My Fat Arse and I
original title: A I Moja Gruba Dupa
year of production: 2020
country of production: Poland
director: Yelyzaveta Pysmak
production: Golanska Agata
editing: Natalia Jastrzębska
sound: Szymon Kucharski, Michał Lejczak
music: Michał Lejczak
festivals: Filmfest Dresden 2021, Warsaw Film Festival 2020, Cannes Cinéfondation 2020, Go Short 2021, SXSW 2021, Kaboom 2021, Norwegian Short Film Festival 2021, Short Waves Festival 2021
© images: 'My Fat Arse and I' (Yelyzaveta Pysmak)
With ‘My fat arse and I’ director Yelyzaveta Pysmak takes a gamble. Presenting a discussion of body issues and beauty norms as the central motif, the animated short doesn’t treat it lightly. At first impression, Pysmak seems to have settled for a rather stressful endeavour by going for a slightly experimental, meta-physical approach to examine said loaded themes and terms. However, marked by striking yellow color-coding and sometimes sharp, sometimes uneven drawn lines, this animated film presents its story about flawed self-images as easily accessible by not beating around the bush. Despite a heavy subject (pun unintended) the film is pretty straight-forward — and, by doing so, serves as a platform for larger discussions in regards to weight, body and beauty, even for audiences maybe less familiar with the intricacies of these complex discourses.
Even though ‘My fat arse and I’ operates with limited dialogue, one of the few sounds spoken is what sets the narrative in motion: a noisy “Aaaaaaa” is exclaimed by the protagonist upon realising that she no longer fits her pants. Stepping on a scale, the dial is spinning and spinning and spinning until it lands on the undesired result: “Fatty”. Delusion quickly sets in, and, with the scale’s results already taking hold in her mind, the protagonist looks at her reflection in the mirror and sees what the audience doesn’t, simply because it isn’t there. Distorting her own body, she imagines it in ways that do not correspond to reality: thighs broader than her shoulders, a belly so big it is hard to carry, a face stretched to the length of her arms. In this scene, Pysmak is able to show which shapes body dysmorphia can take on thanks to the use of animation. The writer-director’s over-exaggeration of physical features allows her to bring the discourse on body image issues home more directly than any enhancements with CGI or prosthetics ever could.
In these early moments, the short film lays the groundwork for how it discusses the issue of weight and the desire to conform to standardized beauty norms. For the protagonist, weight is a burden, when it shouldn’t be so. As the story continues, this burden turns into illness, as she sets out to lose weight by starving herself. What started as fitting back into a pair of jeans, spirals into a refusal to eat almost any hard food until she has lost so much weight that her clothes are several sizes too big. Cold and emaciated, she is destined to live without clothes, save for a pair of panties. Here, it is made clear that to strive for a personal definition of what is thin doesn’t mean a healthy attachment to food at the same time, or to anything else for that matter. As much as her body is affected by the lack of food, so is her mind.
As this delusional state worsens, the protagonist is invited to join the community of “Slimbutts”, whose members live in the imagined land of “The Kingdom of United Bitches of Slimbuttlandia”. Here, everyone has apparently lost so much weight, that they no longer have an upper body but only consist of two legs, a butt with eyes and two wings. It is also here where, despite its heavy subject, the film gets a little cheeky.
The pressure of weight loss is ever-present in the Kingdom: reaching as low a number on the scale as possible serves as a rite of passage. But, even down here, with her upper body still intact (however emaciated it looks to the audience), the protagonist is still deemed a “fat piglet”. While she approaches the scale (also known as “The God of Skinny Bitches”) to be welcomed to “Slimbuttlandia”, Edvard Grieg‘s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” creates an unsettling atmosphere, referencing Peer Gynt’s similarly dream-like fantasy. While Henrik Ibsen’s famous procrastinator encountered trolls and goblins in the hall of the mountain king, Pysmak’s protagonist is faced by literal arses, which, to make the metaphor land, even talk out of their arses.
However, while calling out unhealthy eating habits with a wink, once entering “The Kingdom of United Bitches of Slimbuttlandia”, the film also enters tricky territory. For some short moments, Pysmak runs the risk of skinny shaming by not only showing thin bodies as always in connection with the desire to keep low weight or loosing even more to an unhealthy degree, but also by describing all those whose scale displays numbers at the lower end of the dial as “arses” and only half a person.
Luckily, the writer-director can keep the balance of seriousness and cheekiness of her story going. After meeting “The God of Skinny Bitches” (embodying her worst fear: the scale), the protagonist reaches her breaking point. What follows is easily the film’s highlight: A computer game style (think “Street Fighter”) sequence, in which the protagonist, now named “Skinny Ass”, is joined by a voluptuous woman named “Fat Ass” to fight against “The God of Skinny Bitches”. What is the protagonist’s greatest fear since the beginning of the short (a “fat ass”) is now her accomplice in the fight against the scale and what it stands for: the terror of weight. In this turn of events, “skinny” and “fat” join forces to fight the oppressive forces the scale and the numbers it displays stand for. In the end, what Pysmak proposes is that the terror of weight affects “skinny” and “fat” women alike.
Pysmak’s short film picks up on universal themes like body size and beauty norms and morphs them into an easily accessible story. Some nuances on body norms and beauty myths (Whom can and should we call “skinny”? Who is to judge who is “fat”?) get lost along the way, especially since the film features a romanticized notion of how body issues can be resolved simply by regaining your inner strength (or, as the film puts it, your inner “fat ass”) in the blink of an eye. Still, thanks to the experimental nature of the animation and its willingness to intermingle a loaded subject matter with some playfulness, ‘My fat arse and I’ opens up its core discourse for anyone to dive into.Sabrina Vetter