There’s a video making its way around Facebook with what appears to be two fat ballroom dancers doing a fabulous jive. A number of people have sent this to me excited to see two fat ballroom dancers getting such great attention. Except it’s not. It’s two dancers who are dressed in fat suits and, while the dancing is good, there are also some of the tired fat jokes you might expect.
Once again I find that I’m typing something that should be so painfully obvious that it shouldn’t have to be said or typed ever: It is not ok to dress up like a member of an oppressed group for “fun” or profit. It’s especially not cool to dress up like a member of an oppressed group and act like a caricature of that group to get cheap laughs off of the stereotypes that get people in that community bullied, stigmatized, and oppressed. There is no justification for this behavior.
[Edit to address something that’s coming up in comments: I should have made this clear initially and I apologize for not doing so. Doing this is wrong regardless of the oppressed group someone is imitating, that said, the imitations are not the same and aren’t comparable. Wearing a fat suit is not the same thing as “black face” because of the history behind it (Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote a great article about it for Vox this I highly recommend.)]
Sadly this is hardly the first time. In a dance circuit in which I competed two World Champions in the highest professional division – Ronnie and Brandi – spent three long seasons wringing every cheap laugh out of the use of a fat suit in their Masters Showcase Routine. Three. Seasons. And when confronted they said that it wasn’t a fat joke, it was a joke about internet dating (his horror at the fact that she showed up for their internet date and was fat, her getting stuck in dance moves in the fat suit, his relief and her dance improvement when she took off the fat suit etc.) Just in case there are people who would believe this BS, here’s an easy test – if it requires a fat suit, it’s a fat joke. And it’s bullshit, straight up.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that performers wearing fat suits often get far more attention than actual talented fat people (and they don’t have to deal with a bunch of bullshit concern trolling.) It also adds to the difficulty that fat performers face since every time we step on stage we have to overcome people’s prejudices and preconceived notions before we even have a chance of them recognizing our talent. When people throw on a fat suit and reinforce those prejudices and preconceived notions it makes it even harder for us.
Wearing a fat suit as an online dating experiment is questionable, wearing it to see what it’s like to be fat is also questionable when there are completely credible accounts from real live actual fat people about what it’s like to be a real live actual fat person (and is especially questionable when your grip on science and logic is as tenuous as that of Dr. Oz.) But wearing a fat suit to get cheap laughs because we live in a society where somehow it’s funny that fat people exist in the world and do stuff is completely deplorable. Just stop. Instead share a video of an actual fat performer and help us give people the opportunity to overcome their prejudices and preconceived notions and see that talent isn’t a size.
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