Tara Erraught is singing Octavian in the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier. It opened Saturday night. Of the six opera critics from London who reviewed her performance, 5 of them body shamed Erraught in their reviews. Some called her names, some suggested that it wasn’t possible that she could be a thin person’s lover, one wrote a review of about 250 words that failed to mention her singing. It seems that the only female critic was also the only one who didn’t body shame Ms. Erraught. (A writer for NPR compiled the egregious reviews and examined the critic’s reviews of fat male singers finding that *shockingly* no body shaming occurred in those reviews, but there was quite a bit of discussion of their talent as singers.)
In our society we choose our entertainers – singers, actors, dancers etc. – based on how closely they can approximate a single, unattainable, photoshop stereotype of beauty. This is so common that when someone who doesn’t look like this displays talent we share it on YouTube, completely flabbergasted, with titles like “YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS” as if talented people who aren’t stereotypically beautiful are completely shocking. That’s because we’ve been absolutely brainwashed to believe that only people who fit the current stereotype of beauty could possibly be talented. We add another layer of crap when men get involve and try to enforce this stereotype of beauty based on their preferences.
In this iteration, five men who are opera critics have decided that they do not find women of Ms. Erraught’s size attractive. They have also decided that, as professional opera critics, how attractive they find the singer is not only important enough to be worth comment in their reviews of the opera, but is in fact more important than how well she sings.
This idea – the women have must be attractive to men in order to be allowed to pursue our dreams, talents, goals etc. is rampant. I get tons of hatemail that just says “no man would fuck you” as if the most hurtful thing that any woman could ever hear (regardless of her sexual orientation) is that men don’t want to fuck her.
This, to me, is one of the critical intersections of feminism and size acceptance. If we want to dismantle the patriarchy, a huge part of that is ending this tradition of having “I would screw her” as an entrance requirement to the jobs we want or the ability to engage in things for which we have talent. We have to stop allowing men to use the poor treatment of fat women as a way to try to control the behaviors and bodies of thin women. What men find attractive should not drive who gets to sing, dance, act, be an administrative assistant, get into medical school or anything else. Men who are paid to critique opera and instead choose to critique women’s bodies should be reprimanded and, if necessary, fired and replaced with people who are willing to critique opera. To be clear, while I’m focusing on the treatment of women in this piece, these things aren’t ok when they happen to fat guy, or fat people of any gender.
If someone “can’t believe” a fat woman in a role because of her body size, it’s because that person holds prejudices against fat women. That’s not necessarily surprising considering the culture we live in – where fat girls are relegated to the secretary or teacher in the school play, fat actresses almost never get to be the love interest but do get to deal with tons of concern trolling, and fat people who are successful at anything other than weight loss are ignored because of the ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity” until fat people are denied positive fat role models and representations of ourselves, and everyone else is denied these as well. The fact that it’s not surprising of course does not make it ok, and we can and will continue to call it out when we see it, until the thing that is seen as clearly wrong is the body shaming opera critic and not the talented Mezzo Soprano.
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