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Your Fat Friend: Film Review

Your Fat Friend is a moving documentary on anti-fatness through the myopic lens of author Aubrey Gordon’s journey.

In 2016, Aubrey Gordon found herself penning a letter to a friend. It pertained to the way Aubrey felt about her experiences as a fat woman compared to her friends’ thin experiences. After a friend proofed the writing to “make sure I wasn’t being a jerk”, she was prompted by them to post it online. Titled “A request from your fat friend: what I need when we talk about bodies”, the article, posted on blogging platform Medium, was done so under the pseudonym Your Fat Friend. This letter changed Aubrey’s life.

Over the next few years, her fun, insightful musings on the anti-fatness that she experiences in everyday life quickly found people that her anonymous writing resonated with. One of which was documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, who started documenting Aubrey’s journey two months after the original post. 

As what unfortunately seems to occur when traversing the internet, Aubrey found herself receiving an abundance of vitriol from those who refused to engage with a perspective that didn’t match their own, further proving her vital point about anti-fatness (Finlay states that it’s not ‘fatphobia’, as we’re not scared of fat people) and its intrinsic existence bubbling beneath the surface of society. 

In Finlay’s warm, welcoming documentary Your Fat Friend we find ourselves following Aubrey along her journey from anonymous ‘Your Fat Friend’ blogger to renowned wordsmith Aubrey Gordon, now a loud and proud fat woman who hosts ‘Maintenance Phase’, one of the most popular podcasts online. This isn’t an Eat Pray Love journey of self acceptance, but more a rendition of Aubrey quashing her overwhelmingly turbulent anxiety in order to become a necessary voice. Aubrey finds that by allowing her anxious self to overcome those fears, she can continue being someone whose words inspire and can shift the consensus on how we view fatness.

Aubrey, who has spent years as an LGBTQ and human rights activist, attempts to reclaim the negative connotations around the word fat, championing the phrase ‘Just Say Fat’ when describing fat people. Aubrey says within Your Fat Friend that her aim is to “provoke people to question what they always thought were true”; in her case, this is dispelling a long held myth within society that fatness equates to being unhealthy. The doc showcases the interactions with the world that Aubrey has, in which she details her anxiety in manoeuvring though airplanes, that a standard vaccine needle doesn’t penetrate deep enough and that her medical care solely consists of being told to lose weight. 

loud and clear reviews Your Fat Friend 2023 Tribeca Film Festival movie
Your Fat Friend (2023 Tribeca Film Festival)

One of the more endearingly searing parts of Finlay’s doc is Aubrey’s collection of diet and cook books extracted from their regressive pasts and brought into the present. “Help, lord, the devil wants me fat” and “what would Jesus eat?” becomes an entry into the more entertaining side of Your Fat Friend, as Aubrey’s infectious disdain for them becomes an almost macabre pleasure. Such pleasure is also derived from Aubrey’s laughter as she plays the 1966 Fabulettes track “Try The Worryin’ Way”, a track which toxically features the lyrics “I don’t count calories, I don’t exercise. I just wonder what woman my man’s been with when he tells me he was out with the guys”. While speaking on these, Aubrey cites a horrifying statistic: that those on diets as children are 18 times more likely to develop eating disorders. Over the 5 years of shooting, Aubrey, and subsequently Finlay, find these little pockets of horrifying data to accompany the contemporary relics throughout.

Aubrey’s insight into anti-fat comes from her experience, but the generational elements of this documentary provide a much needed ideology around the societally influenced attitude around her. Finlay documents the relationship Aubrey has with food as a by-product of her mother’s relationship with weight loss, flashing back to Aubrey’s childhood photos as we see a child subjected to years of Weight Watchers and Atkins diet that her mother was on. Her mother sadly morosely recollects her time as a stewardess, of being weighed before shift and her stomach pinched to check if she’s wearing an industry standard constricting girdle.

Your Fat Friend, whose purpose is cited as “attempting a paradigm shift for how we see fat people in society” does lose focus on this. By framing the anti-fatness that permeates society and American culture through the myopic lens of Aubrey’s story, the film’s discussion on anti-fatness becomes more about Aubrey’s personal journey than attempting to shift that anti-fat mentality. The doc, through Aubrey, helps shed light on certain aspects of life as a fat person but it then becomes more of a hagiography than an inspection of anti-fat culture, which are the more compelling elements within the documentary. 

Aubrey, who wrote such beautiful poetic pieces under the Your Fat Friend pseudonym – and still does as Aubrey Gordon, the mask that protected her identity shed – is a delight to follow here, the charm behind the writing transposing across, reinforcing the authenticity of her work. Finlay’s genial work on the doc is softly powerful, making Your Fat Friend a joy to watch as Aubrey’s success in overcoming – or at least managing – her anxiety becomes an inspiring ode to the fat people in the world who feel like they have less worth in society solely because of their weight.

Your Fat Friend premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 8, 2023 and will be released in select US theaters on December 8 for an Oscar-qualifying run. The film will be out in UK cinemas from February 9, 2024, with a Q&A preview tour with Jeanie Finlay and Aubrey Gordon from January 12.

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