×

‘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.”

Popular on Variety

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.”

More Film

  • Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko

    ‘All the Sins’ Producers to Broaden Spanish-Language Ties (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden: “All the Sins”’ Finnish co-writers and creators Mika Ronkainen and Merja Aakko, winners of last year’s Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize for outstanding Nordic screenplay, are developing for MRK Matila Röhr Productions an adoption drama set between Finland and Guatemala. Based on a true story, the six-part series “Act of Telling” (a [...]

  • A still from Vivos by Ai

    'Vivos': Film Review

    To the individual enduring it, sorrow seems a lonely, defenseless emotion, one from which others are too quick to look away. Shared and felt en masse, however, it can become something different: a galvanizing force, a wall, not diminished in pain but not diminished by it either. Ai Weiwei’s stirring new documentary “Vivos” runs on [...]

  • Jumbo

    'Jumbo': Film Review

    Tall, dark and handsome? The crush that Noémie Merlant’s character, Jeanne, explores in “Jumbo” is one out of three: a 25-foot-tall carnival ride who seduces the amusement park janitor as she spit-cleans his bulbs. During the night shift, Jumbo literally lights up Jeanne’s life, and while he’s not handsome in the traditional sense — especially [...]

  • Ironbark

    'Ironbark': Film Review

    Movie spies typically fall into one of two categories. There are the butterflies — flamboyant secret agents like James Bond or “Atomic Blonde” who behave as conspicuously as possible. And then there are the moth-like kind, who do their best to blend in. The character Benedict Cumberbatch plays in “Ironbark” belongs to the latter variety, [...]

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content