I don’t mean to be in the way. I really don’t.
When you take your seat on the subway, or in an airplane, I don’t want to crowd you. I don’t want to press my body against yours, to force contact, to ooze into your space.
I don’t want to feel the hot insistent pressure of your thigh against mine, or the jostle of your shoulder as you fumble with your newspaper, your iPod, your purse. I don’t want to feel your elbow dig into my belly as you jockey for space.
I don’t want to be in your way. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I don’t want to TAKE UP SPACE.
Do you know how terrified fat people are of taking up space? Of moving, slow and huge, like glaciers, through a crowd of nimble forest animals? Of bumping someone with our “monstrous” asses? Of being wedged, uncomfortably, into too-small movie theatre seats and after that, having to clamp our thighs together and cross our arms over our chests for two hours to avoid encroaching upon our neighbor’s space?
I guess I can’t really can’t speak for all fat people. But I can speak for me. I am terrified of taking up space.
That’s why I don’t sit on the subway when there’s one seat (three quarters of a seat!) wedged between two normal or even small-sized people. That’s why I stop and let you pass, the two of you chatting arm in arm, hogging the sidewalk at twice my width and then glancing pityingly sideways when you see I’ve waited for you to go by. That’s why I request a window seat on the airplane… so that I can lean away from you, so that I won’t offend you with my bulk (or be noticed by a cranky flight attendant who’s just dying to power-trip and happens to hate fat people.)
And I’m sorry. I am sorry that I take up extra space.
But. Read more…
My performance in last week’s Revealed was reviewed in Cultural Capitol this week. When I saw the review, I thought “Awesome, I’d love to see what they thought of my bitter Macy’s employee act.” But then I read it and realized that the review didn’t have anything to do with my performance.
Speaking of type, have you seen Jezebel Express lately? I know, most of you men out there are too fucking proud to admit what you really like—that middle-school era bullshit wherein you only admit to being hot for the girls that everyone else you know has already said—out loud, in the cafeteria—“she’s hot.” And most of you women are too kindly—and/or fearful of judgment—to admit when someone is NOT hot. Unless she’s bangin’ the boy you want, dig. So let’s be honest: Jezebel is a Whole Lotta Rosie, and she’s not making any apologies. But she’s totally, totally hot. I’d love to test my theory—show of hands versus secret ballot: men, would you like to roll around with Jezebel? Discuss. BTW, J.E. pulled a simple high-concept holiday strip: wrapping presents, she wrapped her own clothes.
I don’t consider this a negative review. It’s obviously meant to be complimentary. But I see this pattern over and over… people use my performance as a springboard for talking about size issues, and never get back around to talking or thinking about what I actually DO.
On the one hand, I’m glad that the reviewer points out that our cultural attitudes toward fat are really damaged. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that the review, ostensibly of my performance and the show, devolves into a discussion about whether people will secretly admit to wanting to fuck me. Read more…
Today, I love the curve of my hip.
The way his wrist felt heavy on my hipbone while we watched noir movies last night felt good, too. My big, soft body on the big soft bed – I felt solid, present, here.
I do not feel bad about my body today.
Last week, I stood up in front of twelve women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Women who’d shown up at a beginning burlesque class, who blinked nervously and asked “Do I wear high heels or sneakers?”. Women who smiled tentatively when I introduced myself as the instructor, and then more openly when I took off my coat to reveal my form-fitting dance clothes… maybe because I have hips, or because I remind them of their best friend, or because the fact that I’m standing there looking pretty damn sexy gives them permission to imagine that, even though they’re not stick-thin glamour girls, they might be sexy as well.
I stood in front of twelve women, and I taught them something about the art form that I love. (Someone in class is always surprised to learn that bump and grind isn’t just an R. Kelly song.) I gave them feather boas and demanded that they jiggle their butts. We laughed a lot.
And I told them some things I wish someone had told me.
Backstage, at a bowling alley in New Jersey, I start to wonder if this was a good idea.
It’s 10pm on a Friday night, and when I say that I’m about to perform a burlesque show IN a bowling alley, that’s exactly what I mean. The good people at Asbury Lanes have permanently pulled the pins from lanes 7-11 and erected a large, sturdy stage over them. It’s a popular performance venue for local bands, and the owners bring burlesque performers down from New York from time to time. Attendance is hit or miss, though striptease usually draws an enthusiastic crowd. A thick navy blue velvet curtain hangs floor-to-ceiling behind the raised stage, and through a slit on the side, we enter the backstage area, which sits over the back half of the shut-down lanes.
The first thing I notice is the amazing early-70s furniture strewn about carelessly. Mustard yellow loveseats, cheap laquered wood-look tables, and low-slung white pleather chairs cover the backstage area. In the corner, there is an ornate carousel horse, head still held high in a whinny as though awaiting her next ride.
The second thing I notice is that rather than renovating the floor, they’ve used long, patchwork strips of carpet to cover the bowling lanes. In the back of the alley, you can see the wood peek out from under the carpet and run into the black void of the pin deck. The gutters are still there, too, left uncovered so that people can see and avoid the small, slippery dips.
The third thing I notice is that there’s nobody there to see the show.
*** Read more…
So I’m backstage getting ready at a show, or maybe I’m at the movies with friends, or at the Sideshow at Coney. I could be anywhere. And I’ve really overdone it on something… popcorn, or fizzy Cherry Coke, or those amazing Nathan’s hot dogs. I’m overfull, and feel vaguely gross (or maybe I’m just PMSing and struggling with the body dysmorphia that accompanies PMS for me). Whatever the reason, I feel like an orca. And I put my hand on my stomach and, with a sigh, I say “Ugh, I feel kind of fat today.”
You know what happens when I say that? People freak out. I am not exaggerating when I say that I’ve seen every single person in earshot visibly freeze when I drop the F-bomb. Nervous glances are exchanged, hair is fiddled with. And then?
People jump into action. They scramble, frantic, for something to say. And they always come up with the same thing. People begin blurting out reassuring aphorisms, often speaking on top of one another, everyone eager to share the good news: “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!”
So, I know girls do this to one another. I’ve heard it said to skinny girls as well (though in those cases, it seems the more common response is “Oh, me TOO. I ate so much today.”). And I understand that this reaction is at least in part a knee-jerk designed to combat skewed body image, and to discourage women from beating ourselves up over our appearances.
But here’s the problem: I AM fat. And I’m also beautiful. And, dammit, I may not be your idea of “normal”, but I have my own “normal”, and when I gain ten pounds, I face the same problems as you. My costumes don’t fit right. I have a weird blob of fat where I didn’t before. And, yeah, sometimes I feel like crap about it. I don’t like what’s implied in the way this conversation goes (and it has gone that way, without fail, every time I have had it). I find myself continually frustrated people feel like it’s appropriate to reject out-of-hand my expressions of displeasure with my body.
Obviously, a Public Service Announcement is needed. Are you ready? Here it comes.
Fat people are allowed to have fat days. Read more…
When I take my clothes off, my body gets a variety of reactions. Some people are thrilled to see a woman who looks ‘real’ onstage, and some people are obviously uncomfortable. Like any professional performer, I expect my reviews to be mixed at best. Still, if I had I a dime for every time someone has made a beeline directly for me after a show to say “You were so good! Really, you did an awesome job. You should keep doing this!’, I would be a rich woman indeed.
At first blush, this seems like really fantastic feedback (it is, in a lot of cases!). But in some of these compliments, there’s also a strain of overemphatic positivity that makes me very uncomfortable, and it’s taken me awhile to figure out why.
The reason I am uncomfortable is this: sometimes, when people compliment my performance, they do so in a way that makes it painfully obvious that they think I need more reassurance and support than the skinny girls up there. I am almost certain this is well intentioned, so I have a hard time feeling angry or frustrated with the people who turn into cheerleaders in my presence. I get it, I think – they see me and suppose that I must get tons of negative feedback and criticism, and they think they can help by doing their part to ‘positively reinforce’ my self-esteem.
The thing is, it doesn’t take a village. At least not in my case. Read more…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fat (mine in particular, more than the associated political and health-related minefields).
I’ve gained a lot of weight since moving to New York two years ago – weight I lost (and worked hard to lose) while I was living elsewhere. I am ambivalent about the re-gain… part of me is disappointed, and buys the shame trope (“but you worked so hard to lose it – how could you let this happen AGAIN?”). Another part of me is more understanding. (“You moved to New York with no job, no friends, no place to live and $1,000 to your name. That first year was scary and awful and ROUGH.”) Another part of me is proud. (“You still look hot as hell. Way to go!”)
It can be easy to ignore weight gain… you switch out your jeans for stretchier pants, and you dig in the back of the closet for the shirts you swore you’d never wear again, but you kept, with a fat girl’s fatalism, anyway. But when you take your clothes off in public, weight gain is impossible to ignore. I’m a burlesque dancer who’s gained 40(ish?) pounds in the last two years, and I’ve stripped my way through it. It has been bizarre.
When I was thinner, I still didn’t cut a slim figure. I have big shoulders, strong calves, an hourglass shape. I’m not built to be a size zero. At my healthiest, I was a size 8-10, all muscle and tits. Now, at a size 16-18, I am what people euphemistically call ‘ a big girl’ and hasten to add ‘but hot!’. I still have multiple curves, as opposed to one big curve in the middle. But I am a most definitely bigger-than-average girl, a ‘plus-sized’ girl. In theatre reviews, I’ve been called ‘zaftig’ and ‘pleasingly rubenesque’. From the go-go box (where, yes, I can hear you, even if I’m naked!) I’ve been called “gross” and “significantly overweight”, and have been the subject of disparaging bachelor-party grumblings about “fat strippers”. (This sort of judgy-judgy is not size-specific, by the way. A fantastically hot and talented friend of mine whose body I would kill to have has been likened to a ’scrawny baby bird’ by loud, rude audience members, and I know it is every bit as stinging as ‘fat’ is to me.)
There is no ignoring the fact that I am fat when I shake my cellulite onstage. The audience can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore it. And as my size has changed, I’ve noticed that the way people deal with me has changed as well. I’m going to write about this. Please enjoy it (or, you know, don’t).
First, I’d like to thank you for coming out on Friday night. The Evening of Burlesque that I hosted supports an internationally renowned week of contemporary dance and dance theatre hosted here in our fair city. I have taken part as a performer in the past, and the festival will feature my original choreography and performance this year. I do appreciate your support.
I also appreciate my work being viewed with a critical eye, so I was willing to lend an ear when you suggested to me that only about sixty percent of the show was worth watching, and that the rest was ‘crap’. I respectfully voiced my disagreement, and explained that this event is a fundraiser put off by unpaid performers who are given very little time to rehearse in the theatre and virtually no compensation, other than the chance to practice their art and that glowy feeling that comes from helping other artists make THEIR art.
Your suggestion, which you pitched both to me and the three bartenders standing patiently in the corner, was that we work together to create a professional burlesque cabaret. You expressed the firm belief that it could run several nights of the week, and invited me to lunch to discuss the possibilities. I told you I would think it over, and perhaps give you a call. The bartenders were intrigued as well, though I sensed that they were put off by your suggestion that they should be wearing French maids’ uniforms.
It was obvious that you were having a good time, Mr. Remi. When your arm encircled my waist and dropped perilously close to my sumptuous, red-glitter-encased behind… well, I chalked that up to you having a good time as well. Often, a burlesque performer finds herself being pawed after she leaves the stage to mingle with the crowd, particularly if she remains in costume. It’s as though the tease has been too much for the audience… as though, after having watched you caress yourself and deny them for so long, the members of the audience feel inclined to give that sought-after bum a squeeze or caress your leg in an altogether too-friendly fashion. This is something a woman in my position grows accustomed to, and, depending on the source of the squeeze, chooses to accept as part and parcel of maintaining the fantasy character of the unflappable burlesque broad.
Suffice it to say that I was under the impression that you found me quite attractive. You can imagine my surprise, then, when you repeated for the sixth or seventh time your entreaty for me to call you and then leaned in to me and said “Look, sweetheart. You’re very talented. But if you want to do this professionally, spend a little more time at the gym.”
While you are most certainly entitled to your opinion of my body and me Mr. Remi, I am decidedly entitled to an opinion of you as well. I must admit, the waft of alcohol from your breath had suggested to me that your business propositions were perhaps not entirely well-thought-through, but your suggestion that I form a more intimate relationship with my elliptical trainer left me a bit concerned on your behalf. You see, I am afraid, Mr. Remi, that for all your bluster as a would-be burlesque producer, you’ve missed the point entirely.
Let me be clear with you. Burlesque is not about toned, trim bodies. Some burlesque performers have tight, traditionally sexy bodies, while others embody a shape that falls outside of the current North American beauty ideal. Please google “Michelle L’Amour” and “Dirty Martini” if you’d like an example of each. It may be of interest to note that both of these women have held the title of Miss Exotic World, which is burlesque’s highest honour. The spirit of burlesque is accepting of female sexuality and confidence, in whatever form that may take. Burlesque is not about perfection, it’s about creativity and fantasy and glamour. I am a woman who occasionally fantasizes that her thighs were a few inches smaller. In burlesque, I engage that fantasy by exposing my highly imperfect thighs to an audience of hundreds and exulting in hearing them cheer wildly, despite (or perhaps because of) the jiggles.
So, Mr. Remi, in short… I believe that we have a problem here. I do not believe that my thighs are that problem. You, and others like you, are the problem. Men who grab my ass and tell me to lose a few pounds in the same breath are the problem. And Cosmo is the problem. And our mothers are the problem. But mostly men like you, Mr. Remi. You constitute the vast majority of the problem. And for you and those like you, I am deeply, deeply sorry.
In short, Mr. Remi, I will never work with you on a burlesque show because you haven’t an idea what burlesque really is. And I will never respect the opinions or criticisms of a man who judges without thinking. The failure to construct one’s own beauty ideal is perhaps the most abhorrent kind of cowardice, and the impulse to impress upon others the suggestion that existing outside the mainstream beauty ideal constitutes some sort of failure is undoubtedly the most disgraceful form of bullying. We will not be working together, Mr. Remi, as much as you fancied the idea on Friday night.
I may, however, still let you buy me lunch, if you can afford it. You’ve no idea how much a “fat” stripper must eat to stay in this sort of condition.