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I Can’t Stand How Fat Suits in Movies & TV Turn Being Overweight into a Punchline

Being fat is hilarious — at least, if you take Hollywood’s word for it. I mean, why would you take someone seriously if you could just laugh at their weight and make jokes about them binge-eating? (*Insert eye-roll emoji here.*) For too long, Hollywood has treated fatness as a punchline, contributing to fatphobia and anti-fat bias proven to have harmful effects on our health. And one major entertainment trope that pushes this narrative is the fat suit.

One of the most famous examples of the on-screen fat suit is high school Monica in Friends flashback episodes. Monica is most known for her obsessive, Type A personality: she gets mad when the pillows aren’t fluffed correctly and can’t sleep when she leaves her shoes in the living room floor instead of in the closet. But when the show looks back at the characters’ teenage selves, Monica suddenly becomes an insecure, dorky girl in a fat suit who is obsessed with food. And, oh yeah, no guys are interested in her either — despite grown-up, skinny Monica having a very active sex life.

During flashback episodes and home videos, Fat Monica is often seen shoving food in her mouth to make the audience laugh, as if an overweight person can’t even eat without it being funny. During “The One With the Prom Video” in Season 2, everyone laughs when Fat Monica is shown stuffing her face in her prom dress, with Joey shouting, “Some girl ate Monica!”

Other times, the characters reference her plus-sized past in a super negative way, like when Ross said in “The One Where Rachel Tells…” in Season 8: “I grew up with Monica. If you didn’t eat fast, you didn’t eat.” Everyone laughs at these references and at Monica’s over-eating, which is in direct contrast to another famous plotline throughout the series — how Joey will eat anything, no matter how gross. The biggest difference? Nobody is shaming him for his eating because he isn’t fat.

I love Friends, but watching these flashback scenes with Monica in a hugely exaggerated fat suit makes me cringe. This beautiful woman is suddenly turned into a punchline, where she is mocked for normal things (read: eating) simply because she’s fat. She didn’t have many friends or a dating life until she lost weight, because why would anyone want to be with someone who was fat?

As a plus-size woman myself, I’m so tired of the way fat suits are used in entertainment to turn an otherwise normal storyline into one big joke revolved around weight. Fat suits make an actress or actor look comical and gross, with college-aged Schmidt from New Girl being another example. If you absolutely need someone plus-sized to play a certain part in your tv show or movie, then hire a plus-size actor instead who will show that being overweight can still be healthy, beautiful, and valid, rather than a one-dimensional character who is obsessed with food. Honestly, it’s just not funny anymore (and, TBH, it never really was).

The good news is that today, more people are protesting the fat suit. Instead of accepting it as a funny plotline, they are calling out actors and actresses who use the fat suit and producers who make that choice, rather than hiring a plus-size person to do that character justice.

One recent example is Sarah Paulson, who wore a fat suit to portray Linda Tripp in Impeachment: American Crime Story. After coming under fire (and rightly so)  for wearing a fat suit, Paulson told the Los Angeles Times on Aug.  26., “It’s very hard for me to talk about this without feeling like I’m making excuses. There’s a lot of controversy around actors and fat suits, and I think that controversy is a legitimate one. I think fatphobia is real. I think to pretend otherwise causes further harm. And it is a very important conversation to be had. But that entire responsibility I don’t think falls on the actor for choosing to do something that is arguably — and I’m talking about from the inside out — the challenge of a lifetime.” Despite defending her decision to play Tripp in a fat suit, she added that she “wouldn’t make the same choice going forward.”

Unfortunately, Courteney Cox does not feel the same way about wearing a fat suit. She told Ellen DeGeneres in an interview in May 2020: “I loved playing overweight Monica because I felt so free. I could dance…like you and just sit up and dance and have no problem at all. I did love it. Those are really good episodes.” She is referencing “The One That Could Have Been” in season 6, where Fat Monica is dancing happily in her living room while eating a donut.

Feeling confident and free in your skin is something I can totally get behind. I just wish Friends and entertainment in general had more scenes depicting things like that — with real plus-sized people and no fat suits! — without making jokes that shame a body for simply existing. Hollywood can, and should, do better.

Before you go, click here to see “fat” characters in movies & TV shows who were never actually fat.
America Ferrera Renée Zellweger

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