But Not Too Big

Photo by Richard Sabel
Photo by Richard Sabel

I did a segment on HuffPost live today called “Too Big to Dance?”  The segment was great but there was just one problem, I had final thoughts I wanted to give and, as is wont to happen in these situation, time ran out.  But what is the point of having a blog but to prattle on long after they’ve turned off your mic?  Before I get into it I just want to thank HuffPost Live for continuing to create spaces for this type of discussion- I’ve been on before but this time I was in studio and it was an absolute blast.  Nancy Redd is a talented and super gracious host (which helps because I’m a total dork), Camille and Vanessa who produced the segment were amazing, the crew rocked and the panel was fantastic – Glenna Cush from Shimmy Sista  provides plus size clothes for belly dancers, bad ass pole dancer/instructor Roz Mays, and dance writer Lauren Warnecke.  So, here are my final thoughts:

First, the idea that people don’t want to see a fat dancer as Giselle (or at all).  There is a word for saying that we don’t want people to get jobs because of how they look, and that word is bigotry.  The dance world tends to act as if bigotry is ok because that’s just how dance is, or claim they won’t sell tickets if they use dancers with “non-traditional” bodies.  First of all, neither of those things change the fact that this is bigotry, and neither mean that bigotry can’t be challenged. Also, I’m not sure that the ticket sale idea is based on good evidence, and even if it’s true that doesn’t mean that it’s ok – people may want bigotry but that doesn’t mean we have to give them what they want.  Also, let’s remember that the fact that we only ever see thin bodies dancing trains us to think that fat bodies look “wrong” and the only way to fix that situation is to put fat bodies out there. Risk is the currency of revolution and I think it’s time for the dance world to start paying up.

I really liked a lot of what Laura said, but I must take exception to her assertion that “severely overweight” dancers shouldn’t dance en pointe. First let’s talk about calling bodies “severely overweight.”  As I am Type 3, Super Obese at 5’4 and nearly 300 pounds, I assume that I would find myself firmly in that category, and I protest mightily.  Over what weight?  People come in different sizes and shapes, this is the size that I come in.  And while I am sorry for the difficult journey that Laura has had, and very happy to hear that she is finding a path to peace with her body as a dancer, I think in this comment she missed the point of the whole segment a little bit.  The point being: don’t assume that there is something wrong with fat dancers because of our size, and don’t tell us what we can and can’t do.

Tatyana Gladkaya from Big Ballet Russia (Thanks to reader Ras for finding her name!)

In general I think we’ll do best to avoid the “big, but not too big” language that I sometimes hear in discussions like this, suggesting that loving and appreciating your body and using it in ways that you enjoy has a size limit.  No, no, no, no, seriously no, not even for “really fat” people.

While we’re at it, I would love to see an end to the “as long as they’re healthy” dialog.  First because often “healthy” is a euphemism for “not too fat” and second because, even if they actually mean healthy that is very deeply problematic.  It’s not that I think we shouldn’t discuss health at all, I do take exception to making health a barrier to entry or barometer of worthiness.  Health is multi-dimensional and includes things within and outside of our control including genetics, environment, access, and behaviors.  Health is not an obligation – nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behavior,”  and those who aren’t interested in health are not better or worse people than those who are interested in health.  Prioritization of health and the path that someone chooses to get there are intensely personal and not anybody else’s business.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not health or healthy habit dependent. I don’t think that people are allowed to dance “as long as they’re healthy,”  I think that, with the exception of movement restrictions for actual health issues, people are allowed to dance, period.  Of course that goes for any activity.

Finally I want to address how important I believe it is for fathletes to be visible.  Not just us making the choice to be out there, but venues like Huffpost Live giving us air time.  As we’ve discussed before, the absolutely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity” (as if someone will watch me dance and think “I wish I could dance that way, I guess the first step is to get to 300 pounds) means that fat people, including fat kids, don’t have role models who look like them doing the things that they want to do.  So they often assume that means that those things are impossible for all fat people.  I get e-mails all the time from fat people who wanted to try dancing  but never tried because they thought they couldn’t at their size.  Obviously every fat person can’t do what every fat athlete can do – but neither can every thin person.  The problem here is that when someone says that showing fat people as anything other than miserable is “promoting obesity,” they are actually saying that we should give fat people the message that they should do nothing with their lives but try to lose weight because there is no hope for their happiness until they are thin.  They are consciously choosing to withhold hope from fat people, and I believe that withholding hope is a crime and should be punishable.

Fat dancers are here, we are here to stay, and we will not stop until we get the opportunities that we deserve.

Follow Up

On the show I mentioned the Fat Fatties Forum.  If you want to see some amazing representations of fathletes, you can check out the photo and video galleries at www.fitfatties.com.  It’s completely free to join and use and is a space for people of all sizes who want to discuss fitness at all levels from a Health at Every Size perspective.

The picture they showed of me in the splits was taken by the incredible Substantia Jones for The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)


My dance classes are now (finally!)  available for download, and not just DVDs, and they even have their own website! 

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details

41 thoughts on “But Not Too Big

  1. I just wanted to say that doing things like going en pointe or even pursuing dance professionally can be great for your health in some ways and bad for it in other ways–good for cardio, challenging for feet and joints, etc etc, and this is true even for the thinnest dancers. So to limit that to one type of body for reasons of health makes no sense.

  2. And Judith Jamison was “too tall.” Alvin Ailey gave her a chance – and she proved that tall women could dance ballet.

    “Everyone knows” that the weight issue is the reason men can’t dance en pointe – they’re “too big.” But I’ve seen them do so. There are women’s parts cast as men (sometimes so they can lift another dancer) and the men dance en pointe. So – invalid argument. (Well – it’s not really *good* for anyone’s feet… but, be careful, take care of your feet, and you can do it.)

    As for being healthy – given the rates of anorexia in ballet… I’d rather see the health of the girls improve because they know they *don’t* have to be rail thin to dance…

    1. Judith Jamison was the first person who came to my mind, too…not only was she too tall, she also didn’t have a stick-thin body either. And not only did she prove she could dance, she is a remarkably striking woman.

        1. As a confirmed nerd, I’ve always enjoyed the costumes at conventions, but never felt comfortable imitating someone who was so different from my own body type. I like the idea of dressing as a dancing hippo, but have no dance skills whatsoever. Crushed again! Just kidding. Now I am hoping someone who is plump and can do a bit of dancing will come as a dancing hippo.

      1. While this discussion is awesome and I Absolutely Adore that people are FINALLY getting the word out about fat athletes and giving larger people inspiration to do what society tells us we can’t do, I would also love to see people on both “sides” stop using body shaming vocabulary like “stick-thin”. It is as imposible for someone to be as thin as a stick as it is for someone to be as big as a blimp. Just sayin. Body shaming vocabulary hurts us all.

  3. As someone who is considered to be over that line of too fat to dance, I have two words to say to those who try to tell me what I can and can’t do – Horse & Puckey. Thank you, Ragen, for your words on this. Right now, I can’t dance as long as or as well as I used to. That is due to back issues, some of which may or may not have been exacerbated by my size. However, I taught classes and performed in several shows when I was active in the dance world. I loved it. I also had many, many, many compliments after I performed, and my favorite ones were always the ones mentioning how I looked like I was enjoying myself and having fun. That meant they saw that I was fat but not letting it hold me back, not waiting until I was thinner to dance.

    I’m determined to lick these back issues – many kudos to my chiropractor and my massage therapist for the work they’ve done because I am seeing progress. I plan to resume dancing, even if it’s only in my living room. I want that back because I loved moving my body.

  4. I thought the discussion was pretty positive and the comments left on HuffPo weren’t bad (unless I was missing the main comment section). I also just spent a day (stupidly) trying to combat evil trolls on Golda’s Tedx talk on YouTube. So I was just happy to see some positivity. 😀

  5. You were all fantastic! Hope I can see you on more shows! ^__^
    I loved the segment but definitely, I raised an eyebrow at the “not too big” part but otherwise she did make some good comments about not having to be super thin to do ballet.
    I do flashmobbing with my K-pop group and I used to hide behind others because I thought I looked too frumpy and clumsy at my size, but nowadays, I put myself up front for certain dances because I love dancing K-pop and couldn’t give a crap what people think, because I know me and my fat body are good at it. 🙂

  6. It struck me that an “I promote obesity… by breathing!” T-shirt should exist. I’d have the guts to wear it to quite a few places and would be curious what kinds of looks I’d get at the gym. 😉

    The whole concept of “promoting obesity” is just ludicrous and yet another bigoted sentiment aimed at making fat people feel badly. It’s rather like accusing people who are happily out (queerly speaking) of “promoting homosexuality”… how dare you be a functioning, happy member of society?!

  7. We humans are weirdly fond of making decisions for each other and freaking out when people break them.

  8. When you consider that being a premier athlete or dancer requires one to push her body to extreme limits, the idea of what is “healthy” really becomes a gray area. How many times have we seen Olympic athletes push their injured bodies to do unimaginable things? We cheer them on, we celebrate that… but someone with a (hypothetically) fully healthy fat body that doesn’t fit the societal norm trying to do something we associate with “thin” bodies goes and tries to break boundaries, and they’re presumed to be unhealthy based on how they look alone. How on earth is this reasonable or fair?

    The world cheers for an athlete we KNOW is injured and “playing through the pain,” and this is a remarkable, hero-worship worthy feat… but someone who LOOKS a way we’re told = unhealthy who dares to break out of a paradigm that is, to say the least, dated and in need of some major change, is ridiculed or criticized!

    So, to claim you should only let “healthy” people do anything… well, that means anyone who has had an injury should be sidelined, right? They aren’t healthy, after all! We can’t let them make decisions about whether or not to push their own bodies, after all. God forbid. We need to tell them how to manage their health, their career decisions… etc.

    Except, we don’t and when people say “well, if she’s healthy…” it really means, “well, if she’s thin enough.” We all know that, so let’s call it what it is… it’s definite bigotry, and it’s NOT okay.

    You don’t have to like what I choose to do with my body. You don’t have to look at me, either. I could care less. If I decide to dance naked on toe shoes, it’s my business (unfortunately, I couldn’t actually do this due to my illness, but that’s besides the point)! You can watch and be amazed like you would when a thin person does it, or you can close your damn eyes and shut your mouth.

    Ragen – I love “risk is the currency of revolution.” Is that an original quote? I want to attribute that one properly.

    1. Hi Luciebluebird,

      That is a truly excellent point – barreling down an icy track head first at 80 miles per hour does not prioritize health but we chher for that as well. Risk is the currency of revolution is an original quote, glad that you like it 🙂


  9. Wow. That ballerina looks like she could whoop my tail without blinking. What power and grace. I have always admired anyone who can do something I can’t.

    Helena, I was talking the other day to husbeast about this new career path I’m pursuing (opera-type stuff) and was commenting on how thin opera singers, even if they’re less qualified, are being given roles over bigger women. I asked him, “When you think of an opera singer, what sort of woman do you imagine?”

    He said, “Big. With a big chest, long hair. And a spear. But big.”

    “Well,” I said, “I’m all of those things. Except for the spear. But that’s only because you won’t let me have one.” (we did agree I could have an Uruk-Hai sword, however).

    Opera is a form of athletics, and I can’t help but feel I have an advantage (for once in my life!) being made the way I am–piano legs, small waist, huge chest cavity, shoulders of an East-German shot-putter, giant Slavic skull and big nasal space. Any athlete’s body is a machine.

    1. “(we did agree I could have an Uruk-Hai sword, however).”

      Need a feisty dwarrowdam to spar with? 😀

    2. Yep. I’ve always been larger than life. I *AM* a Valkyrie from the word go. I sang my first Wagner at 21 and it was like coming home. I’d been shoved into all kinds of lyric crap before that, but the Wagner was as easy as breathing for me. THAT I miss.

  10. I agree with the entire article, well said. I play basketball in my spare time. It’s fun, I love it, I’ve grown up loving professional basketball and it was one of my favorite hobbies. But I dare anyone tell me I’m too fat to play basketball. I’m like you see me right here playing it as a fat person, so what am I suppose to do? Stop at the drop of a dime and say “Oh that’s right I’m fat I must stop”.

    What are fat people suppose to do? First they literally bully us with the constant “diet and exercise” talk and then when fat people do want to exercise they tell us “Oh wait now you can’t be too fat to exercise” how the heck are we suppose to become thin and perfect **sarcasm** like you want us to be, if we can’t exercise the big scary fat away for you? This is why I believe this goes beyond health talk.

    Speaking of health talk, sorry to go off topic, but I recently just saw the coke commercial about fighting obesity, I thought there was controversy over airing that? How did I see it magically appear on my television screen? I can’t believe they’d still air it despite some of us feeling it was discriminatory?

  11. This very thing happened on So You Think You Can Dance last week. The chubby contenders were told they weren’t “built like dancers”. I don’t think anyone over a given weight is given a fair shake on this show, no shock there. Though sometimes they get called inspirational so I guess that’s something.

  12. You are amazing. Please never stop what you do! You put into words all the things I am just grappling with trying to say. Don’t think I can express my gratitude enough.Thanks so much and all power to you!

  13. The dance world – the ballet world especially – has a lot of bigotry that those in power (artistic directors, instructors, choreographers) like to ignore. As Regan said, these persons seem to think that the visual nature of the art form protects it from being a place that breeds dissension against people who look a certain way. Or rather, that if it does breed dissension, it’s for a good cause.

    Size and body type is one aspect of this bigotry, as is racial diversity. It is 2013 and artistic directors still argue that having women of color on stage (in any capacity from the corps to principal roles) “ruins the aesthetic” and think that this is perfectly okay statement to make.

    1. I don’t really follow ballet, but I have noticed it is usually all white people. I wondered about that, and now I know. ‘Aesthetic’ my ass.

  14. OMG I love you. You’re my hero! I’m going to my first feis (Irish dance) this weekend. I’m the only one in my competition. Yay! But I’m still having these terrifying nightmares about it. Anyway! I’m glad I can read your blog and feel empowered. Eventually, maybe, I can be positive about my body but that’s after I make sure my thyroid isn’t trying to kill me. Turns out there’s a thyroid disease that causes all of my problems and my sister had it. We didn’t find out until we read the tox screening from the coroner’s report.

    1. Have fun and break a leg/merde at the feis! I’ve been a fan of Irish Dance for a long time, I just watched the documentary “Jig” and now I’m certain that I have to try it out. As soon as my neck/arm gets better I’m going to take some classes. I’m sorry that you are dealing with thyroid issues and I’m very sorry about your sister, I hope that you are feeling better very quickly.


  15. I was flipping through the channels and ran up on an episode of Fresh Beats Band. The thing that caught my eye, was that there were 2 fat girls dancing on this episode…and no one was making fun of them. They were being treated like all the other dancers. This is just not something I see everyday and thought it was pretty awesome. Fat girls can dance too!!!!! I just love that it is on Nick Jr and something positive I can show my little boy.

  16. Girl, you make me CRY every time I come to this site. Seriously, your powerful talent and poignant perspective never fail to move me to tears. “Withholding hope is a crime and should be punishable.” That is fucking poetry and I love you for saying it. The world became a better place the day you were born, and don’t you EVER forget that!

  17. I saw the show and I am So Glad you addressed some of these issues. Some of the things said by one of the guest speakers came across as insensitive at best, and darn right insulting at worst, and am very glad you decided to bring some of it to light.

    Thank you for another inspiring post. Every day lately I have found myself reading one of you posts or watching on of your videos, and I can’t tell you how much you’ve inspired me. Even my boyfriend has noticed a new confidence in me, and much of it is thanks to you and your strength of mind, body, and soul. I hope you know that you are helping to change lives. Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!

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