As our culture changes and evolves, so does the content on our screens. So it’s no surprise that audiences today are less accepting of a “fat suit” than they were in the past.
Looking back on it now, we can see how actors using a “fat suit” was too often cruel and mean spirited. Think flashbacks to Monica from Friends where her weight was a punchline, or Shallow Hal, where the fat suit was meant to contrast with how slim and conventionally attractive Gwyneth Paltrow is. It’s more common now to label those performances as fatphobic, but certain roles — like Gary Oldman’s Oscar-winning turn as Winston Churchill — are still lauded for the use of prosthetics in their physical transformation.
Sarah Paulson may have approached the role of Linda Tripp (the reviled whistleblower of Monica Lewinksy’s affair with Bill Clinton) with that kind of “serious actor” mindset, but there’s still been criticism for the casting. A new profile for the Los Angeles Times noted that the actress actually gained 30 pounds for Ryan Murphy‘s Impeachment: American Crime Story, as well as wore an additional 4.5 pounds of padding.
Addressing the accusations that her casting played into Hollywood’s tradition of fatphobia, the American Horror Story alum said:
“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 fat phobia is real. I think to pretend otherwise causes further harm. And it is a very important conversation to be had.”
A pretty decent answer. Except, surprise surprise, she went on to make excuses:
“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. I do think to imagine that the only thing any actor called upon to play this part would have to offer is their physical self is a real reduction of the offering the actor has to make. I would like to believe that there is something in my being that makes me right to play this part. And that the magic of hair and makeup departments and costumers and cinematographers that has been part of moviemaking, and suspension of belief, since the invention of cinema. Was I supposed to say no ? This is the question.”
There are a few problems with Sarah’s line of thinking here. While the Emmy winner is an undeniably great actress, she’s not the only person in the world capable of portraying Linda Tripp. Her suggestion that choosing a performer based on their “physical self” would be reductive erases the fact that a fat actress may have been just as talented and qualified for the part.
Further, the fact that these “physical transformations” that include wearing heavy prosthetics are seen as so remarkable in Hollywood contributes to fatphobia, even when the role isn’t the butt of a joke. When thin actors are applauded for accomplishing the “challenge” of portraying a fat person, it dehumanizes genuine plus-size people’s actual lived experiences. It’s not okay for us to treat other people’s real body types as a “challenge” or “spectacle” or even an award-worthy “performance.”
The 46-year-old’s feelings on the subject are clearly still evolving — even 24 hours after filming wrapped, which is when the LA Times interview took place. She concluded:
“I think the thing I think about the most is that I regret not thinking about it more fully. And that is an important thing for me to think about and reflect on. I also know it’s a privileged place to be sitting and thinking about it and reflecting on it, having already gotten to do it, and having had an opportunity that someone else didn’t have. You can only learn what you learn when you learn it. Should I have known? Abso-f**ing-lutely. But I do now. And I wouldn’t make the same choice going forward.”
Over on Twitter, some fans weren’t ready to accept what was, notably, not really an apology. Responses included:
This is definitely a thorny issue, and we’re glad to see that attitudes are changing on the subject. But what do U think, Perezcious readers? Do you agree with Sarah’s argument? Or do you think the Impeachment team should have cast differently? Let us know your thoughts in the comments (below).
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