As fat activist Aubrey Gordon delivered a talk at her first-ever book signing, her doting father Rusty turned and whispered to the person sitting next to him: “That’s my daughter.”
This tender, seemingly innocuous moment, which comes towards the end of the documentary “Your Fat Friend,” could have passed unnoticed without the gaze of a camera, but it is one laden with meaning. Rusty could barely bring himself to say the word “fat” when filming for the documentary first began six years earlier.
“My parents are the heroes of this film, without question,” Gordon told CNN of the film that is out now in Europe before beginning a tour to the US and Canada.
This space between Gordon’s activism and her willingness to lampoon the world’s reflexive anti-fatness is what immediately drew director Jeanie Finlay to Gordon’s story, she told CNN.
It is this gap, existing within a loving family, that allows Finlay’s movie to challenge the audience’s own perceptions of fatness as it documents both Gordon’s work for fat justice and her — at times — painful everyday interactions with her friends and family.
“It’s not a clean story of there’s a good guy and a bad guy,” Gordon said. “It’s sort-of like we’ve all been trained up to think we’re being the good guy, when actually we might be making life considerably harder for fat people.”
The pair first met in 2017, shortly after Gordon’s life had changed irrevocably. The community organizer from Oregon had written a letter to a thin friend following an argument about body image, and another friend who had been asked by Gordon to proofread it, suggested publishing it online. Gordon agreed on the condition it was published anonymously, and the letter went viral, accumulating tens of thousands of views.
Under the pseudonym “Your Fat Friend,” she began blogging anonymously, spotlighting these ways in which the world makes life harder for fat people.
Gordon wrote about the “intensifying” panic that accompanies boarding a plane; about receiving “qualified” compliments that are “congratulations for hiding unappealing parts of my body;” about “what it’s like when no one believes your body can be healthy;” about being “met with sidelong glances and open gawking” at the gym.
Filmed over the course of six years, “Your Fat Friend” traces this period in Gordon’s life as she drives around Oregon, pulling over to type out one of her essays when inspiration hits — “a fat lady in a tiny car,” she quips in the film with trademark wit.
But the movie also details the online reaction to Gordon’s writing — the abuse, death threats, and doxing she suffered, alongside the messages of solidarity — before she reveals her identity after writing a bestselling book.
“The film for me is an act of visibility,” Finlay said in a recent post-film screening Q&A in London. “It’s about Aubrey being anonymous on the internet as a name. Then she is a face on a book jacket with a different name, then she’s a severed voice on the internet as a podcast host. And then she steps into a room as a whole person and her family sees her.”
Finlay’s visual storytelling highlights this too. The documentary’s opening shots depict Gordon swimming in outdoor pools, her body reflecting and refracting off the water as the camera’s lens wanders over stretch marks. It is neither voyeuristic nor glamorous, simply presenting Gordon in a matter-of-fact way.
“Just say fat,” Gordon says in an accompanying voiceover, reading aloud one of her essays. “Not curvy or chubby or chunky or fluffy or full-figured or big-boned or queen-size or husky or obese or overweight. Just say fat.”