On Monday, paparazzi photos appeared of Renee Zellweger donning a fat suit while filming the forthcoming NBC true crime drama The Thing About Pam — in which she plays convicted murderer Pam Hupp, who is already serving a life sentence for killing a disabled man in 2016 and is currently on trial for allegedly stabbing her friend 55 times in 2011 — in New Orleans. Zellweger is the latest of several high-profile actors wearing fat suits in recent roles, following in the footsteps of Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp in FX’s Impeachment: American Crime Story and Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci in House of Gucci.
It’s frankly insane that in a time when more and more celebrities and brands are latching onto the “body positivity” movement (whether it’s earnestly or in an attempt to seem trendy and accepting), Hollywood insists on casting thin actors to play fat characters. Paulson herself recently admitted she regrets wearing a fat suit as Tripp and issued an apology, noting that wearing the suit promotes fatphobia.
“There’s a lot of controversy around actors and fat suits, and I think that controversy is a legitimate one,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I think fatphobia is real. I think to pretend otherwise causes further harm.”
Of course, it’s convenient that she had this revelation after she already took the role and wrapped filming. Hollywood has a long history of throwing awards at thin, conventionally attractive performers for “uglying themselves up” for a gritty role by gaining weight or donning heavy prosthetics — think Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster — while still refusing to cast actors who fall outside of its strict standards of beauty. Actors who are actually fat, especially if they’re women, have to scratch and claw their way to any sort of success, and they’re typically relegated to “character actor” roles like the sarcastic best friend or, of course, the murderous villain. Any type of leading role, particularly if it’s a character who we’re supposed to see as deserving of love, is reserved for more svelte, conventionally attractive performers.
The fat suit’s retirement is long overdue. It sends the message to fat people everywhere that their looks are nothing more than a costume that can be put on and removed by more “beautiful” people in an industry that still doesn’t accept them, and it keeps performers who aren’t rail-thin from getting more complex, interesting roles. Renee Zellweger’s fine, but can we please finally start casting actual fat people to play fat characters?
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