The Problem with The Voice

The voice is a singing competition with a twist.  There are four famous “coaches” (Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine).  Each coach picks a team during blind auditions- their chairs are turned so that they cannot see the person singing.  If they decide that they want that person on their team, based only on their voice and the crowd’s reaction to them, they press a button and turn their chair around.  If nobody presses their button at the end of the audition all the chairs turn around and they talk to the auditioner before sending him/her/them on their way.

When I first heard about this I loved the idea.  I’m tired of listening to singers chosen predominantly for their ability to dance and fit a narrow stereotype of beauty.  But I’ve noticed something disturbing while watching the show:

Often, when they turn around and find that the auditioner is stereotypically attractive they will say “Oh, I wish I would have picked you!”

And I have to ask why?  Regardless of what they look like, they still have the same voice that the coach didn’t choose 10 seconds before.

This is a corollary to ‘Susan Boyle Syndrome” wherein we’ve all bought so much into the idea that all singers are also  stereotypical beauties that when someone who does not fit the stereotype walks out onto the stage, we are actually fooled into thinking that their looks have something to do with the likelihood that they are able to sing.

This effect takes a severe toll on fat people.  It is assumed that we are not able to sing, dance, run, walk, climb stairs, work hard, cook healthy foods, be in love, have sex etc.  We have to look long and hard to find anyone in the media who looks like us and when we do we’ll find that they are constantly being attacked for their weight.

Besides the opportunity to give a message against the shaming and stigmatizing messages of Strong4Life with the billboard I’m really excited about the bus shelter signs in the Georgia Campaign that will be using Marilyn Wann’s I stand photos and will put non-traditional bodies out there in the media in a positive light.

I think that one of the most powerful things that we can do is get ourselves out there. And I don’t just mean doing backflips or running marathons.  I mean images of happy fatties doing stuff – doing dishes, hanging out, playing board games, whatever.  And for those who love the spotlight, I’d love to see more videos and pictures of awesome talented fatties all over the internet, and I would love to see talented fat people flood auditions until our talent becomes unmistakeable and impossible to ignore.

The judges on The Voice are having a hard time letting go of their stereotypes, we don’t have to make the same mistake. There is nothing wrong with how we look, and there is nothing about how we look that says anything about what we can do.


The billboards are up.  There was a slight problem with technology on two designs, as soon as that’s solved the voting will open but you can check out the new designs on

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20 thoughts on “The Problem with The Voice

  1. As a fat opera singer, all I can say is BRAVA DIVA!!! While I’m thrilled that these voices are getting recognition aside from appearance, the rest of it is so insulting.

    1. I haven’t watched The Voice, but from what I’ve heard about it, your statement is spot-on. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I’ve noticed that the classical music world is (subtly? or not?) getting on board with the hotness=marketability thing. A lot of the opera stars today, male and female, very much fit stereotypical beauty ideals. And yeah, they are beautiful to look at. I’m thinking Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Natalie Dessay, Elina Garanca, etc., among the women, and Juan Diego Flores, Jonas Kaufmann, etc. among the men. They have the voices, but then I look back at videos of phenomenal singers like Montserrat Caballe, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, etc…also beautiful, but I wonder what would happen if they tried breaking into opera today…would they be criticized for not being “hot enough?” This all goes back to another recent post by Ragen on whose talents we might be missing, because they have the talent, but not the marketable image (read: conventionally thin, attractive).

      Oh, and classical instrumentalists…same thing. There was a recent brouhaha over a pianist, I think, wearing a revealing minidress for a performance and whether that was appropriate or not. Anyway…

      Sorry, I’ll stop rambling now. This is just a real hot button topic for me.

  2. This is such an important topic. In some ways, it’s just as much about the trivilialization of art and culture as it is about fat. One of the reasons that bigger bodies are allowed on the opera stage is that opera stands or falls on the quality of the voice. There’s no manipulation and no hiding. If you don’t have the voice, you don’t sing. But even there, the cult of beauty is beginning to take its toll.

    It’s frightening on a cultural, artistic and political level that looks are beginning to trump achievement in many, many spheres. Politicians need to be attractive now – paunch can torpedo a career, as can having an unattractive spouse. Looks are the worst of all ways to judge someone’s ability, and yet that’s what we’re doing.

    1. Totally right. Much talk in France right now about the candidate who lost at least 40lb before starting to campaign. His main rival, eliminated in the primaries, did not. And she’s a woman to boot.

  3. While I totally agree with your overall point that talent should be judged on talent and not on appearances, I think I might know why the judges on The Voice make those comments. I’ve only seen a couple episodes, but the ones who made the “You’re hot! I’m glad I picked you” or the “damn you’re hot – I wished I had turned around” comments is usually CeeLo, and I put it down to him having a schtick as being a shallow ass who’s always leering at the “hot chicks”.

    Tye other judges don’t make those comments nearly so much, and not to excuse it at all, but I think maybe it’s because the contestants are picked by the judges at the beginning, but later on it’s audience votes that count. So first priority is having a great voice, but maybe the judges think their team members will be more likely to get audience votes if they’re also stereotypically attractive.

    And to give some props to the judges, I’ve seen most of them pick heavier singers for their team, and they (the judges) look happy to have them and don’t make any negative comments about their appearance.

  4. I have auditioned for The Voice twice. I wrote about this year’s experience on my own blog at (be forewarned, triggers galore). After this last time I never want to audition again for ANY talent show. But then a voice inside me is always saying, “But if you don’t, they win.” I just don’t know how many more times I can go through the wringer like that.

    On a related note in regard to how we look having nothing to do with what we do, I got into it with a friend about Gov. Christie’s stupid decision to veto the gay marriage bill in NJ. My friend is gay, so understandably upset, but he decided to vent that on Facebook by making derogatory comments about the Governor’s weight. I commented that his stupid decision was not made by his fat so lay off and stick to the real issue. Outrageously, my friend said they are one and the same, he was too stupid too take care of his health so how he looks is a clear indication of his moral character! WHAT????? I was astounded. No matter what angle I took, he refused to see that he was doing the exact same thing by stigmatizing the governor for being fat as he was receiving from being stigmatized himself for being gay. And of course he also threw in that the governor has a choice about being fat, my friend however was BORN gay (not that I disagree with that, I just find it interesting that he employed every argument used against his own lifestyle to bully fat people about theirs).

    Sometimes I don’t know what chance we’ve got when even the most talented people can’t catch a break and even the most discriminated against minority group still thinks it’s okay to bully fat people. 😦 Sorry to be a Debbie Downer – my heart is heavy with this lately.

    1. Yeah, I personally can’t stand Chris Christie, but the amount of fat jokes thrown his way is sad. Not for him really (because I really, really don’t care about him) but for people who look like him who are being insulted for nothing.

    2. I totally feel your frustration!!! Totally. People who may be perfectly logical politically, which means that they agree with me, go totally south the minute the whole fat aspect is introduced. I have written countless letters to liberal politicians admonishing them (Alan Grayson for one) for having made negative comments about fat candidates and congressional colleagues. It is maddening!!!
      ON another note, who is the beauty in the picture on this post?
      Dr. Deah

      1. Deah,

        The fact that politicians can make negative remarks about each other’s weight and not face strong backlash is absolutely maddening.

        And you are very sweet, the picture is of me dressed in my outfit for a cabaret group that I was in for a little while.


  5. Things we associate with good feelings tends to seem more atractive. Even if we can see, plain or even ‘ugly’ it becomes inoffensive due to the good feelings associated with that thing. Think of people who love their erm, unprepossessing pugs.

    Equally, things we associate with feeling bad create the opposite impression. Yes this can “take it’s toll” on fat people, to fat haters.

    Just so, their fat hating can also tell on/undermine their own “beauty” however high that is perceived to be.

    Fat haters better realise there is a statue of limitations on how long they can seperate how they appear from what they represent and the foul stench of hate they bring.

  6. You know what I’ve realized about Hollywood? It’s not really even how you LOOK anymore – because in general everyone is starting to look the same (interchangeable). Now it’s all about having an image.

    When I watched the Grammys this year almost every person I saw I knew mostly by their “image.” Katy Perry is the super hot party chick, Lady Gaga (who I actually like for her activism) is the weird one everyone can’t wait to see, Justin Bieber is the teen heartthrob, etc. And the you’re so right, I can barely even stomach these award shows because almost everyone is completely awful live.

  7. Oh Ragen, you hottie….!!!! Love the pic. 🙂

    Yes, the opera world has really started to transform, from fat singers having difficulty getting hired anymore to fat superstars being pressured to get gastric bypass so costume designers don’t have to cater to their needs.

    It used to be that opera was the one relatively safe space for fat folk, because it was all about The Voice. Now, they are placing more emphasis on looks in an effort to dispel stereotypes and appeal to a younger audience.

  8. Yeah, I think there was less of this in The Voice’s first season, but I’ve noticed it A LOT already this time around. I also sometimes wish they were blind, PRIVATE auditions instead of in front of an audience. I feel like audience members have the same biases and prejudices the judges have, so performers that don’t have the typical “look” still have to be above and beyond to get the same type of reaction as someone more “attractive.”

  9. First if all I feel sorry for people who see so much of the world as “ugly” because it doesn’t fit in their little box of “socially acceptable.” I just can’t imagine wanting to see everything that way.

    Call me old-fashioned but if I want to hear somebody sing I really don’t care what they look like. If I buy music or go to a concert I’m expecting something lovely for my EARS. I think all the appearance stuff & the theatrics is done to disguise lack of talent.

  10. Haven’t seen the show, but this post makes me think of the book Blink where he talks about the only way that women were able to make inroads into classical music performance was when they started having blind auditions behind screens. The screens were not put into place to help women, that was just what happened when they made fairer processes.

  11. It’s not just about fat. Apparently, some classical orchestras went ot having a much better ratio of women when they switched to blind auditions, with the candidate behind a curtain. Ha.

  12. This may not be 100% relevant, but this post reminded me of it: Since reading your blog, Ragen, I’ve started openly referring to myself as a fellow “happy fattie.” One of my coworkers took to this, being a larger woman herself, and I was really excited!

    Then, one day, I was PMSing and waaaaaay more bloated than usual. So I felt uncomfortable, in addition to the usual pre-menstrual bs that happens, my clothes were feeling tight and I was feeling self-conscious about it. The same coworker who was previously so into the idea of me being a happy fattie wasted absolutely NO time in jumping on me. Seeing me self-conscious this one day, she went off on me, “SEE!! I KNEW IT!! You’re not a ‘happy fattie,’ you’re just fat!” Honestly, I’m still confused about the whole interaction, but somehow not surprised. She obviously on bought into the idea of me being both happy and fat tentatively, and all it took was the slightest sign of unhappiness (again, tied to being bloated, not generally big) for her to throw the whole thign in my face. It just makes me… sad.

  13. I’m certainly not a singer (my voice has been known to cause earthquakes, motor vehicle collisions, and flocks of birds to drop from the sky dead) but I am a (future) writer who is currently working on a book and I read this article that said today female writers are expected to be pretty. Well, “they” can suck eggs. I’m post-menopausal, gray-haired, heavy, and have the “moon face” associated with Cushing’s syndrome. I wasn’t planning to put my picture on my book anyway, but how dare people apply these standards to any profession, let alone one like writing where one’s abilities should count for 100% of the criticism.

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