about how her personal life feeds into her ability to critically analyse and deconstruct fad diets, Your Fat Friend is an important instalment which builds on Maintenance Phase in both personal and political dimensions.
Spanning events over the last six years, director Jeanie Finlay follows Gordon, who has lived all her life in Portland, Oregon, as she spends time with family, while also writing her anonymous blog which fights fatphobic disinformation and anti-fat bias. It highlights the overt societal fatphobia that Gordon has experienced throughout her life: she talks candidly about the horrifying experience of flying when plane travel has never been designed for fat bodies. It also shows insidious casual everyday fatphobia: even as Gordon discusses her upcoming book with friends and family, dinner conversation soon turns to their latest weight-loss attempts. I was equal parts proud and frustrated on behalf of Gordon as she balances broadcasting her message of fat liberation while simultaneously enduring the inabilities of those around her to grasp it.
Your Fat Friend also stresses that Gordon’s book deal meant presenting herself to the world in a public capacity, a step which has added societal pressure for someone whose body places them outside of societal norms. And indeed, the documentary is not only the story of Gordon’s brave divergence from the narrative that society expects of fat individuals and the success she has forged in doing so, it’s also a valuable reminder of the vulnerable situation most creative people now find themselves in in the age of social media. Gordon is subjected not only to online hate from trolls simply looking to cause chaos, she fears for her safety when she is doxed. Considering Portland has been Gordon’s life-long home, this point surely takes on added poignancy.
At various points throughout, we see Gordon’s body in situations not often afforded to bigger bodies. Most notably, we see her floating placidly in a lake, a particularly poignant scene as, despite her love for swimming as a child, she is longer able to due to rude comments she has received in public spaces. At times the camera lingers in extremely close-up shots of her bare flesh. It’s an interesting choice considering Gordon talks about manipulative acts of editing by the media, whereby they focus on fat people’s bodies from the neck down when manufacturing narratives of obesity: but here, the camera goes so close as to go beyond Gordon’s body, abstracts it to its most basic elements, enabling the viewer to appreciate the texture and movement of skin on water.
It’s probably overly trite to say that Your Fat Friend erases biases by erasing boundaries, but it is certainly fair to say that it makes Gordon into a figure easy to identify with, thanks to her relationships with her parents, her struggles with the double-edged sword of success in the limelight, and her likeable and droll manner. It’s unlikely that Gordon will think her mission is accomplished, but one hopes that the reception she received at her book launch – from both family and the wider community – suggests a shift in societal attitudes to fatness that she will be able to build on further.