Some Big Fat Inspiration

IMG_1212Today a reader e-mailed to tell me about her experience in dealing with a fat shamer.  I was so inspired by the story that I want to share it in its entirely (with permission, of course), and then we’ll talk about it a little:

Here’s what happened.  Last year I started working on a project for production this spring.  It’s a play with 4 characters – 2 women in their 60s, one woman in her 40s and a guy of undetermined age, but probably middle aged.  My part was the woman in her 40s (for which I am very suitable).  The actor playing the guy character is a great actor and is very large.  We got a director and I thought he understood that the cast came ready made – the parts were already cast.  Two weeks ago he told me that he saw my character as a much younger and thinner woman – someone who could also persuade the audience that she can ride a bike (show mentions bike) – and someone who could represent a love interest. Effectively he didn’t want to cast me in my own show.  He said he saw the guy part as someone also much younger and thinner, with a toned and muscular body (play calls for taking off shirt).  He thought the audience would be uncomfortable with the guy’s fat.  I explained that the discomfort was part of the play and should be there, and that the actor playing that part had already been cast, and I wasn’t going to uncast him..

At this point I had a choice.  The old me (pre-Ragen) would have taken it all, and would have thought that he was right.  I probably would have let him give my part to someone else who was younger, thinner and prettier.  I would have been left feeling really bad and with zero self-esteem and wondering how my show had been hijacked.  But I fought back.

What I said was that the cast was non-negotiable, as was my vision of the play (I mean, I am the producer, right?).  If he could work with it, that would be great, and if not, then maybe we would work together some other time.  He decided that he could not compromise his own artistic vision in order to accommodate mine.  I said okay – I understood.  Now my artistic director and I are looking for another director.  Huzzah!!

I still don’t quite believe I managed to stand up for myself and didn’t succumb to the fat shaming.  As someone with very low self-esteem, it was really hard.  I was initially shocked and horrified that he wanted to do this months after the initial reading. It was really hard to stand my ground, and I could feel myself shaking when I was talking to him, but somehow I found the strength to do it.

There may be repercussions from the other cast members because the fat shaming director is a big shot in this theatre community.  I decided that if they want to leave, I’m not going to try to stop them.  We will just recast and move on.  I could not have done it without all of your help and the conviction that you bring to your work.  I’m very proud of myself that I didn’t let the fat shamer win.

First of all, I think that when the director said that he couldn’t “compromise his own artistic vision” what he was really saying was that he refused to examine or work on his prejudices about fat people  Then he tried to convince her that she should also give in to his prejudice because it’s likely that the audience will hold the same prejudice and wouldn’t she rather just perpetuate prejudice than challenge it?  This is the kind of bullshit that keeps bigotry in place and I’m so inspired by the way that she stood up to it.

Let’s be clear that at the idea of a fat woman riding a bike or being loved – things that lots and lots of fat women do – he feels the need to stick his fingers in his ears and yell “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA THAT’S INCONCEIVABLE!!!” then work as hard as possible to perpetuate bigotry and stereotypes, and take his ball and go home if others won’t cooperate. Trying to sell this as “artistic vision” doesn’t make it any less an act of bigotry.  Of course fat people are not the only group to be subjected to this – this same bullshit is used to justify a lack of representation for people of color, women, disabled people/people with disabilities, queer and trans people, and people of various ages – especially older people, especially older women.

What this reader did is exactly what it takes to create change in a messed up world. Bigotry shouldn’t happen, the world shouldn’t be like this, we shouldn’t have to fight or debate for our right to exist or to be represented in the media. It’s not our fault, but it can become our problem. Risk is the currency of revolution. If we want to create social change (and nobody is obligated to do so) there will be risk involved. To create social change a lot of people will risk a little, some people will risk a lot, and a few people will  risk everything.  Each of us gets to choose what, if anything we want to risk, and when, and how, and there should be no shame or judgment for any of those decisions.

Interactions like the one above are how change happens.  When one of us decides No. Not this time. When one of us stands up, not because it’s the easy or safe thing to do, not because we are sure that other people will stand up with us, but because it’s time to stand up.

Years ago a friend gave me a custom mousepad with an Og Mandino quote on it.  I still use the mousepad and and read the quote everyday for inspiration. The last line is:

This is the time.  This is the place.  I am the person.

Damn right it is. Damn right we are.

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27 thoughts on “Some Big Fat Inspiration

  1. Reader, whoever you are, I am SO PROUD of you! You stood up to the bully and got to watch him leave. What a wonderful feeling! From he bottom of my theatrical heart, THANK YOU for taking down one dick-head director who casts only with his eyes. I wish there were more people like you.

    1. Sorry this is an over used phrase, but appropriate –YOU GO GIRL! I’m so very impressed! To stand up yo him must’ve been hard. But, maybe he will replay this incident in his head over & come to a different conclusion someday! I’m so glad you didn’t compromise! You are my personal hero of the day!

  2. As a fat female musician who both rides a bike and is loved, this gets an enormous thumbs-up from me… I am so inspired by this. Reader, you’re my hero! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Dear Reader,

    Thank you for standing up for yourself, and thank you for standing up for your artistic vision. Thank you for being an inspiration to me, for reminding me that my creative vision is just as important as someone else’s. Thank you for being a hero by standing up in the face of bigotry and not backing down! ❤

  4. This reminded me of a book I read recently which discussed how Lucille Ball came to be the first female head of a television studio. Desilu Productions came about in part because when Desi and Lucy tried to adapt “I Love Lucy” from radio to television, producers didn’t want to cast Desi as the husband, because “people wouldn’t believe” that a white woman would marry a Cuban man. This despite the fact they’d been married for 11 years at that point.

    Looking back, that seems ridiculous now. I hope I get to live to see a time where this twit’s bigotry thinly disguised as “artistic vision” seems just as silly.

    I’m grateful to her for taking us a step in that direction. She really is a hero!

  5. Obviously that director has never been on a large organized bicycle ride. I’ve been on many, and I wouldn’t even begin to try and estimate the number of people I’ve seen that were not the skinny stereotype of long-distance bicycle riders. And – to the horror of the fat shamers – the vast majority of those fat bicycle riders were also wearing the lycra bike shorts.

    An awful lot of those fat riders kept up a much faster pace than I could, too.

    Maybe if that director pulled his head out of his ass and planted that ass on a bike saddle, he might see that the world isn’t as limited as he imagines it.

  6. I wonder if ‘refused to compromise his own artistic vision’ was they guys way of saying he didn’t get what the play was about and didn’t know how to direct it if he didn’t reshape it into something he recognised and was comfortable with.

    I don’t know much about theatre but surely the play helps dictate the characters. I know there are several interpretations of various Shakespeare plays, some that have been made into movies, but most of them not only stay fairly true to the broad outline and ideas in the original material, but they were deliberate reinterpretations from the start.

    It kinda seems like the director, instead of paying attention to what he was meant to be making, made some assumptions without confirming them with anyone.

    I hope you find a decent director who understands the material and can help you make the play a success. It would be interesting to hear how the play goes.

  7. This makes me mourn the many other interesting characters we’ve never gotten to meet via the stage (or screen) because they were ‘sanitized’ or even nixed due to the director implementing his/her narrow-minded, Wonder Bread vision over that of the playwrights.

    Glad you stuck to your guns!

    1. The satirical show by Charlie Brooker, “Screenwipe”, talks about this and how your “idea” has to morph to meet the expectations of the producers, and usually it gets so morphed that it’s no longer recognizable. The process is “shown” in s2e4.

      Also, in his companion show, “Newswipe” he did a little skit showcasing how the news is presented, and after watching that, I was able to see that the news actually followed this formula every single time. The clip by itself is “Charlie Brooker’s How to Report the News”.

  8. This woman does NOT “have low self-esteem.” This woman has balls, and I commend her for standing up to her potential director. We’re all entitled to our own visions of what we want our “world” to be. My congratulations to her, and to the next person who writes to you telling of her experiece standing up to prejudice and ignorance.

    Betsy Day

  9. I’m mostly a silent reader on this blog – it is my “feel-good” reading during lunchbreak, so thank you Ragan for being the amazing person that you are! 🙂 – but I am really glad that this guys ‘artistic vision’ will not ruin a great production (I feel justified in believing it will be fantastic, because it is carried by enthusiastic people, who will make it come alive:-).

    I performed with a student-theatre group for more than 10 years and in all that time what I *really* wanted to do was to be Helena in The Midsummer Night’s Dream. So when our Orga-Team finally decided that we would do “the Shakespeare”, I had minor nervous meltdowns coming up to auditions, because I felt that this was my ONE chance (I was about to leave university). I can not express what went on in my head when the castlist came out and I was Helena – it was like a soundless explosion! 🙂
    But you know what was *really* interesting?
    When I called some of the girls that were in my “stage-design-team” each and EVERY one of them said something to me on the lines of “I’m so glad you get to do something different for a change!”

    Most of the time I was the biggest girl in the group (both height and girth;-) and that being the case, I had never been cast as the love-interest before and mostly played older women – sometimes stern, sometimes bitchy, sometimes powerful, sometimes funny, sometimes even the lead-character, but always older and always a long way from any romantic involvement. I did not complain, as I enjoyed performing in those plays and had fund being these characters, but I knew it was type-casting (and of course I was not the only one affected by it) and the main reason I was so nervous about auditioning for Helena.
    I was gratified that not only did the director give me the chance to be one of the “young girls in love” for a change, but that the other girls were glad for me too – and to top it of, our Hermia was a thin but very short girl, so we had a litlle display of sizes & shapes on stage.
    The play was sold out every night for a week, so I guess our ‘artistic vision’ did not make people so uncomfortable after all.^^

    Accepting the stereotypes and catering to them will never make them go away, so I wish you, dear Reader, all the best for your play! Break a leg, it will be fabulous!!

    1. Wow that is amazing. Especially the sold out part.

      In Alberta, a few yrs ago many budgets for unis were cut, so in some cases the entire dept. of drama was cut (history in another was cut). The small uni that I work at (and also alumni) has been growing steadily for over a decade and recently was granted University status, an upgrade from the previous University College.

      The plays here are somewhat obscure, never heard of them before, but they get good turnout, except for last year, where less than half the seats were filled. I make a point to see the play every year.

  10. I am always dismayed at the limiting beliefs around what fat people can do (ride bikes, exercise, have sex). I live in a small community that has quite an active volunteer community theater and am always thrilled when people of “un-average” size are cast. Kudos to this woman for standing her ground.

    1. Regarding sex, there seems to be a double standard of sorts. On one hand, we are told that fat people, especially women, are so starved for sex that we will take anyone who comes along, hence the “easy” and “desperate” stereotypes. On the other hand, we are told that we are “disgusting”, and no one in their right mind would be attracted to — or have sex with — a fat woman/person, except fellow fatties, of course.

      When I frequented an online dating site, I got my fair share of messages, many of them sexual right from the start. Luckily, not all were, though, and I’ve met someone who seems to be stellar.

      I still wonder if these men were genuinely attracted to me, and will try that crap with women of any size, or if they assume that, because I am large, I “must” be desperate for the touch of a male, since I oh so “rarely” get one compared to my thin counterparts who have the luxury of choosing from a bigger pool of men.

      I wonder if they assume this but are smart enough to not say it out loud. Then I also wonder if I was a potential experiment for some who’ve never been with a BBW and want to test the waters. I had a guy I was e-mailing claim that he’d never been with a BBW before.

      The men who I often date — including the current one — are thin.

      1. As a guy who has been lean most of his life, and happily married for 35 years to a woman who has never been skinny, I’ll chime in and state that some of us simply find BBW attractive. As far back as I can remember, I always have.

        What the popular media seems to overlook is that we’re all individuals, and as such, we all have our individual traits as to what we find attractive. They also overlook the fact that we should all be thankful for that, regardless of how we look, because otherwise, the vast majority of us would be in hopeless straits romantically.

        If every man were only attracted to women that fit that popular standard, and if every woman were only attracted to men that fit the popular ideal, then the only people who would find love would be those that fit those ideals, and only with each other. The rest of us would be shut out.

        Yeah, there are some guys out there that only look for “warm and willing,” because women to them are nothing more than a convenient tool for masturbation. Even though they disgust me, I still pity them. They don’t know what they’re missing.

  11. Bravo, Reader!! And Ragen for inspiring me! That way of standing up for yourself is so awesome! I remember when I didn’t have self-esteem, and so let people bully me and insult me without ever standing up for myself or calling them on it. Nice!

    I had a thought that I wondered if Reader might find helpful: Instead of saying “Perhaps we can work together in the future.” which kinda leaves only one option, maybe there is a way to say something like “The cast is non-negotiable. How can we work together to make that work for both of us? Because I’d really like to work with you on this show.” (assuming the latter is true)

    That way, the director could choose from more than two options, one of which is to leave. And it also gives him leeway for being where they are AND having an opportunity to change where they are. He might still have left, but I wonder if he would have had to think more about his own limitations and prejudices?

    I try to remind myself that I was there once, too, believing that fat was bad and ugly, and only through being exposed to blogs like Ragen’s as well as awesome peeps like you who share your stories, have I been able to find a way to a truth that I never knew possible. I hate to think that I might have abandoned a site like this, if the option were to do as Ragen does or come back when you can do as she does. That’s really simplistic, and not a perfect comparison, I realize, so I hope it demonstrates what I mean without being denigrating or anything. I truly do admire and strive to be like you, Reader. And I know for sure that I take courage from your story and your willingness to stand up for yourself. That is a truly loving and revolutionary act.

    You know, I wonder if Reader asked him whether he thought fat people couldn’t ride bikes, be loved, or take off their shirts on stage? And if so, what did he say? I know literally hundreds of fat people who ride bikes and are loved, and although I don’t personally know anyone who takes their shirt off onstage, I would. (preferably with a bikini top or athletic bra) and I hope many of my fat friends would do the same.

    Thanks for being here!

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