Fat Pig, now on stage in Toronto, explores body stigma with humour and brutal honesty
Two fat women are walking away from The Red Sandcastle Theatre where they just saw Braveheart Productions’ Fat Pig, and one asks the other: “is that really what dating is like for other fat women?” The play is about a conventionally attractive guy who begins dating a plus-sized woman, and the torrent of abuse and mockery he endures from his “friends.”
I (the one being asked) looked at my friend and plus one Caryhn (the one asking) quite incredulously. “Well, yes. I mean, it’s like that for me, and most fat women I know who date cis men.” For this fat girl, this play was a big fat dose of tragic, sad (and hilarious) reality. Mostly.
I take fat politics seriously AND personally, and I have a million feelings about this play. I’ll begin with the less than stellar ones.
If I had a dollar for every banal, negative, and ridiculous stereotype about fat women, and for every self-deprecating joke Helen (the delightful Katie Messina, who also produces) made at her own expense, I’d lose count of how many dollars I have.
She begins describing herself as confident and unashamed of her body. Great start! I myself am a confident fat woman, and I almost never see characters I can identify with. Sadly, I was left wanting. Every stereotype from overeating pizza at lunch time, to hating “healthy” food like salad, to not being into sports (because fat, duh), to needing “1000 ships” to carry her, to stress eating quickly eroded that confident facade and my hope of finding a theatrical kindred spirit.
It seemed to me that a fat woman had nothing to do with conceiving this character. I certainly didn’t interpret the character as confident, and I’m not sure whether or not Helen was aware of that. Was she “faking it ’til she makes it,” or just deluded? I’m unsure. The writing of Helen as confident-but-not-really was by far my least favourite aspect of this show.
Self-deprecation aside, Helen was a hilarious, witty, sexy, intelligent, and spunky character, and I loved watching Messina bring her to life. The other characters–Helen’s beau, Tom (David Alexander Miller); Carter (Michael Eisner); and Jeannie (Erin Boyes)–had countless issues of their own. Respectively: obsession with image, fat mommy issues, and a complete lack of self-esteem.
Through incredible performances, they illustrated the painful reality fat women (and men) face. We’re hated by society. Not because we’re bad, but because humans are imperfect and we project our insecurities onto each other. Unfortunately absent: the media, and our culture, both of which contribute immensely to fat stigma.
These characters showcased how socially acceptable fat hatred is, how we all internalize it, and how folks who engage in dehumanizing fat others usually get a pass. Everyone does it, right? They don’t mean any harm, right? They’re just goofing around.
Carter (Eisner) in particular shone as a hyper-offensive corporate bro type. I wanted to hate him, but he was too hilarious. Tom (Miller) was sweet, handsome, and seemingly caring – though ultimately weak and cowardly. Jeannie (Boyes) was a “hot chick” with no self-esteem who could not deal with being dumped for a fat chick. I was impressed and delighted by the entire cast.
While the story fell a bit short for me — I would have loved to see the realities explored with a bit more nuance — overall, I enjoyed this show. The chemistry between Helen and Tom felt awkward, but real to me (though Caryhn disagrees). The mockery Tom endured felt real to me. The “worships you in private, ignores you in public” dynamic between the lovers felt VERY real to me.
If you’re looking for an uplifting show about a confident fat woman who finds true love despite the odds, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a painfully real portrayal of the realities fat women have to deal with — and of incredibly flawed humans — and you like some awesome humour mixed with your tragedy, Fat Pig may satisfy you. Bring some tissues.
Photo of David Alexander Miller and Katie Messina by Angela Besharah