‘Fat Front’ and the Battle for Plus-Size Women: ‘We Need to Love Ourselves’

Making its international premiere in the Frontlight section, Danish doc “Fat Front” came to IDFA with a fair amount of buzz from its Scandinavian homeland, where it debuted in October. Directed by Louise Unmack Kjeldsen and Louise Detlefsen, the film follows four Nordic women — Helene, Marte, Pauline and Wilde — who are tired of having to conform to society’s ideal of the body beautiful and have decided instead to embrace their curves. They all have their ups and downs, however, and the messages (mostly anonymous) that they receive on their Instagram posts (mostly joyous) show that “body positivism” has a way to go.

After the film’s debut screening at Amsterdam’s Kriterion, the directors plus three of the four women took to the stage to discuss the film and the points it raises. Asked what attracted the directors to the subject, Kjeldsen explained that body image is an issue for all women. “Louise and I are friends, we’re colleagues, we work together making movies — we’ve done so many things together — and we’ve always been discussing [diets]: like, ‘How can we lose weight?’ But we have normal-sized bodies, so that shows you the pressure on women’s bodies. And when we saw those women and others like them on Instagram — feeling happy with their own bodies, dancing, and writing about body acceptance — we were surprised and curious, and that was what was set us off in the first case.”

Detlefsen added that the womens’ positivity was infectious. “We learned from the four main characters not to postpone our lives any more,” she recalls. “That was the most important thing. But we also learned a lot of structural things about feminism, and about oppression, and the stigmatization of fat bodies. And as we came into working with these women, we learned so much about the more structural levels of fat activism. So that’s been a great process for us as well.”

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For Helene, whose desperately sad Google search unexpectedly kickstarts a glorious journey of self-discovery, “Fat Front” snowballed in ways she couldn’t have foreseen. “For me, personally, I didn’t really expect it to become a big thing,” she laughs. “Like, I wasn’t expecting to be a movie star. I thought [I’d give], like two, maybe three interviews, and then it would probably be shown on some obscure website somewhere. I didn’t know! So I didn’t really have a lot of expectations, but then it just kept growing because people kept funding it, which was awesome — so, thank you to the people who did that. I was asked to take my clothes off, which was cool, but I became aware that I had a responsibility. I had been given a platform, and the ability to represent bodies that are very underrepresented. I hope this will inspire more filmmakers to [showcase] fat bodies even bigger than ours. Because it’s really important to show that. So I think that’s why I kept hanging around and kept pushing through it.”

Wilde was even more circumspect to start with. “I had just finished film school when the directors approached me,” she remembered. “So I kind of knew what it would entail, and I’d always thought, ‘Who are those crazy people that tell you everything about their life in a documentary? I would never do that — that would be crazy!’ But, as Helene says, it’s so important to show other bodies than the ones you usually see on TV. And I also thought that exposure would be great for our movement. I don’t really enjoy the spotlight necessarily, but after using small platforms like Instagram to get our message out, we could be part of a movie and spread it even further.”

That message, for Pauline, is a message of hope. “It’s been a big journey for me,” she said, “and I think it’s very important that we share it. I’m happy to see so many people here [tonight], and I hope that young people will see this, so they will believe in themselves. We need a better world. We need to love ourselves. And this film is the start of this.”

The key quote of the night, however, came from Wilde, who seemed well aware that the film doesn’t exactly cover off all possible areas. “The most important thing you can be is not your looks,” she said. “It’s so many other things, and yet we still judge each other on the way we look. So my hope for kids 10 years from now is that they won’t have to unlearn everything that we were brought up with and also that they learn something different so that we get a much bigger diversity. I mean, we are fat, but there are people that are fatter than us, and we’re just white women. We are able-bodied, and… Well, I’m gay, but the others are straight, and there are no trans people [in the film]. There’s so much diversity that we need to have so that everyone can love themselves, so that then we reach everyone on the screen. This is only the first step.”

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