'We want to change how big bodies are viewed'

INTERVIEW. Hating your body is a waste of life and resources, say the two directors of 'Fat Front', a documentary about four plus-sized, activist Nordic women who insist on loving themselves just the way they are, social condemnation be damned. International premiere the IDFA Frontlight sidebar.

In the opening of 'Fat Front', Helene, a 33-year-old Danish woman, talks about some of the things she has missed out on because of her uneasy relationship to her big body.

She has put off buying new clothes, going to the beach and, not least, finding a partner, because she always wanted to wait until she had lost a few kilos.

One day, at peak self-loathing, she googles "Does anyone even want to have sex with a fat girl?" expecting a resounding no. Instead, she stumbles on an online world she didn’t even know existed. A world where fat women dance around in belly shirts, forget about never-ending diets and accept themselves and their bodies, even if they are way off the curve.

Enough is enough

Helene and three other Nordic women are at the heart of 'Fat Front', a film about the challenges faced by young women in what they deem a "fatphobic" society.

It seems like it’s only okay to be fat if you feel bad or ashamed about it. For example, I never saw a film with a fat protagonist who wasn’t trying to lose weight. Our protagonists have felt bad, and so have lost out on a lot, but now they’ve had enough.

- Director Louise Detlefsen

The women don’t know each other in real life, but they find comfort and support in each other online, especially on Instagram where they post pictures of themselves with body-positive captions under handles like Happykropp ("Happy Body") and Chubbydane.

'Fat Front' is co-directed by Louise Detlefsen and Louise Unmack Kjeldsen, who, like Helene, were amazed and fascinated when pictures of happy and content fat women started popping up in their Instagram feeds.

"We had never seen fat people represented like that before," says Detlefsen, who believes the women in the movement are breaking the mould for how fat people can behave.

"It seems like it’s only okay to be fat if you feel bad or ashamed about it. For example, I never saw a film with a fat protagonist who wasn’t trying to lose weight. Our protagonists have felt bad, and so have lost out on a lot, but now they’ve had enough. They want to live their lives and love themselves the way they are."

A new look at fat bodies

The two directors have made documentaries about outsiders and other social issues before, both together and apart: 'Queen of Hearts' (not to be confused with the fiction feature with the same title, ed.) is about power games, 'The Survivors' is about breaking the social heritage, while 'The Damn Year' looks at children of parents with cancer. But they never before faced as much resistance as when they were working on 'Fat Front'.

"We seem to have overstepped some threshold of tolerance," says Unmack Kjeldsen, who was not only turned away by potential collaborators but got into arguments with family and friends who didn’t see why these women couldn’t just "pull themselves together" and lose some weight.

"We’re conditioned to believe that being fat is unhealthy and wrong," she says, admitting that she did feel a bit overwhelmed the first time she came across an undressed fat woman online. Since then, she has learned to appreciate the sight of hanging rolls of fat and big behinds.

She and Detlefsen hope to impart the same lesson to the viewers of their film, which contains several nude scenes.

"We show the women nude in different situations, in the hope of recreating the journey we were on," Unmack Kjeldsen says. "The audience might be a bit offended in the opening of the film when they see Helene brushing her teeth in the nude. But near the end, when she poses as a life-drawing model in front of a class of eager students who know how to appreciate her body, the audience will hopefully have the same experience we had. We want to show that she’s beautiful, and that it’s possible to change how fat bodies are viewed."

'Fat Front' by Louise Detlefsen and Louise Unmack Kjeldsen. Photo: Marie Hald

Releasing all women 

Examining the social stigmatisation of fat people, 'Fat Front' zooms in on the women’s personal histories and different body issues.

In a particularly intimate scene, Wilde, a Norwegian, talks about how she has felt detached from her body ever since she was nearly raped by a family member in her youth. 

"As she puts it, it was like her body lost value afterwards," Detlefsen says. She thinks many women will recognise themselves in the thoughts and feelings that the women in her film openly share.

In turn, she points out, the film is aimed not just at fat people but at anyone who is struggling with low self-esteem and a distorted body image.

"You don’t have to be fat to see this film or understand these women’s feelings," she says. "All women need to get out of the prison that is keeping them from wearing belly shirts or going to the beach, showing themselves off and enjoying life. We’re wasting our time dieting and hating our bodies. It’s a complete waste of life and resources."

About the film

'Fat Front' is produced by Malene Flindt Pedersen for Hansen & Pedersen Film og Fjernsyn.