I did a segment on HuffPost live today called “Too Big to Dance?” The segment was great but there was just one problem, I had final thoughts I wanted to give and, as is wont to happen in these situation, time ran out. But what is the point of having a blog but to prattle on long after they’ve turned off your mic? Before I get into it I just want to thank HuffPost Live for continuing to create spaces for this type of discussion- I’ve been on before but this time I was in studio and it was an absolute blast. Nancy Redd is a talented and super gracious host (which helps because I’m a total dork), Camille and Vanessa who produced the segment were amazing, the crew rocked and the panel was fantastic – Glenna Cush from Shimmy Sista provides plus size clothes for belly dancers, bad ass pole dancer/instructor Roz Mays, and dance writer Lauren Warnecke. So, here are my final thoughts:
First, the idea that people don’t want to see a fat dancer as Giselle (or at all). There is a word for saying that we don’t want people to get jobs because of how they look, and that word is bigotry. The dance world tends to act as if bigotry is ok because that’s just how dance is, or claim they won’t sell tickets if they use dancers with “non-traditional” bodies. First of all, neither of those things change the fact that this is bigotry, and neither mean that bigotry can’t be challenged. Also, I’m not sure that the ticket sale idea is based on good evidence, and even if it’s true that doesn’t mean that it’s ok – people may want bigotry but that doesn’t mean we have to give them what they want. Also, let’s remember that the fact that we only ever see thin bodies dancing trains us to think that fat bodies look “wrong” and the only way to fix that situation is to put fat bodies out there. Risk is the currency of revolution and I think it’s time for the dance world to start paying up.
I really liked a lot of what Laura said, but I must take exception to her assertion that “severely overweight” dancers shouldn’t dance en pointe. First let’s talk about calling bodies “severely overweight.” As I am Type 3, Super Obese at 5’4 and nearly 300 pounds, I assume that I would find myself firmly in that category, and I protest mightily. Over what weight? People come in different sizes and shapes, this is the size that I come in. And while I am sorry for the difficult journey that Laura has had, and very happy to hear that she is finding a path to peace with her body as a dancer, I think in this comment she missed the point of the whole segment a little bit. The point being: don’t assume that there is something wrong with fat dancers because of our size, and don’t tell us what we can and can’t do.
In general I think we’ll do best to avoid the “big, but not too big” language that I sometimes hear in discussions like this, suggesting that loving and appreciating your body and using it in ways that you enjoy has a size limit. No, no, no, no, seriously no, not even for “really fat” people.
While we’re at it, I would love to see an end to the “as long as they’re healthy” dialog. First because often “healthy” is a euphemism for “not too fat” and second because, even if they actually mean healthy that is very deeply problematic. It’s not that I think we shouldn’t discuss health at all, I do take exception to making health a barrier to entry or barometer of worthiness. Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors. Health is not an obligation – nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,” and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health. Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. I don’t think that people are allowed to dance “as long as they’re healthy,” I think that, with the exception of movement restrictions for actual health issues, people are allowed to dance, period. Of course that goes for any activity.
Finally I want to address how important I believe it is for fathletes to be visible. Not just us making the choice to be out there, but venues like Huffpost Live giving us air time. As we’ve discussed before, the absolutely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity” (as if someone will watch me dance and think “I wish I could dance that way, I guess the first step is to get to 300 pounds) means that fat people, including fat kids, don’t have role models who look like them doing the things that they want to do. So they often assume that means that those things are impossible for all fat people. I get e-mails all the time from fat people who wanted to try dancing but never tried because they thought they couldn’t at their size. Obviously every fat person can’t do what every fat athlete can do – but neither can every thin person. The problem here is that when someone says that showing fat people as anything other than miserable is “promoting obesity,” they are actually saying that we should give fat people the message that they should do nothing with their lives but try to lose weight because there is no hope for their happiness until they are thin. They are consciously choosing to withhold hope from fat people, and I believe that withholding hope is a crime and should be punishable.
Fat dancers are here, we are here to stay, and we will not stop until we get the opportunities that we deserve.
On the show I mentioned the Fat Fatties Forum. If you want to see some amazing representations of fathletes, you can check out the photo and video galleries at www.fitfatties.com. It’s completely free to join and use and is a space for people of all sizes who want to discuss fitness at all levels from a Health at Every Size perspective.
The picture they showed of me in the splits was taken by the incredible Substantia Jones for The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)
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