I’ve taken some time off of competitive dance and recently I’ve been considering getting back into it. I’ve had a number of conversations about it and in each of them the concept of “looking the part” has come up. Some people being very clear that, in their estimation, if I want to compete at the top levels there will be issues if I don’t “look the part” by being thin.
This is a pervasive idea – that only thin bodies “look right” for various activities. Dance is an area where fat people are often told that the idea that our bodies are “wrong” is not opinion, culture, or discrimination – but absolute fact. I am certain that is fiction.
Just as I am certain that it is fat bigotry that leads our culture to choose our singers, actors, and dancers not predominantly on their ability to sing, act, or dance, but on their ability to meet a culture stereotype of beauty. Models for plus size clothing often don’t “look the part” unless they are too small to fit into the clothes they are modeling. Studies have found that, in general hiring practices, “strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for the job.”
In our society “looking the part” is almost always about being thin – whether “the part” is a professional actress or an administrative assistant. This is size discrimination, plain and simple. Fat people are often advised to solve this discrimination by changing our bodies. I certainly don’t hold it against anybody who chooses this path, though I feel for them since the actual likelihood of permanent long term weight loss is so small and I imagine that the stigma people experience does not go down if they lose a bunch of weight and then gain it back. This illustrates one of the problems with trying to solve discrimination or social stigma with weight loss. We can try to stop the bullies by giving them our lunch money but that doesn’t guarantee the bully will leave us alone, especially if we have more lunch money next week.
We have the option to challenge what “Looking the Part” means. We have the option to become the best dancer, singer, actress, administrative assistant, plumber, HR specialist etc. that we can be in the body that we have now, and to relentlessly pursue our dreams and goals while refusing to change our bodies, even though the deck is stacked against us. Fat discrimination is real and these things do not change overnight so there’s no denying that this is a risk. As I said before, I harbor no ill will toward those who try to get thin in order to escape social stigma. It’s just not for me. I believe that risk is the currency of revolution. For things to change a lot of people are going to have to risk – I choose to be one of them. So I plan to return to competitive dance this year and see if I can expand what “the part” looks like.
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