“inFATuation” Explores Intersections of Identities
A Big Obsession
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 02:03
Often, if someone glances through a magazine, considers the statistics for eating disorders or even people-watches around campus, he or she will accept the thin, conservative, stylish girl as what Georgetown and most of America sees as beautiful. With so many fad diets and anti-obesity campaigns gaining popularity, our culture seems to view being fat as a problem — an epidemic that must be eliminated. And instead of openly embracing men and women of all weights, shapes and sizes, it promotes only the skinny body image. It is exactly this notion that Georgetown alumna Allie Villarreal (COL ’12) addresses in her one-woman show "inFATuation."
The show, which debuted at Georgetown last year and is currently being restaged for the Atlas Intersections Festival, revolves around being fat while addressing a range of other related topics.
"This show is about the two-thirds of America that is overweight that we talk about in numbers and figures but never put faces to," Villarreal said.
In writing and performing this piece, she sought to combat society’s negative portrayal of weight by depicting individuals’ day-to-day experiences of being fat.
Villarreal’s interest in addressing fat acceptance issues through theatre began when she read Madeleine George’s "The Most Massive Woman Wins" in high school. The play, which addresses four women’s struggles with culture’s perception of beauty, inspired Villarreal, and she worked to have it performed at Georgetown.
Originally, Villarreal proposed a solo performance of George’s play for her senior thesis. As her thesis developed, she realized there were more facets of weight’s relationship with identity that she wanted to portray.
"[George’s] show really didn’t encompass everything I wanted to say and how I felt about fat," she said.
Using the play as a starting point, Villarreal began to explore different perspectives.
"The beauty of the human experience is that it’s complicated," said Villarreal, "And to do that justice, I had to show that there are so many ways of being fat and that living a fat life, like anything else, has its ups and downs."
In order to give a realistic depiction of what it means to be fat in America, her piece needed to encompass a wide variety of experiences.
To do so, Villarreal had to grapple with challenging themes such as gender, race, socioeconomics and sexuality. Observing a problem with "fatphobia" and eating disorders within the gay community, Villarreal chose to include the experiences of a gay man — addressing gender and sexuality at once. "InFATuation" gave Villarreal a chance to address topics like these, which are not often focused on, as well as widely known problems such as the media’s role in body image.
In dealing with one theme, Villarreal found that many other topics were linked.
"If you look at weight and size and beauty, it touches all aspects of diversity," Villarreal said. "If we talk about race, we have different cultural standards for beauty based on our ethnicity or culture."
At times, attempting to include such a wide breadth of experiences became challenging for Villarreal. When it came to different viewpoints, she needed to limit herself.
"You learn that you can’t touch every single story," Villarreal explained. "But by at least in some way pursuing that endeavor, you learn a lot as an artist about being sensitive to the portrayal of those [who] are outside of your demographic."
Ultimately, "inFATuation" features characters ranging from a transgendered man to a black woman to a 12-year-old boy, all portrayed by Villarreal.
It may seem daunting to address this range of themes and characters in a senior thesis project. In fact, as Villarreal explained, theater is the perfect medium for doing so.
"If you put it on a stage and package it as a show, that often makes it easier," she said. "[People] don’t have to participate — [they] just watch and receive."
By presenting the various experiences in a short, entertaining manner, the audience is forced to confront their pre-existing beliefs about weight and how it relates to identity.
"[‘inFATuation’] is both virtuosic and moving, challenging and generous, featuring a mix of people — shaped by research and imagination both — living with fat and challenging us to embrace bodies and bodied lives," Maya Roth said, director of Georgetown’s theater and performance studies program, who also served as Villarreal’s thesis advisor.
Villarreal believes that such a challenge is especially important here at Georgetown.
"Though I feel strongly about this subject in any space, Georgetown in particular has a hyper-body-conscious culture," said Villarreal.
On a campus dominated by image, being fat can be very isolating. Through her show, Villarreal hoped to bring attention to and inspire dialogue about experiences with weight.
"[‘inFATuation’] is an attempt to foster empathy with all people in that audience with what people go through every day," said Villarreal. "What everyone goes through every day, fat or not."
Beginning this weekend, Villarreal will be reprising her solo performance as part of Atlas Intersections Festival. Intersections, which seeks to present art that fosters dialogue, is a 12-day festival featuring art in various forms — dance, music, theater, film and spoken word poetry. Presenting the piece after having completed her thesis, Villarreal knows that a new audience will have a new and potentially very different reception.
"In order to kind of polish the piece," Villarreal said, "I went for a few changes to round out the characters because … art is never finished."