By Katiee McKinstry & Janet Conroy-Quirk
Trigger Warning: Discussion of dieting,eating disorders, fatphobic language
Rumor has it the Friends reunion was delayed, but still happening. And Bold has mixed feelings. It’s no secret that Friends is the 90’s hit sitcom that continues to be a fan favorite to this day. It’s popular because it is often very funny, extremely well-acted, and occasionally touched upon issues that were still gaining understanding. However, it didn’t do everything right. We’ve been wanting to talk about Monica’s fat suit and the undertones of fatphobia throughout the series. Well, it’s time we did.
Yes, the late ’90s and early 2000s were a different era; we did not have the language to discuss some of the sensitive topics that we do today. But there are a few serious flaws in this beloved show that require criticism, and Monica’s fat suit is one of the first that comes to mind.
The fat suit exists in an atmosphere heavy with fatphobia. Being fat in her teens is a theme that follows Monica around throughout the show. Flashbacks and references to her former fat self are used against her by her friends and her brother. Jokes are written about Monica that implies that she’s so much hotter now that she’s skinny. Chandler only became interested in Monica when she was skinny and showed no interest in her when she was fat. She’s depicted to have been constantly eating when she was fat, pulling candy bars out of her pockets, dripping mayonnaise on Rachel as they hug before the prom, and even becoming aggressively protective around food. The writers portray Monica in the typical way that shames large bodies, highlights diet culture, and implies that being fat is wrong and grounds for being mocked.
Even if you ignore the blatant fatphobia written into the discussions of Monica’s body, it’s impossible to ignore the fat suit. By using the fat suit, the writers made Monica look much more bloated and fake rather than authentically fat. The suit itself is a joke about fat bodies.
In the plot, everyone in Monica’s life tormented or ignored her to the point where she lost weight. But her character remains obsessed with exercise and dieting. No surprise, when her former fat teenage body is constantly brought up as a way to “put her in her place” as a thin adult. Remember that touch football game that got nasty? When Ross, her brother, chants, “Cheater, Cheater, Compulsive Eater” at her?
But back to the fat suits. Why are we still using fat suits?! Joey can be spotted in an episode of Friends also in a fat suit, where the show makes fun of over-eating. The series consistently relies on mocking fat people and eating disorders. The examples are plentiful, but one episode says it all. Monica and Rachel both like the same guy, someone they ran into and knew in high school (yes, when Monica was fat -so he ignored her). Monica asks Rachel to let her go out with him, stating, “The fat girl in me needs this. I NEVER let her eat!” There’s so much pain and warped thinking in that line, and to hear it followed by canned laughter is the epitome of Diet Culture.
Keeping in mind that the time period allowed for that kind of humor, the show has stayed very beloved and well-received. But it’s our responsibility to consider these fatphobic undertones as we watch the show now. We shouldn’t be okay with watching the characters tear down Monica for being plus size. A skinny woman in a fat suit does not equal a plus-size character, nor should a plus-size character be shamed into extreme diets in order to be “pretty.” If Monica was truly fat, she would have still been just as drop-dead gorgeous, and it’s painful to watch the show ignore that.
There is no place for fatsuits in 2020. We don’t seem to have evolved much since Shallow Hal. In the new Bill & Ted reboot, there’s a fat suit involved. Come on Keanu, really? Britney Runs A Marathon. Thor. We need more awareness of fat suits and fatphobic jokes. Relying on the trope that a character hates herself and her past because she was fat, isn’t quite promoting self-love, is it? Neither is using a fat suit to create a “Before” body or to establish failure or decline in a “formerly great” character. Let’s do better.