Fighting for fat

At the eighth annual TIFF Student Showcase, Queen’s students Margaret Donahoe and Gillian Good premiered their short film Fat, a documentary which tackles conceptions of body image

In her film Fat, Margaret Donahoe exposes her naked flesh to the audience, something she’s becoming more comfortable doing in real life. This summer she has found the confidence to reveal her knees when wearing dresses and shorts. These were previously taboo wardrobe choices for the self-conscious Donahoe, who was afraid of what others thought of her body.
In her film Fat, Margaret Donahoe exposes her naked flesh to the audience, something she’s becoming more comfortable doing in real life. This summer she has found the confidence to reveal her knees when wearing dresses and shorts. These were previously taboo wardrobe choices for the self-conscious Donahoe, who was afraid of what others thought of her body.
Credit: 
Supplied
Gillian Good (left) and Margaret Donahoe at the TIFF Student Showcase.
Gillian Good (left) and Margaret Donahoe at the TIFF Student Showcase.
Credit: 
Photo supplied by Dimitri Sarantis

Queen’s film student Margaret Donahoe wanted to make a documentary that dismantled the negative connotation of the word “fat.”

“My whole life growing up I’ve been taught to dislike my body,” says Donahoe, ArtSci ’11, in the opening scene of her documentary. Fat was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Student Showcase last month.

Donahoe said she was young when she became self-conscious of her body and how others
perceived it.

“When I was nine years old I quit [dance] because I didn’t want to wear the leotard anymore,” she said. “It was not my body that kept me from dancing, but it was society’s perception of my body that kept me from dancing. And that’s not okay.”

In Fat, Donahoe asks friends, “Do you think I’m fat?” Most reponses start with an awkward pause.

One friend questions why calling someone fat can’t be a compliment. Another friend says Donahoe is “fat in a way that is removed of the kinds of awful connotations that come from that word in the society we live in.”

“I started questioning ... the assumptions that had always seemed natural and normal to me,” Donahoe told the Journal. “I wanted the audience to start questioning the truths that they held.”

The documentary started as a project in Film 355 last year. Donahoe began the assignment alone, but was joined by classmate Gillian Good after Good’s documentary fell through. Donahoe’s professor, Dorit Naaman, approached her about taking on Good as a partner.

Donahoe was nervous about the partnership because she was dealing with such a personal issue. It turned out that Good was versed in body image issues, having struggled with an eating disorder.

Donahoe’s first attempt at publicizing her body image issues was through a body image blog last year. It started as a forum for Donahoe to challenge ideas of what constitutes a beautiful body, but it morphed into a weight loss blog. Donahoe said other body acceptance blogs are what made her return to her original purpose.

"That’s not to say I don’t have days where I feel shame,” she said. “The only difference is now that I have days where I know that it’s wrong.”

That acceptance is clear in glimpses of Donahoe’s naked figure throughout the film, where she shows her body from all angles without appearing fully nude.

“I had gotten to a point where I was comfortable talking about my body, which is a huge deal,” she said. “For 23 years of my life I pretended my body didn’t exist because it hurt me. But talking to people in such a direct way gave me so much power back.”

Though she found the experience liberating, she said she questioned her decision not to appear fully nude in the film.

“Shortly after it was completed I started to feel like ‘Oh this is such a cop-out. I show parts of my body but I don’t go all the way,’” Donahoe said, adding that she’s come to respect her decision. “It’s an honest portrayal of who I was at that time.”

After Donahoe and Good handed in their project, their professor submitted the documentary to the student film portion of the Toronto festival. Fat was chosen as one of this year’s 12 selections, allowing the two Queen’s students to visit Toronto for three days to attend their film’s premiere on May 26. The major Toronto festival runs in September.

Donahoe said she’s going to submit the film to other festivals, but her main goal is to get it online, so that it’s accessible to wider audiences.

“I am really excited to see its potential as a community building thing,” Donahoe said.

She said she hopes Fat will challenge societal norms of about the typical body.

“I really need bodies like mine to be normalized for me,” she said. “I still rely on that and want my film to be a part of that.”

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