On Neil Labute’s “Fat Pig”

Kirk, Diana and I went tonight to see the new Neil Labute play, “Fat Pig”:

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Before I get into the play itself and the issues it raises, I must share something exciting that happened. While waiting to go in, Neil Labute himself came into the lobby. Diana and I pushed Kirk to introduce himself because Kirk, like Neil, went to BYU and then to our Tisch program. So Kirk did and Neil was incredibly receptive. We also spotted Neil in his theater seat taking notes after the play, and he gave us a wave. So basically Neil Labute, Kirk, Diana and I are all best friends.

Now for the play: this is a tough play. The premise is that Jeremy Piven falls for a fat girl; his best friend (Andrew McCarthy) disapproves and his ex (Keri Russell, from Felicity) is disgusted. The play takes a brutal look not at obesity in America but at how we perceive obesity in America. And the point seems to be that our society’s obsession with weight and nutrition and health is rooted in something ugly and merciless in all of us.

I think the play is incredibly successful in showing how weight functions in power dynamics at the work place, in the bedroom, and out in the world. Many mistake Labute as a sadist who hates his characters; I think he’s a moralist who uses his characters to expose emotional truths. But that’s playtalk, and this is a food site.

I won’t lie and say that I skip merrily from bakery to bakery, from cupcake to cupcake, without some thought as to how it affects my body; as to how my body is perceived and how what I put into it affects how others perceive me. If I wanted to, I suppose, I could eat nothing but health food, spend all day at the gym and look something like Sylvester Stallone by way of Woody Allen. But that’s not in me to do that. Instead, I think there’s a happy medium between gluttony and savage self-denial. Sometimes the balance teeters in one direction, but mostly I try to even things out by eating a salad on a day after eating a big fat steak with bacon. (Ok, I’ve never eaten a steak with bacon but I feel like it drives the point home).

Women, however, worry me. I am worried for women. I do not envy women in America’s weight culture. When Kirstie Alley is on the cover of several major magazines because she blew up and people are buying this and reading it fervently, I worry about our values. More importantly, I worry about our children. I have known many girls (in high school, college, and beyond) with eating disorders. It is not baffling to me how this comes to be. What is baffling is that no one seems to really think it’s a problem. Maybe there’s a sense of “this is the way of the world–the way nature intended it, for women to lure men in with sleek, slender bodies; to set their procreation bells buzzing.” But my response to that is simple. Nature did not, I assure you, intend Lara Flynn Boyle.

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Anyway, I’m sure there are a million things to talk about when it comes to weight in America. This post is murky because it’s not quite a play review, not quite a thesis, not quite an anything. So I’ll conclude with two thoughts: (1) If you live in New York, check out “Fat Pig”; and (2) If you’re Lara Flynn Boyle, go eat something.

11 comments

  1. I like posts like this once in a while.

    “And the point seems to be that our society’s obsession with weight and nutrition and health is rooted in something ugly and merciless in all of us.”

    There is definite truth in that statement and it would be interesting to hear a heavy person’s take on this – both the play and the post itself.

    Let’s hope nature did not intend Lara Flynn Boyle.

  2. I am a chubby girl, and I have only recently finally dedicated myself to getting in shape (going to the gym every single damned morning…yay me!). I’m not doing it for men, but for my own health.

    Personally, I hate society’s and the media’s focus on weight – and that includes the focus on which celebrities are too fat as well as which ones are too thin. I don’t believe we should scrutinize anyone’s body. As a person who does not want my own body scrutinized, I hate to see Calista Flockhart or Lara Flynn Boyle hounded about whether they have eating disorders, which forces them to defend themselves by giving interviews in which they try to convince everyone that yes, they do eat. I say, leave them alone.

    Anyway, the focus should always be on health, not appearance. Is Lara Flynn Boyle unhealthily thin? Is Camryn Manheim unhealthily fat? I don’t know, but that’s their own personal issue to deal with.

    (By the way, that was not a slam at your Lara Flynn Boyle comment, AG. For the outfit alone, she deserves a little “ribbing.” Ha ha.)

  3. Thanks for posting this. As a formerly fat New Yorker who’s found that a) it’s possible to go too far losing weight and b) you can never stop paying attention to what you’re eating, I’m really, really curious about the play. I’m just not sure I can get myself to go see it. I found Labute’s first film so harsh it almost hurt to watch, and I don’t know that I could handle seeing something like this performed live. I had a hard time just sitting through Shallow Hal on cable! But your post does make me think I should cough up the dough and go see it, if only so I can form an actual opinion…

  4. Even if someone in the public eye looks like they’ve struck a good balance, as far as weight goes, we’ll still find a way to take shots at them. Britney Spears? Looks pretty good to me… but then I see a magazine that has her cellulite-y butt cheeks plastered on the cover. You just can’t win.

  5. Adam, you TOTALLY should audition for that TV Network contest!! First the internet, then television, finally the WORLD!

  6. I’m a writer, actor, solo performer and fat woman who creates spoken word and theatre peices almost exclusively around the issues of weight, body image, and the beauty myth. The solo show I’ve been touring for the past year is called “Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat?”. I had NO idea “Fat Pig” existed until tonight, when, while searching for something completely unrelated on the internet, I found the title and the advertisement, and nearly flipped out. I want to see this show SO BADLY. I want to read it…hell, who am I kidding, I want to AUDITION for it. I’m now sitting here frothing at the mouth, clicking and clicking windows to figure out how I can get the rights and get the show produced in Minneapolis, where I live. I don’t, from what I’ve read, think Neil LaBute is harsh or misogynistic for portraying how much the world hates fat people in a play…I think he’s ACCURATE. I know, because I live the hatred every day.

    I am now off to find more info on “Fat Pig”. Thanks! :-D

  7. I too am a Professional Actress and stumbled on this site.

    In the 90’s I was an activist appearing on tv for “fat acceptance.” Fat and Proud was the motif and I naively poo-pooed those people claiming it is “unhealthy” to be overweight. Now years later, the diseases have caught up with me. The risks of obesity are very real. Unfortunately we have to, as mentioned in the above post, eat on a daily basis. Otherwise there would be rehabs for obese and obesity would be recognized as a issue with similar gravity. The problem is really in our insurance/healthcare system. The most productive things like gym/pool memberships aren’t covered by insurance plans…yet the doctors will rush you into getting weight loss surgery!–which IS covered. Even worse, you, an obese person, will be talked out of surgeries for things like removing tonsils because you are “too much of a risk for anaestheology”…yet all of a sudden that very risk vanishes when the subject is weight loss surgery (which by the way has a well-hidden fact of 1 in 100 mortality rate…appalling!)

    In any event, there have been studies about attractiveness and the waist to hip ratio. My understanding is that men are biologically wired to be attracted to a woman with a small waist and large hips because they are impregnable and thus desirable. The closer in inches a woman’s hip is to her waist the less desirable she is. This was from an article in Time magazine about 10 years ago.

    Do I sit and eat a box of cookies because I am frustrated…for example, with fat women who wear DKNY clothes, when I remember Donna Karan herself on a Joan Rivers interview saying…”joking”…that size 14 + women “shouldn’t leave the house.” No, Donna found out the statistics and jumped on the plus size design bandwagon to make a buck.

    Yeah, there is a lot to get angry about, if you wanted to be angry.

    Stereotypes abound. But I tell you this:I weigh over 300 lbs. and always have sex with the lights on and never cover myself up.

    I don’t know how many women of ANY weight who can say this. I suspect very, very few.

    Unfortunately a lot of men would appreciate a woman with this much self esteem; however HOW can they get past their biological programming???

    I haven’t seen the play and I intend to. I intend to perform the role in the future.

    in the meantime, i continue on a daily basis to make one-on-one personal contact with my healthcare practioners, my food log (NOT on a “diet”), and pursuing conversations and dialogues with people who appreciate me for my compassion and patience, two by-products of oppression.

  8. yee gads…she even has a hand in sponsoring the after party….here comes the cut and paste…

    “It was a big night for Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig. The MCC Theater production about body image and peer pressure opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on December 15 and then received a phat party from the theater company and DKNY Be Delicious ( a new fragrance) at the Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea. ”

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