When Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig premiered at MCC Theater in 2004, it sparked a wave of dialogue about women of different sizes, body acceptance, and the realities of dating as a plus-size person. When NBC’s This Is Us premiered this past fall, the decade-old conversation roused and reverberated through Hollywood and across the country.
The conversation peaks March 5 as This Is Us star Chrissy Metz takes on the leading role in a special reading of Fat Pig celebrating MCC’s 30th anniversary season. LaBute’s play follows Helen, a plus-size woman dating an average-size man, Tom, who loves Helen but is also embarrassed to publicly date her.
“I was shocked at how many people really felt the emotional tug of war that Tom feels,” says Ashlie Atkinson, who won a Theatre World Award in 2004 for her work as the original Helen. “I liked playing a role where my weight was not something that was glossed over. I was glad that Neil wrote it, but I was dismayed at the necessity of this sort of story in 2004.”
Even in 2017, we still need stories like this, and Metz is glad they’re being told. “It’s so important to discuss [weight] because there are people who feel really inadequate to the point where they can’t even allow themselves to love,” she says. “[Being on This is Us] is an education on real struggles and what it means to be different in this way.”
“Because there’s so much more body positivity now—whether it’s because of plus-size models, or plus-sized roles in television or film—there’s more acceptance, and I think that it’s going to be interesting to see [audiences] react afterward.”
Still, some viewers of This Is Us have expressed frustration that so much of Kate’s storyline focuses on her weight, while others consider it a victory that the show confronts weight head-on. Likewise, Fat Pig spotlights weight as the main issue. But Metz welcomes both roles and stories. “I’m excited for Fat Pig because there needs to be more art based around weight,” she says.
Through This is Us and Fat Pig, Metz can keep the discussion—and action—moving forward. After all, creator Dan Fogelman wrote a show with a plus-size woman and cast an actual woman of size (“not pretend plus-size, like a size 6!” exclaims Metz). “There’s so many women who don’t see themselves on television, and it’s not even about the size, but it’s about what they’re going through,” she says. “People need to see that they’re not crazy for either eating their feelings or contending with their weight for whatever emotions or issues they haven’t dealt with, because we all deal with them in a different way. You can’t move past something if you don’t deal with the problem.
“Fat people, thin people, average people, we all fall in love and get our hearts broken. Our bodies just look different,” says Metz. “That is what audiences need to see.”
The benefit reading of Fat Pig plays at MCC March 5 at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. This Is Us airs Tuesday at 9 PM ET on NBC.
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at IrisWiener.com.