EIFF 2023: Jeanie Finlay on Your Fat Friend
Jeanie Finlay’s intimate portrait of author Aubrey Gordon aims to make us rethink our attitude to the word 'fat'. The filmmaker explains why she wanted to document Gordon's life and activism ahead of Your Fat Friend's Scottish premiere at EIFF
Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Your Fat Friend is a wonderful, empathetic film chronicling the journey of author and activist Aubrey Gordon. It follows Gordon from her first post about the 'fat experience' in 2016, under the pseudonym Your Fat Friend, to emerging as a powerful new voice in the advocation of overweight people, a New York Times bestseller and co-creator of podcast Maintenance Phase.
Finlay, the documentarian behind Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, Sound it Out and the BIFA-winning Seahorse, describes the moment she decided to follow Gordon: “When I was researching for a film on fatness, I read a piece Aubrey wrote while anonymous called A request from your fat friend: what I need when we talk about bodies, and I was like, ‘this is brilliant’. It was heartfelt, intimate and poetic, and I just really wanted to talk to the person who wrote it.
“It was so interesting to meet the person behind the words, after I’d already formed an idea of her from her writing,” Finlay says about her first in-person encounter with Gordon. “The gap between something you experience once removed and then experience in reality, that’s where your films lie. I found my film; here she is.”
Continuing, Finlay says: “Sometimes there’s a poetry in who you want to make a film about. Aubrey’s highly skilled anonymous writing and her history with political organising was a unique set of circumstances. These films take a long time and cost a lot, so you have to be certain. When I met Aubrey, I just knew she was the right fit.”
Finlay initially hoped that the arc of the film would follow Gordon's coming out story as she revealed to the world she was Your Fat Friend, but that didn’t go to plan. “The film took six years instead of two, with Aubrey filming herself [for much of the shoot] due to COVID-19,” explains Finlay. As revealed in the film, Gordon was doxed in 2020, and with her anonymity removed, she began to suffer abuse on social media. Finlay works this online hate into the film. “If people are calling you a fat bitch online, it seeps into your life,” she says. “You’re looking at it while you’re at home and sitting on your sofa scrolling your phone, so I actually projected those comments onto Aubrey’s wall.”
Finlay removes the abusive trolls' power by facing their comments head-on. She does something similar with the word 'fat' itself. “I wanted to make a film about fatness as it’s a word I’d heard all my life as a fat lady and I wanted to interrogate that,” Finlay explains. ”It wasn’t a word you were allowed to say. You had to say fluffy. My daughter was 13 when I started, and I wanted to make a film that I wish I had when I was her age, to posit the idea of fat being a neutral descriptor.”
Finlay makes sure to note that she does not use the term ‘fatphobia’ as we’re not scared of fat people. “I’m a smaller fat lady. There’s a privilege in having a smaller fat body, so I might get called out on the street if I’m running but I can still buy some clothes in shops. I also don’t end up worrying if the doctor's table can hold me, like larger fat bodies experience.”
In Your Fat Friend, we see Gordon collecting diet and cookbooks, one of which is titled Help, Lord, the Devil Wants Me Fat. “We based the poster for the film on that very diet book,” says Finlay. “I love it. They’re all so ludicrous. Aubrey says that once you have distance to them, they’re just kind of funny. Same with The Fabulette’s song Try the Worryin’ Way.” For those uninitiated with this catchy ditty from 1966, its lyrics advocate worrying about your boyfriend cheating as a great method of losing weight. “It really tickled me. We didn’t tell Aubrey that we got the rights to it until I showed her the film. She played me that song thinking it would never be put in the film.”
Finlay says her views on fatness have also changed throughout this process but that “this is a journey for everyone and even hearing that audiences like yourself are saying the word fat more is really exciting.” Excited is exactly what Finlay is, as she jumps up from the Zoom to retrieve stickers that have 'Just Say Fat' embossed on them. Discussing the negative connotations of the word fat, Finlay says: “You think about what you want audiences to take away from this and a simple one is to just say fat. Language is important, and we have the power to change the way we use the word fat.”
Your Fat Friend has its Scottish premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 21 & 22 Aug