Thin is NOT the X Factor

Stand up speak up fight backThe British Television talent show “The X Factor” has reportedly told two contestants that “unless the pair lose weight it will impact their position in the competition and their future career.” When someone laments about the fatphobia inherent in such a pronouncement we are often told that the show is “just being realistic” and that it’s “just how it works.”

And that’s bullshit.  This attitude is perpetuating the idea that we should choose our entertainers for their looks first and their talent second. This is how we end up with software to help so-called singers who cannot manage the most basic of skills (if you’re a singer) – staying on key.  Not to mention the “Susan Boyle Effect” wherein if someone doesn’t meet the Hollywood stereotype of beauty and they are talented we are absolutely shocked – because we’ve been completely brainwashed to believe that we can tell whether or not someone is talented has talent based on how they look. Which is completely, totally, and utterly ridiculous.

So if the X Factor producers decide that, instead of taking a stand against a world where, in a talent show, not being thin enough somehow renders your talent completely irrelevant, they will use their platform to perpetuate that belief, it’s incredibly sad if entirely unsurprising.

One of the ways that talented people who don’t fit the stereotype are fighting back is by using, Youtube, Vimeo, and other social media to get create a stage for ourselves. And every time we do, we give people an opportunity to realize how much amazing talent they are missing out on because we demand that our performers look a certain way first, and care about their actual talent second. So I invite you to put videos of your favorite fat performers in the comments, and to share them on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else you can!

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

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

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

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

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development (casting, finding investors etc.).  Follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.


48 thoughts on “Thin is NOT the X Factor

    1. somebody had to be the one with the obvious choice – and she disproves the “that is how the world is” – you CAN make a career while being fat – and while fighting other stereotypes how a performing artist has to be!

  1. Because I’m a voice major, people always feel obliged to tell me I should audition for The Voice, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, etc. I always nod and smile politely and say, “I’ll consider it” because I know what their intent is…it’s a roundabout way of saying, “You have a lovely voice, and more people should hear it.”

    But the fact is…I’m a big girl, and I’m not a poem to look at. And I certainly don’t need someone as abrasive and cruel as Simon to tell me I don’t meet Hollywood standards when Hollywood is a ridiculous place to begin with. I don’t need someone who hasn’t spent the hours in a practice room studying good technique and classical training telling me I need to lose weight if I want to ‘make it’.

  2. I have both their duet albums and their first solo albums (they wanted to go different ways).

    He’s much less shy these days and interacts with fans on twitter and facebook when he can.

  3. I like that The Voice does “Blind Auditions” for this reason… the coaches can only hear the contestant. Now, of course, someone else had to SEE the people to get them on, and you can bet they weed out some of the “less desirable types” that way.

    But still… it puts the focus on the, oh yeah… VOICE.

  4. Joanie Madden is one of the foremost performers on the Irish whistle and Celtic flute music. In the mid 1980s, she helped form the first all-female Celtic band, “Cherish the Ladies,” long before the concert series and albums “Celtic Woman” came out. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Cherish the Ladies in concert a couple of times, and they are one of those groups that just has a fantastic time on stage, making it nearly impossible for the audience to not have a fantastic time as well. She’s also a darned nice person and seems to genuinely love meeting the fans. Her album, “Songs of the Irish Whistle” is part of what launched my own interest in learning flute, and is still one of my favorite CDs.

    Anyone who discounts her talent as both a musician and stage performer, just because she’s not skinny, is being foolish and cheating themselves out of a tremendous musical experience.

  5. The fat shaming on these shows is horrendous. American Idol was by far my favorite show for many years. I still tune in from time to time because I love the performances but how they treat fat people is horrible.

    First of all by far (and I mean, by a long shot) the most talented person to ever come off American Idol is Ruben Studdard (in fact his post American Idol release of “I’m Sorry” should be an American pop standard like “American Pie” and “Hey Jude”, it is such a brilliantly written and performed song). But because he was fat (and possibly African American) American Idol did not promote him like they should have.

    The other example of American Idol being fat shaming is how they completely dissociated themselves from Kelly Clarkson when she started to return to her normal (AND FUCKING HEALTHY) weight. Her voice is as brilliant as ever, I would even say more refined that it used to be. But because of the awful standard we hold women to in this sick ass country and society American Idol no longer associates with her other than from a perspective of history.

    Great post and I know how I will vote on X-factor…with my dollars.

  6. People say that’s “just how it works” as if life were inherently changeless, which is perfectly absurd. You know why that’s “just how it works”? BECAUSE NO ONE CHANGES THE PROTOCOL. People are too scared, too comfortable, too lazy.

    Blacks were segregated because that’s “just how it works.” Except it’s not because if that really were true, then Rosa Parks would have just given up her seat, Brown would have lost to the Board of Education, and no one would recognize the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    We have courageous people to be thankful for in other oppressed populations. Let’s keep speaking out in ours, and learn something from the great things they did. Intersectionality can be a huge blessing.

    1. I’m not trying to praise Ragen too much here (Ok, maybe I am) but I can truly see a day where she is giving a speech at the Lincoln Memorial where millions and millions of us are spread out around the reflecting pool just over joyed that we have overcome.

      The day where we will truly be free is coming. It’s a long road ahead of us no doubt, but I know for certain that we will get there.

    2. Whenever people talk in broad terms like you mentioned, I hear the voices of the mouse chorus in the movie “Babe” saying “the way things are.” One of the big points of that movie was the fact that “the way things are” are not a monolith and are simply the way they are because no one has bothered to try any other way. And yet don’t amazing things happen when people do? No one makes grand inventions or wondrous discoveries by maintaining the status quo. No one accomplishes anything by sitting passively and letting the world happen to them. What if Thomas Edison (his egotism notwithstanding) has been content with candles? So much of our progress as a civilization can be attributed to people being dissatisfied with the way things are, and looking for a way to make things better.
      I consider people who cleave to the status quo a cowardly lot, with no vision or imagination. They are cozy in their rut and have made the mistake of placing their faith in consistency. They use “the way things are” as an excuse to do nothing. They are the ones that the term “sheeple” seems to have been tailor made for…though I often wonder if it isn’t an insult to sheep.

  7. And of course, there’s opera … where singers (especially sopranos) are pressured more and more all the time to lose weight so that they’ll “look the part” (as though a fat singer *doesn’t* look just fine for the part!) Of course, what’s disregarded there is that a singer who loses a lot of weight inevitably changes and sometimes gravely damages her voice … Luckily some singers are strong enough in themselves to resist, so that we still have marvels like the glorious Stephanie Blythe. I don’t know how to embed a video but here’s a link to her in a scene from Handel’s Rodolinda:

  8. If you ask Common Guy on the Street what an “opera singer” looks like, they’re going to make that giant stomach pillow motion with their hands. Having had the intensive training I’ve over the last two years, I know that body size = big sound is not accurate with opera singers (my first voice teacher was 5 feet dripping wet and probably didn’t even weigh 100 lbs and her voice was so powerful you could SEE the sound waves rippling in the air), but in my mind, an opera singer is a big person. Google “opera singer clipart” and once you get past the horns and helmets you see big people.

    I personally think that barrel-chested people have the best natural resonance, but I can’t prove it. Besides, with opera you have” to look ugly to sound pretty”…just watch any opera singer’s face as they sing, particularly Bartoli…they contort like mad, and I know I sound best when I tuck in the corners and do fish lips! I hardly think with all that facial movement a singer’s body should be a factor in any way.

    1. At least it was something. I understand she was time constrained, but bringing up discrimination at the doctor’s office (eg. can’t get the same treatment as thin ppl, longer times to diagnose), fewer job opportunities, would have given the tv audience a better insight.

    1. Whitney Thore is getting her own reality show on TLC!!! I hear through the rumor mill it is supposed to deal with her struggles and is NOT at all focused on efforts to lose weight. So proud of her!

      1. That would be great! I do hope they don’t focus on her struggles to lose weight. I’m a little saddened that she says she does want to lose 100 pounds, but underpants rule says I should respect her decision when it comes to what she wants to do with her body – so I am butting out of that, even though it makes me sad.

  9. It is sad and contemptible that this is still the norm. I hope those two contestants work on their technique and not their waist size.

    Growing up, it was always a comfort to me that since the theatre wasn’t welcoming of talented fat people, then at least the opera world was. You could be fat and still be the lead.

    Then in 2005 the news came of the opera singer Deborah Voight’s weight loss surgery. I remember reading one part where she said a famous director came up to her and said she needed to lose weight. Of course by society’s standard she is still fat at a size 14, but compared to the size 30 she was, that is considerably smaller. Small enough to be considered “acceptable”. The smaller her size the bigger her career. Thankfully she is still a powerhouse of a voice and just an amazingly talented woman.

    This also reminds me of The Queen of Soul, Dinah Washington. (She is my favorite singer.) I read her biography and learned that her life-long struggle with weight and they way she was treated due to her unconventional looks, caused her to inject mercury into her body to induce rapid weight loss. It was devastating to read that the sicker she became from the mercury, the more press attention she got for looking so “fabulous” (aka–thin). It was interesting to learn that it was Jackie Gleason (of Honeymooner’s fame), who told her about this weight loss “cure”, as he used it throughout his career as well (which explains how he was able to drop sizes so quickly too).

    These are the things that run through my mind whenever anyone talks about how someone should lose weight for their “health”. It has nothing to do with health but in fitting in with society’s idea of what a “healthy” person looks like. Engage in all matter of unhealthy, dangerous behavior for one’s “health”… YeahNo.

    1. I looked up recently and mercury used to be used as an anti-biotic in the 19th century (it was pretty much all they had). But if you constantly inject, that’s like working in a mercury mine, and should lead to insanity. I also didn’t know that about Jackie Gleason: I enjoy him as a singer.

  10. This is someone I went to college with, both music majors, though I wasn’t friends with her. She always got crap about her weight. I remember sitting in the student lounge one day while two other kids were saying horrible things about her size — I thought it was disgusting at the time but didn’t have the presence of mind to say anything to them. And I remember a Washington Post reviewer picking on her about her weight. Sigh. This video is more than 20 years old, and I don’t know how much she’s singing now, but she was both beautiful to look at and to listen to in those days.

  11. I’ve seen so many videos sent around from these shows that are just like Susan Boyle’s experience – the person is fat or otherwise not stereo typically attractive, and so they are already dismissed. Then they sing and just blow everyone away and move them to tears…and I am so angry at how SURPRISED everyone is that these people can sing or dance or whatever. And they just gush over them like they are a freaking miracle. Like the ugly duckling opened their mouth and sang like a swan, so the judges are oh so graciously going to *overlook* their flawed appearance because *gasp* they have actual talent.
    The judges should not be gushing about how proud the fatty should be of themselves in spite of their fatness, and patting them on the head because they are so “inspirational” to be doing – well, what everyone else on the show does but they are doing it while fat so it’s automatically amazing! The judges should be groveling in apology because they were stupid and made a horrible hurtful biased assumption about a performer before they even saw them perform.
    This pisses me off beyond belief.
    I stopped watching The Voice when Ce Lo Green expressed regret at not choosing a singer when he turned his chair around and saw that she was pretty. Her *voice* wasn’t good enough to interest him, but her body was. Shallow shallow bullshit, with an extra sexist cherry on top.
    Singing requires serious lung and diaphragm power, and strong lungs and diaphragms are often housed in big broad bodies. I don’t want to do the reverse bias and say fat people can sing better, but acoustically speaking they may in fact have an advantage.

    Talent is talent regardless of body size.

    1. I think it falls right in with that lame mentality that thinks, “I’d do her,” is the greatest compliment a guy can make about a woman (Yeah, I’m sure every woman lies awake at night worrying about whether all these random men out there consider her “doable,” as if her only value in life was to be worthy to wrap around some guy’s junk).

      Whether someone can sing or dance or act or write or fix a computer or diagnose a serious medical condition or any other skill set, isn’t determined by how well they align with someone else’s standard of beauty or sexual attractiveness.

      Ironically, a person’s performance as a lover is also not determined by their size or shape.

  12. Hey, apropos of nothing–does anybody remember an article in a British newspaper about a year ago regarding a family of fat people that was broken up after somebody literally sat there and watched them eat every meal for weeks or months, because that would somehow make them thin? And the kids were all sent to “better” (thinner) foster parents, and their real parents ended up divorcing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.