I love Rebel Wilson. Who doesn’t, you may well ask. But I LOVE her. For my family, who are massive fans of the Pitch Perfect series, she’s something of a hero. I imagine they wrote her in as a token diversity character of a fat friend, the comic relief. But such is the genius of Rebel Wilson, she took on that cruel caricature of a fat girl and turned her into the magnificent Fat Amy. The filmmakers also figured it out, for by the time they got to Pitch Perfect 3, she pretty much is the star of the show. Although there is, unnecessarily, the thin, boring, angsty heroine who finally gets her act together, but who cares. After the first viewing, I now skip parts of the film to only see Rebel. Fat Amy never ‘tries’ to look good, Fat Amy KNOWS she looks good. Fat Amy doesn’t just take up space, she occupies it, she uses that space created by her body, manipulates it and makes it her kingdom. Not once does she allow us to laugh at her physicality. She is large, fearsome and imminently desirable.
Even in real life, when I watch Rebel Wilson on talk shows, she never tries to diminish herself. I remember her on Jimmy Fallon or was it Kimmel, the way she spread herself on the couch, legs wide apart, breasts and belly in your face in a tight dress, she was royalty.
And then I read that she has lost weight through a special diet that involves working out 5-7 days a week and chewing every mouthful of food 40 times…
Full disclosure at this point, I have thin privilege. By that I mean, I have enjoyed an existence on this planet always being considered strong, intelligent, healthy and beautiful, all because I fit into a tiny demographic of people who are considered ideal weight. I have never felt that despair fat folx face in public spaces. Clothes, shoes, seats, scales, doors are all made with someone like me in mind. I have never faced the near constant scorn, shaming, the systemic, ritualised abuse fat folx go through on an everyday basis. Therefore I have no business assuming I know what it is to be fat. It is not my lived experience and I write this essay mindfully.
My problem is not with Rebel losing weight, the human body has a mind of its own. It reflects our emotions, our experiences, it is the repository of our stories. It’s the book we never wrote. From early on we are told how our body must look, what gender it is, how much to show and how much to hide. How that body and its various parts must behave. For womxn, the state even legislates our wombs. So the return journey from disembodiment to repossession is a hard one, cratered with shame and grief, that need to be filled up with self-love. We can express self-love in myriad ways, from eating cake to losing the weight; from running the half-marathon to couch surfing, whatever gets us through the day.
Rebel wanting to change the way she looks is her expression of reclaiming her body and I’m happy for her. But my heart broke when I read her reasons: throughout her career she had been paid more money to stay fat, grow fatter, she’d never get the ‘serious actress’ roles as long as she stayed fat. There are pics of hers in a beautiful dress, something she’d never find in her size had she been thin, there’s yet another pic of hers eating a tiny pie, urging her followers to indulge themselves occasionally. And finally, the saddest thing, her saying she’s only 3kgs away from achieving her goal weight. Like the mythical El Dorado that is just around the corner. What is this goal, who decides it? What about that number will magically make an already beautiful woman look even more so? I hear her trainer, life coach or whatever they are called these days, talk about how he hates diets and how it’s all about balance. And yet, no matter how hard they crank up the woke, it’s ultimately about weight loss. And if it was not about weight-loss, then thin people wouldn’t be so celebrated, wouldn’t automatically be considered healthy and eligible for better roles in films.
Diet Culture is the nastiest invention of this highly arbitrary, highly toxic beauty industry. And it derives its legitimacy from the medical community, that equates thinness with health with that ponzi scheme they call BMI ( Body Mass Index). When in fact diets can be exceedingly dangerous and we know that none of them can be sustained for long periods. They always fail and the fault is always the dieters, never the diet.
Recently, a young Bengali actress, Mishti Mukherjee died while on a keto diet to lose weight. I looked at her before pic, she looked lovely. I looked at her after pic and she looked lovely. And yet in the after pic, she was close to death. Her kidneys were collapsing under the strain of trying to flush out the excessive protein. She died on the way to El Dorado.
Everytime we pinch the flesh around our midriff in shame and despair, every time we call ourselves slobs or losers for looking the way we do, we need to ask ourselves, who denies us our perfection? Who profits from our shame?
In the final fight sequence in Pitch Perfect 3 between Fat Amy and her ex, Fat Amy whoops his ass. It’s a miracle, a thing of beauty, that sequence- a fat woman, the ultimate object of contempt, trouncing a buff male. It’s what makes Fat Amy a somewhat mythical creature. And yet, because of Rebel Wilson’s command over her medium, Fat Amy is not reduced to cheap comedy. Unlike all the other female characters in the film, Fat Amy is powerful and confident. There is no journey she has to undertake to come into her own. No before, no after. Foul-mouthed, sassy and fierce, she is pitch perfect (seewhatIdidthere), she is El Dorado.