I see it in the audience’s eyes when I first step onto stage: scepticism.
Sometimes there’s teeters of laughter, shaking heads, people looking away. It’s not like I don’t know what some people think of me — I just don’t particularly care. A few years ago those laughs would have been enough to stop me from ever performing, but now, it’s me who pities those audience members. What darkness they must be living with, to hate the sight of a fat woman who is clearly loving life and having fun.
And it is fun. Dancing and performing on stage is where I most feel alive. It’s where I feel most confident, and most joyous. I decided a while ago that I was not longer going to let my size stop me from doing the things I love. When I first began dancing, those negative audience members confused me: how did my dancing affect their lives in any way? Sure, they might have thought when they bought a ticket to a burlesque show that it was going to be all traditional Vegas show girls — tall, slim, shiny, existing purely to tantalise the male ego. But that’s just not reality. Dancers come in all shapes and sizes, just like humans. It’s a reality that some people haven’t caught up with yet.
As I watch them from the stage, I see the negative audience members divide into two groups: those who are won over by the sparkle of my costume, the fierceness of my choreography, the joy and cheekiness on my face, the raucous fun of my fat rolls wobbling up and down as I make my nipple tassels twirl — and those who stay angry. Most of the audience is clapping, on their feet, or cheering wildly by the end of my act, but those angry ones are impenetrable. No fat woman living and loving her own life is going to make them change their minds.
So what exactly is it about a happy fat woman that makes them so angry? Clearly I’m not playing the role of a good fatty — quiet, taking up as little space as possible, apologetic for my weight. I don’t hate myself, and I think this confuses them. I dance, I’m loud, I take up space, I take off my clothes for the audience, and I have fun while doing it, and I know that they don’t understand this.
Maybe they were fatties in a previous life, and hate that, instead of starving myself the way they did, I’m okay staying the way I am. Maybe they always wanted to be a dancer, and can’t believe a fatty like me is doing what they can’t. Maybe they lack self-love and self-confidence, and are ashamed that a fatty like me can have the things that they can’t even give themselves.
In the western world, we all grow up hearing the same messages: fat is bad, fat is unhealthy, fat is lazy, fat should be ashamed of itself. It takes strength and courage to reject that social conditioning and say no, I’m okay just the way I am. My fat is good, because it brings happiness to me and others through my performances. My fat is healthy, because, between my many dance classes, rehearsals and performances, I exercise a lot more than most of my skinny friends. My fat is the opposite of lazy, because I dance and train so freaking much. And I’m not ashamed of my fat: I have learned to reject that social conditioning, love my fat body and accept it as who I am.
I’m done with shame and self-hate. I reject the social messages that say if I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m not good enough. I decided years ago that what I want now is self-love, and so I have created that world for myself, surrounded by friends and family who love and celebrate me for who I am, not who I should be. I pity those people in the audience who are disgusted or ashamed at my happy, fat body. It can’t be me that’s making them so angry — they don’t even know me. If the sight of someone living their best life makes them feel bad about themselves, well maybe they need to spend less time worrying about what other people are doing, and more time figuring out what’s really going on inside.