So, Rebel Wilson released a “clothing line” (two printed tshirts) in January called Fat Mandi. I saw info about it recently on WTF Plus, a tumblr I follow about the horrors of plus size clothing, and was linked to this article on Jezebel from back when it first came out. Says Madeleine Davies:
Cool news! Rebel Wilson, beloved star of Pitch Perfect and everything she touches, has created her own plus-sized t-shirt line called Fat Mandi. Less cool news, you’ll only want to wear the t-shirt if you’re a bigger girl who’s really into food motiffs, which — hey! — of course you are! You’re fat therefore your eyes are only drawn to things you can put in your mouth.
Similar things have been said about the tshirts elsewhere as well, as I discovered when looking around for more information. Like this commentary on the WTF Plus post from Filmme Fatales:
Another example of the singing, dancing, inoffensive fat girl whose movie roles (and now clothes) don’t let you forget that “she’s Fat first, Amy second”.
Every time I see this commentary I think: do people not get it? And then I stop and wonder: do I not get it?
What’s the matter with not letting people forget you are fat? What’s the matter with taking the inevitable mockery that being fat is likely to attract in the sizeist entertainment industry and shoving it in your detractors’ faces?
I’ve written about Rebel Wilson here before, right after seeing Pitch Perfect. The strategy Wilson’s character Amy uses in Pitch Perfect – of calling herself Fat Amy so “twig bitches” can’t call her fat behind her back – is the same strategy Wilson appears to use herself to get by as a fat woman in the entertainment industry. By making fat jokes before anyone else can, she limits the ability of other people to make fat jokes at her expense; she’s already in on the joke. Filmme Fatales describes her as an “inoffensive fat girl” but honestly I don’t think Wilson is trying to be inoffensive or make the status quo feel good about her. She’s trying to embarrass fat haters by demonstrating just how few fucks she gives about their opinion of her body.
But even if she is trying to be a funny fat girl just so she can get work in Hollywood, who am I to judge her for that? Magda Szubanski made fat jokes at her own expense on Fast Forward. Melissa McCarthy seems to be doing the same thing now with films like Identity Thief. It makes me sad to see McCarthy having to take shitty fat joke riddled roles after first seeing her as Sookie StJames on Gilmore Girls, where her weight was never ever ever not once mentioned in all seven seasons, but if they are the only major roles made available to her I understand why she takes them. The people at fault here are the writers and producers and casting directors who only offer “Fat Girl” roles to fat actresses, not the actresses themselves who are just trying to make a living.
The author of the Jezebel article doesn’t seem to be aware of the origins of Fat Mandi and is assuming the clothes are merchandise based on Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect. In fact, Fat Mandi was one of Wilson’s stage comedy characters, and can be seen in episodes of The Wedge, a now defunct Australian comedy show that I admit I don’t know much about except that the ads all seemed to be about how funny “bogans” are. I never watched The Wedge because classist comedy is really not my cup of tea, but I have now watched the 12 original segments about Fat Mandi on YouTube, out of curiosity. Mandi is a fat british teenager who is (unwillingly, and originally unwittingly) on a fat camp reality show called “Fat Crackers”. She is unapologetic and proud about being fat, originally thinks fat camp is a place to celebrate fatness, and eventually leads the other campers in rebellion against the trainers. Her mother is shown as cloying and coddling, and her father is an abusive jerk who seems to hate her.
I’m really not sure how to feel about the Fat Crackers sketches. On the one hand, they features things I find genuinely funny and subversive, like the trainer’s absurd suggestions of how people can “easily” add movement into their everyday lives (0.30 in part 6). Mandi occasionally reminds me of Will from the delightful but short-lived Huge in that she’s a fat positive rebel in a fat-hating system. In the last episode, everyone at fat camp has actually gained weight and it causes “the demise of fat camp”, which they celebrate as a victory. The celebrity weight loss expert who runs fat camp complains that he hates fat people, and the fatties cheer. I love that bit. It shows EXACTLY what is lurking behind the caring helpfulness facade of weight loss reality shows. For all the “experts” and trainers talk about wanting to help poor fat people live better lives, I really see nothing but contempt for the participants in the way these shows are produced and marketed. If they really believed extreme weight loss was the only way to save these people’s lives, rather than the way to make money via their exploitation, then competition and elimination would not be part of the process.
But on the other hand other characters in Fat Crackers (especially Mandi’s father, the voice-over narrator, and the head trainer of the camp) are constantly cracking jokes about Mandi eating everything (usually animals, for some reason?) and her father’s constantly hateful comments are definitely played for laughs at Mandi’s expense. In the first episode the father makes what seems like a joke about her eating the family cat, and then in the last episode it’s shown that she actually really did eat the cat, and then ate the new cat as well. I mean, WTF. Is this a hipster sizeism thing about how hilarious it is that people would make such wildly offensive assumptions about fat people?
Ultimately it’s hard to work out what, if anything, these sketches are trying to say. They’re mocking weight loss reality shows like The Biggest Loser in a way that demonstrates a pretty critical view of received ideas about weight(loss) and health. But they’re most certainly – regardless of intent – mocking fat people as well. And that does colour my perception of the Fat Mandi tshirts. The sketches from The Wedge were on (Australian) TV six years ago, and the promotion of the tshirt line this year has been on the coattails of Pitch Perfect rather than The Wedge, including references to Fat Amy jokes like “horizontal running”, but the tshirts are clearly a spinoff from Fat Mandi and not Fat Amy. The donut shirt is actually one of Wilson’s costumes from The Wedge (she’s wearing it as a nightie in part 9 of the Fat Crackers sketches) and she also wears another shirt with a single cupcake in the same style as the cupcake shirt while playing Fat Mandi.
Having said that, it can be a powerful strategy for an individual person to put a barrier between themself and fat jokes by highlighting their own fatness and embracing fat stereotypes, and there are lots of fat activists I know who do this sort of thing as well, famous or not. Check out But What About Your Health and the #obeselifestyle tags on Twitter and Tumblr. But is it potentially damaging for fat women in general when one of the few figures who “represent” us (ugh, ugh, ugh) in the public eye appears to be playing up to stereotypes about fatness rather than defying them?
Perhaps. I’m really not sure what the answer to that is, because I, like Rebel Wilson, am in on the joke. But yes, these sorts of jokes can make non-fat people think it’s okay to laugh at fat people, when the jokes aren’t really for them (it makes me think of a great tumblr post by agnesgalore I recently read, about white people and race-based comedy. It’s not the same thing, but you should read that post anyway). But I’m inclined to resent the suggestion that individual fat women have a responsibility to be fat in the right way if they’re famous, to be “role models” of fatness. And I also resent the way the Fat Acceptance community’s sometimes frantic desire to distance itself from fat stereotypes throws those of us who embody some (or many) fat stereotypes under the bus. While I would love to see more fat characters in TV and movies (in general, but also) who are like Sookie StJames – fat incidentally, and not as a key part of their character – I am concerned about the implication in demanding ALL of the fat characters be like that. The implication that fat people only deserve civil rights and freedom from abuse if they don’t make fatness look bad, if they are not too lazy, or too uneducated, or too interested in eating. Only if they’re inoffensively, prettily, quietly fat and eat all their vegetables. A fat woman who hates exercise, didn’t graduate from high school and lives on welfare in a trailer park eating nothing but fast food deserves civil rights just as much as a fat career woman who grows her own vegetables and runs marathons for fun on the weekends, because she’s a human being and shaming her for any of those things is wrong.
Of course, there’s another reason not to like the Fat Mandi tshirts. That reason is the size range, 12-18, and the thin models wearing the shirts on the photos page. What’s the point of a fat clothing label that most actual fat people can’t wear?