Almost a year ago, a handful of Aussie fat bloggers and I agreed to be part of a fat embodiment research project led by Dr Lauren Gurrieri of the Griffith Business School. The purpose was to document the everyday lived experience of fat people, and the end result of our discussions was Stocky Bodies.
Stocky Bodies is a stock image library that aims to provide positive and diverse representations of life as a fat person. It stands in opposition and as an alternative to the typical ‘headless fatty‘ photo that accompanies most stories on fatness and obesity. Photos were taken by Lauren and by Isaac Brown of the Queensland College of Art.
When organising the photo shoot, Lauren and Isaac explained that the images should show my life and what I do with this fat body of mine. For me, that meant eating out…
going to the beach…
Let me tell you, rocking up to dance class with a couple of photographers in tow was by far the most confronting part of this whole process.
Fat is pretty taboo in the dance world. The ideal dancer is seen to be long, lean, and muscular. In the dance community, there’s a lot of discussion of weight loss, the relative goodness and badness of different foods, and negative self-talk about certain body parts. The negativity surrounding fat in dance is so well-known that I think a lot of fat people are discouraged; even though I’m only a size 16, I am frequently the fattest person in my classes.
This feeling of exclusion is not helped by the fact that dance attire is not made for fat bodies. Workout gear is notoriously hard to find in plus sizes (though Cult of California is doing their best to change that). Costumes for performances are another obstacle. I am a samba and Afro-Brazilian dancer; when we perform samba no pé, we wear tiny bikinis and feather headdresses like this:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these bikinis are very hard to find in plus sizes. I have had to pull out of a performance because I couldn’t find a bikini in time that fit. There are also very few fat samba no pé dancers, which makes the idea of jiggling (and, lord, do I jiggle) in a g-string bikini all the more intimidating.
So, with all this knowledge and baggage, I was pretty uneasy about bringing Lauren and Isaac to class. Not because I’d find them intrusive, or that they’d see me at my most red-faced and sweaty, but because I’d have to explain why they were there. I knew that I had to come out to my fellow students as fat. As proudly fat.
Being a fat dancer is challenging and definitely tests my comfort zones, though I am finding my way. I’m lucky enough to have found a dance group that is reasonably body positive. I found a company in the UK that makes samba bikinis for any size (though plus size bikinis have a 25% surcharge); I finally have one to call my own and it is a beauty. I will be wearing it onstage for the first time in a week and a half, and to be honest, I’m a bit nervous about it. But that apprehension is why I feel almost obligated to go through with it. If I want to see a diverse range of bodies in dance, I should be up there showing some diversity. I should, and will, be showing people what this fat body can do.