Fat people who want to engage in movement – whether they want to walk around the block, or run a marathon – face some specific challenges because of the way our society views and treats fat people. Reader Elizabeth let me know that the Miami City Ballet provided us with an example of a lot of those issues when they posted the following picture on their Facebook page with the text “Happy Thanksgiving! Don’t eat too much turkey ;)”
The obvious problem is that dance is for every body and the Miami City Ballet chose to perpetuate the idea that dancers who don’t look like the people in the Miami City Ballet should be held up for ridicule, as well as doing some quick fat bashing. But if you look closer I think you’ll see more issues that this brings to light.
For fat athletes, it’s not just fighting stigma, oppression and stereotyping, sometimes it’s almost impossible just to get dressed. The person in the picture is wearing a Mawashi, which is lucky for him because finding actual dance clothes in large sizes is actually often more difficult than finding Bigfoot.
Hell, it’s a massive challenge just to find some decent affordable gym clothes in larger sizes. If a fat person needs specialized clothes (triathlete, cyclist, dancer etc.) it can be next to impossible, and if we do find them we can often expect to pay WAY more than our straight-sized friends. So not only do we face shame and stigma because people can’t get over themselves and let go of their narrow idea of what an athlete looks like, we often show up in clothes that don’t offer the performance or professional look of our competitor’s clothes.
Whoever posted this may not have even thought twice about it and that may be, at least partially, attributable to the social construct that says that fat bodies engaged in movement look “wrong” or are somehow funny just by existing. Because we’re often kept from view under the ridiculous guise of “not promoting obesity” people only see athletic thin bodies and so they get the idea that those bodies are “right” and fat bodies doing the same activities are “wrong”. Once, in a forum that was doing a fat hate day focused on me (seriously, this is how some people spend their time), someone had a picture of my standing heel stretch next to a woman with a traditional ballet body doing a similar move. They had diagrammed it to point out the differences, foolishly thinking that the additional flesh and fat of my heel stretch makes it “wrong” rather than realizing that the issue is with their narrow view of what a body should look like.
To me one of the saddest problems with what the Miami City Ballet has done here is that they are actively discouraging fat people from dancing by letting us know that, rather than having the respect and support of the dance community, they are more than happy to use us for the cheap, bigoted, laugh. When a little fat girl who wants to dance seeks out the Miami City Ballet on Facebook they have the opportunity to encourage her to join the dance community or at least to not discourage her. Instead they’ve chosen stereotypes, shaming, and stigma and so maybe that little girl gives up on dance. I know it happens because I get e-mails from girls who this is happening to and women who experienced it in their youth.
Movement and athleticism aren’t just for thin bodies and nobody who puts themselves out their should be ridiculed as this Miami City Ballet did here. I hope that they’ll apologize and consider looking actively for ways that they can be inclusive and encouraging of dancers of all sizes and abilities. I’m not complaining without offering to help – e-mail me: ragen at danceswithfat dot org. I can help.
Feel free to check out (and maybe even join) the Fit Fatties Forum – a free forum with over 1,100 athletes of all shapes and sizes talking about fitness from a weight neutral perspective – it also includes a photo and video gallery to help people expand their view of what an athlete looks like.
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