02 November 2010
Jennifer Love Hewitt's fat suit is problematic
That Jennifer Love Hewitt would want to present an ugly stereotype for laughs is emblematic of the way her own body has been presented in the popular media. She's been called a 'lollipop' in the tabloids on account of her skinniness, and has also been harassed for weight gain. No wonder she appears to be obsessed with fat. Her behaviour is disappointing, but then again she's a hack actress whose actions have little bearing on my life, I don't really care what she does, and maybe she just doesn't know any better. It's vile but I'm mostly indifferent.
One of the things about carnivals and holidays is that they represent a time where the usual social rules are relaxed. The appeal of a holiday is the potential for freedom and anarchy. It also means the gloves are off, politeness doesn't count, it's the rule of the Id. I think this is one of the elements that convinces white people to think it perfectly appropriate to wear racist Halloween costumes, for example. But I think it also helps explain the interest in sex and death that is so central to this holiday, and the lampooning of upright society.
Fat is clearly part of this. If fatness represents all that is reprehensible, no wonder attention is drawn to it during a festival of all things gross. Jennifer Love Hewitt's costume reminds me of the ways that fat women's bodies are both invisible and hyper-visible, we're public property, a site of cultural entitlement to know us, unknowable freaks that we are. Show your fat body! Jiggle it around! Make a spectacle of your flesh! That's what it's all about.
This has led me to think of other contexts where the social rules about fat and propriety are skewed in terms of having a public body. I had a conversation recently with another fat woman where we talked about how our nieces and god(less)daughters, and other girl children in our lives, were fascinated by our fatness. I've had experiences where I'm poked, where my shirt is lifted to expose my belly and tits, my belly button is of major interest, and some kids seem to want to grab my arse. The boundaries around this kind of bodily contact are really unsettling and it's a constant fight to maintain them and ensure everybody's safety. I don't always like being touched like this, and it can be hard for a child, especially one who has little contact with fat people, to hear me say "No." Yet I also want the children in my life to grow up without a mystified concept of fat as Other, I want a fat body to be real, knowable and acceptable to them. Plus it's fun to play with the full fat heft of my body, I like to wrestle.
I have no conclusions to make about this at the moment, it's hard to talk about because it involves policing a boundary between that which is fun and safe and that which is dangerous and improper. I'd welcome your thoughts.