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In putting together my new college “Love Your Body” speech and in reading Ragen Chastain’s awesome blog post, one thing has been coming up over and over again. That thing is how being uncomfortable with our bodies tends to rob us of our ability to reach our full potential. Ragen talks at length about how many people in our society react with genuine surprise when they encounter a fat person with talent. I have to admit, it’s really got me thinking.
I think any time a person performs in public or even simply raises their hand in class or is willing to take a definite side in a public debate, it takes a lot of courage. Anyone putting themselves out in this way is open to somebody calling them out, calling them names or simply laughing at them. As a fat person, simply walking down the street can be enough to fuel criticism, catcalling or cruelty. Is it any wonder then, that many fat people don’t want to call additional attention to themselves by raising their hand, taking part in a debate or getting up in front of an audience to dance, recite poetry, act or sing?
Lately it seems everywhere we turn we see talented people being publicly ridiculed for their weight. Recently, star actress Melissa McCarthy was skewered by film critic Rex Reed, not for her performance, but rather for being a “cacophonous, tractor-sized, female hippo…who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success…” This woman, with her “short acting career” spanning a mere 17 years, currently stars in a hit prime-time network television show and a movie that opened number one at the box office, has been nominated for over 15 major awards including an Oscar and boasts a Prime Time Emmy on her mantle. Apparently that’s considered a short, gimmicky career if you happen to be fat.
And regardless of how you might feel about Governor Chris Christie’s politics, here’s a guy who’s had a hard time in the public eye. Apparently being a governor who has done yeoman’s work in helping rebuild New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is not enough to quiet the noise about his weight. Christie faced criticism from Former White House physician Connie Mariano who recently told CNN that she’s worried Christie might die in office were he elected president. When Christie pointed out that Mariano has never examined him or his medical records and therefore has nothing upon which to base this prediction, a wave of sympathy was unleashed–towards the doctor. Mariano responded to Christie’s criticism asking whether he is acting presidential. However, it doesn’t look like anybody is asking whether Mariano is acting like a real doctor by diagnosing a person based on the way he looks in a suit on TV.
So what happens when you are a talented fat person, taking those first tentative steps towards sharing your gifts with the world and you are confronted with these stories? Does it help you feel more courageous? Are you eager to be creative and make yourself vulnerable in a world like this?
I have no doubt that there are millions and millions of deeply creative people in the world who happen to be fat. But in this climate, in this environment, I think it’s a wonder any of us step out into the light. Even those of us who have had tremendous success face constant criticism for our size. We are constantly dismissed because we don’t fit an exceptionally narrow standard of beauty. And so we learn, at a very young age to keep our talents to ourselves, to hide our light under a bushel basket, to be quiet, to be small. And many of us, for fear of being laughed at, may not even try. We may not dance. We may not sing. We may not even speak.
I wonder what we can do to help encourage the young people around us. It’s a tough world out there filled will bullies. Are there kids around us that we can nurture? Can we help the kids around us learn to reach deep inside in this world filled with hate and give it all they’ve got? Can we encourage them to lift their lights out of the bushel baskets and let them shine? We can, if we only have the courage to try.
The Fat Chick