Today a reader e-mailed to tell me about her experience in dealing with a fat shamer. I was so inspired by the story that I want to share it in its entirely (with permission, of course), and then we’ll talk about it a little:
Here’s what happened. Last year I started working on a project for production this spring. It’s a play with 4 characters – 2 women in their 60s, one woman in her 40s and a guy of undetermined age, but probably middle aged. My part was the woman in her 40s (for which I am very suitable). The actor playing the guy character is a great actor and is very large. We got a director and I thought he understood that the cast came ready made – the parts were already cast. Two weeks ago he told me that he saw my character as a much younger and thinner woman – someone who could also persuade the audience that she can ride a bike (show mentions bike) – and someone who could represent a love interest. Effectively he didn’t want to cast me in my own show. He said he saw the guy part as someone also much younger and thinner, with a toned and muscular body (play calls for taking off shirt). He thought the audience would be uncomfortable with the guy’s fat. I explained that the discomfort was part of the play and should be there, and that the actor playing that part had already been cast, and I wasn’t going to uncast him..
At this point I had a choice. The old me (pre-Ragen) would have taken it all, and would have thought that he was right. I probably would have let him give my part to someone else who was younger, thinner and prettier. I would have been left feeling really bad and with zero self-esteem and wondering how my show had been hijacked. But I fought back.
What I said was that the cast was non-negotiable, as was my vision of the play (I mean, I am the producer, right?). If he could work with it, that would be great, and if not, then maybe we would work together some other time. He decided that he could not compromise his own artistic vision in order to accommodate mine. I said okay – I understood. Now my artistic director and I are looking for another director. Huzzah!!
I still don’t quite believe I managed to stand up for myself and didn’t succumb to the fat shaming. As someone with very low self-esteem, it was really hard. I was initially shocked and horrified that he wanted to do this months after the initial reading. It was really hard to stand my ground, and I could feel myself shaking when I was talking to him, but somehow I found the strength to do it.
There may be repercussions from the other cast members because the fat shaming director is a big shot in this theatre community. I decided that if they want to leave, I’m not going to try to stop them. We will just recast and move on. I could not have done it without all of your help and the conviction that you bring to your work. I’m very proud of myself that I didn’t let the fat shamer win.
First of all, I think that when the director said that he couldn’t “compromise his own artistic vision” what he was really saying was that he refused to examine or work on his prejudices about fat people Then he tried to convince her that she should also give in to his prejudice because it’s likely that the audience will hold the same prejudice and wouldn’t she rather just perpetuate prejudice than challenge it? This is the kind of bullshit that keeps bigotry in place and I’m so inspired by the way that she stood up to it.
Let’s be clear that at the idea of a fat woman riding a bike or being loved – things that lots and lots of fat women do – he feels the need to stick his fingers in his ears and yell “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA THAT’S INCONCEIVABLE!!!” then work as hard as possible to perpetuate bigotry and stereotypes, and take his ball and go home if others won’t cooperate. Trying to sell this as “artistic vision” doesn’t make it any less an act of bigotry. Of course fat people are not the only group to be subjected to this – this same bullshit is used to justify a lack of representation for people of color, women, disabled people/people with disabilities, queer and trans people, and people of various ages – especially older people, especially older women.
What this reader did is exactly what it takes to create change in a messed up world. Bigotry shouldn’t happen, the world shouldn’t be like this, we shouldn’t have to fight or debate for our right to exist or to be represented in the media. It’s not our fault, but it can become our problem. Risk is the currency of revolution. If we want to create social change (and nobody is obligated to do so) there will be risk involved. To create social change a lot of people will risk a little, some people will risk a lot, and a few people will risk everything. Each of us gets to choose what, if anything we want to risk, and when, and how, and there should be no shame or judgment for any of those decisions.
Interactions like the one above are how change happens. When one of us decides No. Not this time. When one of us stands up, not because it’s the easy or safe thing to do, not because we are sure that other people will stand up with us, but because it’s time to stand up.
Years ago a friend gave me a custom mousepad with an Og Mandino quote on it. I still use the mousepad and and read the quote everyday for inspiration. The last line is:
This is the time. This is the place. I am the person.
Damn right it is. Damn right we are.
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