Curvy local actress Frances Lee recounts distasteful comments made about her size

15 February 2014 / 2 years 8 months ago

Curvy actress Frances Lee, 23, knows first hand how obsessed Singaporeans can be about body image and weight.

She once walked into a store where a saleswoman glanced at her and promptly declared: "Sorry, don't have your size."

Lee says in an interview with The Straits Times: "It's something that's part of the culture here. You're supposed to be a certain size and look a certain way."

So when she heard that theatre company Pangdemonium Productions was on the hunt for a plus-sized actress to star in its upcoming show, Fat Pig, she jumped at the chance.

Fat Pig (2004), by provocative American playwright Neil LaBute, runs from Thursday to March 2 at the DBS Arts Centre.

The biting comedy centres on a handsome young professional, Tom, who falls madly in love with Helen, a plus-sized beauty, but decides to keep her a secret from his friends for reasons he cannot explain.

The play examines and questions the importance society places on appearances, and poses some very uncomfortable questions about people's drive to look good in front of others.

Director Tracie Pang tells Life! that what makes Fat Pig so hard-hitting is the sense that weight is perceived as something most people can control and that being overweight is often perceived as a lack of willpower.

Lee, a musical theatre student at Lasalle College of the Arts, has never gone out with someone who has been "actively embarrassed" by her weight.

But she has had to put up with some rather distasteful comments, even those made with the best intentions.

She says: "I have had conversations with previous partners, where they'd say, 'Oh, do you really want to wear that? Maybe lose five more kilos and then you can wear that?'

Sometimes they don't even realise that they're being that way or saying these things.

"It's a loaded question when you ask 'How do I look?', but it's not supposed to be loaded - just say how I look. I'm not asking you, 'Do I need to lose weight?'

I'm asking you, 'Is this okay on me?' No need to give me an essay."

Playwright LaBute has earned a reputation for wrestling with controversial issues.

In his film In The Company Of Men (1997), two misogynistic men plan to woo and then emotionally ruin a deaf woman.

His 2002 play The Mercy Seat focuses on a man who escapes the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre because he was away from the office with his mistress, and then ponders running away to start a new life with his lover.

His characters in Fat Pig - with the exception of the voluptuous Helen - are also hardly likeable, especially Tom's colleagues Carter (Zachary Ibrahim) and Jeannie (Elizabeth Lazan), who occasionally let fly with a stream of appallingly inappropriate comments and insults.

Pang says: "Part and parcel of writing a play is to push buttons. It is to make people think. I don't have issues with that as long as it's for good reason. I think where the issue lies is when you do something for titillation.

"There is a very strong through-line with Fat Pig of why the characters are so flawed and why they push those buttons. Because Neil LaBute wants to make the audience question. They may have thought those things but never said them out loud."

Actor Gavin Yap, 36, who plays Tom, adds: "LaBute's characters don't get away with anything. I think that's very important, that he has a very clear understanding of consequences. You don't walk out of that play thinking it's cool to make fun of someone or that you can get away with it."

They hope that Fat Pig will bring to light some of these misconceptions about weight and expectations of what an individual should or should not look like.

Lazan, 31, says: "You can relate to any character. You may not be a full-fledged Tom or Jeannie or Helen or Carter, but you see a bit of yourself in every one of them, and I think that's why it's honest and real."


Where: DBS Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road

When: Now to March 2. Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, March 2 at 3 and 8pm

Admission: $30 to $55 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

Info: Recommended for 16 years old and above (some mature content and coarse language)

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