I am eating cheese and onion crisps because Katie Greenall told me to and, most of the time, I’m a pretty good sport. I absolutely hate cheese and onion crisps. Greenall is using the crisps to play a game of body image ‘Never have I Ever’. Initially there are points where I can join in – who hasn’t been on a crash diet or got stuck in a pair of shorts in a Topshop changing room? But quickly, Greenall’s examples get more extreme and the distance between her and the audience widens. It’s not in the slightest bit funny, it’s horribly uncomfortable and we are left feeling compliant as she has to force more and more into her mouth with a tired, hopeless expression. You want to intervene, worried she might choke or make herself sick – but we do nothing.
Greenall has had to eat so many crisps over Edinburgh Fringe that by the performance I saw she was having to buy a salt-your-own brand due to developing welts on the inside of her lips. She is putting herself out there emotionally in Fatty Fat Fat and has even now damaged herself physically, the least I can do is eat gross flavoured crisps.
If you expect Fatty Fat Fat to be a joy filled, rambunctious hour of fat acceptance and body positivity, well – you’re going to be disappointed. Greenall’s journey towards finding how to live in her body when the world tells her it should look different is not an ascent into acceptance and celebration but a bumpy ride. There are times, when she is being caressed by a lover or cutting up shapes to early 2000 tunes on the dance floor, that she feels at home in her skin. Other times she finds herself pulled back to the cruelty of the playground or the well-meaning weight-loss ‘support’ offered by her mother. Greenhall is part of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and the autobiographical segments demonstrate her gift of language. This isn’t a wishy washy bundle of recollections but a carefully plotted see-saw of emotion.
It’s a much more realistic depiction of what it is like to navigate the world outside of western culture’s idea of standard size. ‘Just because I am starting to feel ok with calling myself fat, doesn’t mean that you get to’ cautions Greenall, reminding us how loaded the adjective is. Even though she can now stand in front of silver balloons spelling out the word, Greenall is clearly still not wholly comfortable with it and its implications. Society still sees her weight before they see her, a point brilliantly made by a playing out of a visit to the doctor. A septic cut is left ignored as the doctor (played by a member of the audience) questions Greenall on all the possible health implications of her high BMI. It is perhaps an extreme enactment but one rooted in a truth that many plus size folk face daily. Whatever is wrong with you, it’s assumed it is because of how much you weigh.
I want to stress again that Fatty Fat Fat isn’t funny. Not even at points where it feels as if the set-up intends us all to be in on the joke, such as Greenhall asking us to guess how many items (skittles, spoons) she can secrete within her flesh like a human village fete game. She always keeps it that little bit tense, never making us feel safe as to whether we are all laughing together – or if we are laughing at her like the school bullies once did. On the afternoon I watched the show, there were no plus size people that I could see in the audience and I can imagine that if you share any of the experiences that Greenall talks that the experience would be more complex – and not in a pleasant way. But then she never claimed to be a spokeswoman for any movement, and it maybe says something still about social expectations that we suppose she might want to be.
Fatty Fat Fat was on at Pleasance as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. It tours to Bristol on 16th September – more info and tickets here.