‘Treat fat people like people,’ says Aubrey Gordon in this thought-provoking documentary. It might sound simple, but as the American influencer says: ‘Even with good intentions you can still do harm.’ The daily prejudice she encounters is a key takeaway from the fly-on-the-wall film from British director Jeanie Finlay, who turned her keen and compassionate lens onto a pregnant transgender man in 2019’s Seahorse. Your Fat Friend is another intriguing portrait of a characterful person marginalised by society.
Finlay started filming Gordon in 2017, after a letter she posted anonymously went viral. At the time, she was a size 26 (roughly 30 in the UK), and explained how it felt to get refused to be seen by doctors, kicked off planes, and listen to thin friends talk about dieting. Also entitled ‘Your Fat Friend’, it’s a compelling piece of rhetoric that brought Gordon a podcast, a book deal and worldwide fame, something we see evolve over the course of the film.
It’s an intriguing portrait of a characterful person marginalised by society
Not all the attention was good, of course. It’s distressing to see the kind of language used by online trolls who threaten Gordon with violence based on her appearance – and implicitly, her daring to speak out about it.
More subtle and disquieting are the moments when Gordon is with her family, whose well-meaning comments about eating can have a crushing effect. Credit to Finlay and her editor, Alice Powell, for capturing and highlighting these, showing them from Gordon’s point of view. But there is empathy for her parents, too – her mother is given the time to explore her regrets about Aubrey’s diet-driven childhood, while her father – ironically, a pilot – is eventually shown realising the impact of his daughter’s groundbreaking work. The droves of people who turn up to her book signing are a testament to the need for this discussion.
It would have been great to have seen even more myth-busting around weight and health in this doc (presumably that’s covered in her book ‘What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat’), but Gordon is a funny and frank subject: a tour of her vintage diet book collection is a treat. And if you’re wondering about the use of the word ‘fat’, that’s what Gordon uses. ‘I just am fat!’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘The end.’
In UK cinemas Feb 9