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What Fat Suits Mean For Representation Of Bigger Bodies In Hollywood

Chances are, you’ve probably seen a movie or TV show where fat suits are worn. You might not have twigged the presence of the fat suit – let alone perceived it as harmful, offensive or potentially damaging. After all, it’s just an actor in a fat suit, right?

Fat suits have been around for decades and despite the neverending controversy over them, they still seem to be a thing in 2022 – with the latest example being Emma Thomson wearing one for the new adaptation of Matilda. But how do these figure re-shapers actually impact the representation of bigger bodies in Hollywood and in the media? 

A fat suit is a type of bodysuit undergarment that is often used in Hollywood to thicken the appearance of an actor, building up a silhouette that’s far bigger than their natural body. 

They’re typically used to enhance the comedic aspect of a film or movie, like in Hairspray when John Travolta plays the ditsy and insecure Edna Turnblad, or in Norbit when Eddie Murphy portrays Rasputia Latimore. 

Both examples are of regular-sized men playing fat women – something that is laughed at by the masses, but feels unfair when you’re living in a fat body. In the original Hairspray, Edna was played by drag queen Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead), who was fat – making the role more suited, which raises the question: why did John Travolta get picked for the same role in the reboot? 

New Line Cinema

While some people might argue that fat suits are good for the representation of fat people, others think they’re harmful, and, personally, I’m with the latter. My generation has grown up watching the likes of Hairspray, Friends and movies like Shallow Hal, which have played a key role in the normalisation of fatphobia as we’re encouraged to laugh at the ‘fat’ character’s expense. 

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