Worth Looking At

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A judge once told me that she “couldn’t stand to look at me” in this costume and that I had “no business wearing spaghetti straps.”

I did a post a couple of days ago about seeing the Cirque du Soleil show “Zumanity” and noticing that, in a show of people who are nearly naked, the only two fat women in the show were also the only performers wearing full body stockings (long pants, long sleeved) all the time.  I got a lot of interesting reactions to the piece that I wanted to talk about.

A very common response was asking if perhaps the women (who are known as The Botero Sisters) might prefer to be covered by a full body stocking, and isn’t that their right?

As women of course it’s their right, but I don’t think it makes this any less important to discuss.  If this is the case, then I have a couple of questions.  First, would such a request would have been honored if it were made by one of the thin performers, or would they have been told that they were signing up for a show where being scantily clad was part of the job? Also, while it’s their right to make the choice, I think it’s worth examining if choices like that are driven by a society that says that a thin naked body is sexy and a fat naked body must be covered or contained to be seen.

Some people wondered if the costuming was made to help them with their performance but other people who did the exact same thing that they did wore far less clothing so I don’t feel that’s it.  (In fact, now that I know their background and how talented they are, I feel that they are vastly under-utilized in the show.)

Another response suggested that perhaps Cirque did a study and found that people found them more sexy with the body stockings.  If that is the case, then I would have to ask again if that is driven by the rampant fat hatred in society and if “giving the people what they want” is worth reinforcing and contributing to the stigma and shame that are heaped on fat people by society – especially in a show like this that is supposed to be about breaking boundaries.  As I said in my original piece, I applaud the step forward of having these women in the show, and I think it’s worth talking about what the next step is.

I think I wasn’t clear enough in my first piece so let me be clear now that I’m not suggesting that we judge these women – or other fat performers – for the choices they  make when it comes to costuming.  As a fat dancer who has both competed and is in a fat cabaret company, I can absolutely understand how hard it is to make costume choices and the criticism that can be leveled by anyone and everyone about anything and everything. I am not suggesting that we should run around criticizing fat performers for their costume choices.

What I am suggesting is that we critically examine the culture that leads to those choices.  What I am suggesting is that we recognize when something might be driven by that culture – when fat people have a different experience than thin people because of the way fat people are viewed and treated in the culture.  What I am suggesting is that, like fat people in all manner of clothes and lack thereof, those things are worth looking at.

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12 thoughts on “Worth Looking At

  1. For years I’ve struggled trying to understand and put words to some of my feelings, experiences, and ideas… I’ve gone searching for understanding and inspiration in different ways, in different places. Your blog is one of the most fruitful resources I’ve found yet.

    Today you wrote a line that struck a chord. So simple yet so powerful: “What I am suggesting is that we critically examine the culture that leads to those choices.”


    Once again, thanks for sharing.

  2. Absolutely!

    Again, I emphasize that in a show like a Cirque du Soleil production, the performer has little to no say in how (s)he is costumed. It’s about what the director communicates to the costumer and how that is interpreted by said costumer.

    Had this been the Botero’s own show, then I would say they probably had a hand in the choice. But since it was the Cirque’s show, they almost certainly did not. Had they been asked to do the act sans body stockings and refused, they probably would have been dropped from the show for more pliable performers… and by the same token, once they were given body stockings, they knew they had to wear them whatever their personal preferences.

    But either way, it is important to ask why it is considered ‘okay’ for fat performers to be sexy so long as they cover up to a certain extent when the same message is not broadcast for thin performers.

    You know, sort of like it’s important to ask why so many of the roles for black women on stage and screen for so many years was pretty much entirely limited to maids while white women could play so many other roles.

    You’ve got a cast full of white women being society wives and lawyers and teachers and college professors… and the only black woman is a hotel maid.

    You’ve got a cast full of thin women who are wearing bustiers and bikinis and fig leafs… and the only pair of fat performers have on body stockings.

    Think about it.

    1. Absolutely agree.

      Increased diversity would help SO MUCH. Like, if Zumanity were just two of a dozen performers of various plus sizes employed by Cirque du Soleil, and there was a range of clothing shown – some nude, some in bikinis, some in stockings, etc etc – then the presence of one pair of fat women in stockings would be easier to accept as a purely creative decision.

      But the fewer members of a group there are in something, the more important those members become for representing their group. (I don’t mean the lone fat performer owes any of us anything, just that when we critique the performance as a whole, how they’re portrayed becomes more important).

  3. Sad thing for a dance judge to have such a strong contempt for the human body. Valid criticism (a.k.a dance judging) on how a dancer’s dress compliments or detracts from the choreography or perhaps impedes or appears to impede his or her movement are more along the lines of what I’d be looking for from a dance judge in terms of what I’m wearing. I’d have a hard time accepting any of this judge’s feedback based on her inability to understand the parameters of her job.

  4. Hear, hear, Ragen! If the fat performers asked to wear a body stocking: cool, and let’s talk about why that happened and why it was supported by the director or producers. If the fat performers were asked to don body stockings: cool, and let’s talk about why we think we need to literally contain those scary fat bodies.

    The rhetoric of “choice” tends to shut down conversations. This is unfortunate, because choices don’t exist in a vacuum or emerge fully formed from the mind-womb. Choices are products of our selves, cultures, and institutional forces.

  5. Great points. I have a couple. First, I’d love to read an interview you did with the Botero Sisters, if they were up for it. Second, something that crosses my mind and isn’t necessarily completely thought through – when you say that the audience might prefer fat bodies clothed because of rampant anti-fat bias, might their unclothed bodies, in that social environment, be reduced to a ‘freak show’? Is clothed fat bodies doing incredible things maybe an intermediate step in acceptance. Would their performance in skimpy clothes be overshadowed by their fatness, or would their skill triumph and get people to question their assumptions? No answers, just questions.

  6. You’ve made me think again… whoot!

    Silly me… my first reaction was that the stockings added to the ‘sexy’ in the way that some folks find stocking’d legs sexy… I know I’ve always liked the feel of stockings on my legs, as has my partner…

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