It's a regular feature on Dateline: NBC and 60 Minutes, and Tyra was a little TOO excited to don her own. As I was perusing the Daily Mail today, as is my gossipy custom, the dreaded fat suit reared its ugly head once more. The title of this article? What Happened When We Sent a "Fattie" to London Fashion Week? Kate Faithfull Reports Back On Her Week On the Fatwalk. Lovely.
I know the Daily Mail has a journalistic brain the approximate size of a walnut, but I absolutely DETEST the use of a fat suit. It is incredibly insulting to think that because one walked around in a pillow all day that they understand what it is like to be obese.
While I will discuss whether these pioneers find any true insight to the social factors of corpulence, I want to first discuss the physical reality of obesity. Zipping up a padded suit doesn't add the extra pressure to joints and organs that true weight produces. Being fat is uncomfortable... a situation that Faithfull seems unable to realize:
When I zip up the fat suit in front of the mirror at home the day before the shows, I feel absurdly comfortable, warm and snuggly. It is on loan from fancy dress shop Angels, who usually lend it to am-dram productions...It feels as cosy (and as hot) as being wrapped in a duvet.
Being fat is not just like being swathed in a Snuggie. Fat is a PART of you, not something that one sheds at the end of the day like a winter coat.
The effect, though, is very soft and sexy. There are no rolls of wobbly flesh: my stomach is gently rounded and my magnificent bosom looks like something you’d want to rest your head on and fall asleep in for 100 years.
This is one of my true problems with fat suits- the results are not realistic. You're walking around in a pillow... things stay perky and fluffed out. Fat has weight... and things droop, sag and roll. A woman donning a fat suit is not spending hours in front of a mirror contemplating whether the material of her shirt is too thin because her belly button is casting a shadow, or whether she needs to buy a different dress because this one shows her back fat.
Being overweight is insidious- something that someone deals with over time. As such, so many of the judgments are internal: am I the biggest person in the room? Will I fit in the seat next to that person on the train? I am so busy scrutinizing myself that the supposedly "shocking" revelations about how the general public treats fat people is surprisingly not on my mind the majority of the time. I have, indeed, never noticed someone snickering as I reached for the Pringles. I don't mean to say it hasn't happened, but I have to live my life every day looking the way I do; if I kept an ear open for every comment, or watched for every gawker, I'd never be able to leave the house.
I often suspect that the treatment that fat-suiters often receive is because they are so clearly playing a part; humans are fairly adept at sniffing out trickery (for all that Howie Mandel says otherwise), and I feel that this is what people often respond to. We must also remember that these primetime specials and articles are edited to include the most abhorrent behavior that the journalist received, and as such, we may only be seeing the two or three ignorant jackasses that exist. We may also never know if these cads were provoked... this is an age of ratings and rampant yellow journalism after all. Which brings us back to the Daily Mail's attempt at social experiments:
As I wait in the busy queue for the show, surrounded by hundreds of air kisses that aren't aimed at me, I feel everyone's eyes upon me. But when I try to make eye contact and smile back, the wall of pupils fixed on me roll away. I am the elephant in the room. Do they think that fat is catching?
But maybe I'm imagining the way these people stare and then look into the middle distance just beyond my left ear. 'No,' says Nick, the photographer I've brought with me. 'Everyone is definitely gawping at you.'
Of course they're gawping at you... this is the most ridiculously fake looking fat suit I've ever seen. Not only is your face so normally sized that you look like a bloated tick, but you can see the lines of your padding. If they were staring at anything, they were wondering why you were in costume. You're also wearing the most hideous combination of 80's colors I can imagine.
What is the goal of these fat suit exposes? Are these people trying to break ground here? What ugliness of the human condition are they shedding light on, cruelty or obesity? The reality is that what it's really like being fat is lost on reporters that take a tour in a fat suit, because at the end of the day, these bright, successful thin people go back to their ordinary lives.