Dear film industry, we need to talk about fatsuits

AHEAD THERE BE SPOILERS! This article contains mild spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.

It’s King’s Day in the Netherlands, a bank holiday where we celebrate the King’s birthday (aka we wear orange and drink a lot). Most people go bargain hunting, visit the fair or go visit one of the many open air festivals. I’m not a fan of big (drunken) crowds and prefer to spend days like these at home, so I end up playing Dungeons and Dragons all day with some of my favourite people.

At night, we go see Avengers: Endgame. In case you didn’t know, this is the last film in a series of films about a group of superheroes. The first movie in this movie universe came out about 12 years ago. A lot of big, impactful things happened in the last movie, so I couldn’t wait to see how everything pans out. A bit nervous, I watch the opening credits. I’m ready. “Everything has led us up tot his point. Whatever it takes…”

Avengers: Endgame is amazing. Right up until that one scene…

In the last film, Thanos, the bad guy, won. He managed to find the magical Infinity Stones and has turned half of all life into ash. Thor, the god of thunder, retreated to Norway after their defeat. Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, looks like a Greek sculpture come to life with his handsome features and extremely muscular bod. But when we see him again after our heroes’ defeat, he looks very different indeed.

His house is covered in empty vats of alcohol and hasn’t been cleaned in months. His hair looks like it hasn’t had a proper wash in weeks and his beard is long and scraggly. As the camera slowly pans down, I feel my heart sink. Thor wears an open bath robe. Underneath, we see a big belly. The actor’s wearing a fatsuit. The camera lingers on his stomach and chest and around me, people burst out laughing. My stomach starts to hurt and if I could have, I would have walked out right there and then.

“Fat people have let themselves go”

The message the movie intends to tell us is clear: Thor is fat because he has let himself go. And thus, the movie reinforces a stereotype that still negatively affects fat people every day: Fat people are lazy, they’re only fat because they just don’t take care of themselves. Fat people are undisciplined, they’re unhappy, they’re unhealthy.

The movie transforms the fat body into a symbol of ‘letting yourself go’. THAT is the message Endgame delivers with their use of the fatsuit.

Fatsuits turn fat bodies into punchlines

It’s extra painful that the movie didn’t need the fatsuit to tell us that the god of thunder isn’t doing too well. There are so many more ways to tell us that Thor’s not dealing with the defeat. Everything else about his appearance (the matted hair, the dirty clothing he’s wearing) is telling us he’s different from the hero we knew. The ‘joke’ that Thor has ‘let himself go’ can be told perfectly fine without that fatsuit (Plus, it’s an extremely offensive way of picturing depression and trauma).

The addition of a fatsuit turns the fat body into a punchline. It reinforces the idea that we’re supposed to see the fat body as something that’s disgusting. A fat god, how hilarious.

“Eat a salad”

During the rest of the movie, Thor’s body is often used as a punchline. Several other Avengers turn Thor’s body into the butt of a joke and several more fat jokes follow. Later in the movie, Thor has a beautiful and emotional conversation with his mother. For a second, it appears that the theme of that conversation is acceptance. His mother seems to fully accept him. She does not comment on his body and is practically the only character who focuses on her son’s mental condition. Right up until the point where the smiles and tells him to ‘eat a salad’. It’s the final insult that ruins what could have been a beautiful, emotional and caring moment.

It’s not all bad

Luckily, it’s not all bad. Throughout the entire movie, I was dreading the ‘transformation’.  I was terrified that there would be a moment where Thor would ‘get himself back together’. Obviously, this change in mindset would be accompanied by a different body. I was so sure the moment would come where Thor would accept himself and use his powers again, after he had his ‘old body’ back. This is the message that diet culture teaches us, after all. Fat people can only be their true and happiest selves once they’re thin.

But that moment never comes. While Thor grows mentally and picks himself back up, his body remains the same. Thor and his belly do the same things all other heroes do. He joins in on the fights and kicks just as much butt as he did before. It was liberating to see that he didn’t have to change his body in order to move on. That he could be badass and powerful, without having to lose weight first.

We need to stop using fatsuits

Sadly, this doesn’t change the fact that using fatsuits in films adds to the stigmatisation and marginalization of fat people. We need to stop using fat bodies as punchlines. We need to stop equating fat bodies to ‘letting yourself go’, ‘being unhappy’ and ‘not taking care of yourself’.  While I enjoyed the movie and there were a lot of moments that will make a lot of people very happy and feel very seen when it comes to representation, the sad fact remains that when it comes to the representation of fat people, Hollywood still has a lot to learn.

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