Vancouver filmmaker Shana Myara says she’s often motivated by “frustration”. Something bothers her, so she decides to either write or make a movie about it.
Well Rounded, her 2020 documentary showing that being fat is okay, is a case in point. It will have its local premiere at this month’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival.
“Working closely in the queer and activist communities, it always seemed strange to me that we were very progressive in some areas but, really, we were very much like any corporate lunchroom when it came to talking about bodies and weight,” Myara told the Straight by phone.
She’s heard plenty of talk within LGBT+ circles from people aspiring to have a beach body or apologizing for their lunches. She noted that others are very comfortable declaring their attraction to certain body types.
To Myara, this is part of the baggage that queer communities should be shedding if they want to continue dismantling societal beliefs that are wrong.
“Queerness is okay,” she said. “Understanding gender identities is okay. Still, we’re kind of toeing the line of what a body should look like.”
Her film carries profound messages about body positivity from four compelling, articulate, and larger-than-average LGBT+ people: Joanne Tsung and Lydia Okello from Vancouver, and Ivory Conover and Candy Palmater from Toronto. Their heartfelt and often humourous perspectives are augmented by viewpoints from two academic researchers, Canadian historian Jenny Ellison and UCLA weight-stigma researcher Janet Tomiyama.
Ellison explains why the public has been conditioned to hold fatphobic attitudes toward people who are heavy.
Remember those TV ads about the 60-year-old Swede being healthier than the 30-year-old Canadian? Myara’s film reveals that they were based on a lie.
At one point in Well Rounded, Tomiyama cites research proving that weight is as heritable as height.
“This fact cuts through the noise,” Myara said, “because so much of the dialogue around weight is really about whether you’re a failed person or not.”
The film opens with Conover jauntily strolling through the streets to the sounds of Vancouver queer musician Kimmortal’s “Sad Femme Club”. Myara quipped that this feisty, feminist, hip-hop tune is Conover’s “Saturday Night Fever rebuttal”.
From there, the four main characters share the pain that they’ve experienced from others due to their body shapes, as well as the joy that came with self-acceptance. The diversity of the cast brings forth perspectives about body size and body image not often presented on-screen.
“My body is where I live,” Okello says. “I can’t change the way I look.”
Obsessed with fashion from a young age, Okello has continued to pursue this as a career in adulthood, working as a model, stylist, and writer. Tsung, an emerging standup comic, describes the first time someone saw her naked—it came while she was getting waxed. Conover, a plus-sized entertainer and queer advocate, talks about her love of ballet dancing. Palmater, a comedian and TV host, delivers scathing putdowns of those who think she’s lazy or who don’t believe she cares about her health.
Myara said that she made the film on a very low budget. Despite this, she—along with director of photography Nico Stagias and editor Winston Xin—still managed to inject plenty of colour into the production through the opening sequence, the interview locations, historical footage, and animation.
In addition, Myara was thrilled with the ways in which the U.K.-based animator, Alexandra Hohner, represented the interior lives of the characters.
“I kind of knew with the budget we had, we wouldn't be able to shoot evocative B-roll,” Myara said.
The stories told by Okello, Tsung, Conover, and Palmater seeped into Myara’s consciousness as she transcribed their words and repeatedly watched the interview footage.
“There was something in that process that utterly transformed me, and I feel like, for me, maybe this film was the best gift I could have given myself,” she said.
Myara added that she’s heard from others who appreciate the film’s message about body positivity.
“It felt like I’ve found a like-minded community—people who’ve been really thankful for the film because it lifted a bit of weight off of their shoulders,” Myara said. “The weight of stigma, not body weight.”