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Entertainment Fat

Here's the gag: I have thin privilege. Even though I'm far from thin (size 12ish, if you're wondering), I often fear I don't have the authority to even speak on this subject because the truth is, there is a lot of fat discrimination that I DON'T experience. I fit in plane seats, so far I haven't had any doctors refuse to treat me until I lose weight, clothes in my size are relatively easy to find, etc. So my privilege presents itself like this: most of my anxiety around being fat is "what will other people think of me?" (What will they think of me if they see me at the gym? What will they think of me if they see me eating pizza? What will they think of me if they see me on a dating site? What will they think of me in an audition room?) That, and the enormous concern of being denied professional (theatrical) opportunities because of my weight, which, when you're in a field where people literally PAY TO LOOK AT YOU, is par for the course. But I'm lucky that these things don't make my life significantly more difficult or put me up as a direct target for public humiliation.

When I openly call myself fat, a lot of people will say "you're not FAT, you're just...[insert cuter descriptor here]." (I'm not going to say I'm NOT also chubby/big-boned/heavyset/whatever, but the dictionary definition of fat is "having a lot of excess flesh." Cool. I'm fat.) Actually, there were times when I didn't even have that much excess fat on my body, times where I was quite a lot thinner than I am now, and back then, I totally still called myself fat. Not "I feel fat," or "this makes me look fat," but "I AM fat at the very core of my identity." Even when I was a size 8, I felt that I was treated as fat. And that mostly showed up in theatre, where I was playing everybody's mom, or an old man, or a bunch of tiny roles pieced together, or all of the above.

Last spring, when this cabaret was just an idea, I had a conversation with one of my professors about feeling limited by my size in theatre and especially film acting. Something he said kind of opened my eyes: to paraphrase, it was that although I'm technically an average size (for the US, at least), the standard in entertainment, particularly in film and TV, is obviously skewed very thin, so I'm going to end up representing women who are much larger than me. I call this concept "Entertainment Fat" or "Amy Schumer Fat," but it's known in fat activism community as simply "small fat." Amy Schumer, for example, isn't so fat that she'll be harassed about it by strangers in grocery stores or kicked off planes, but by Hollywood standards she clearly isn't thin (Entertainment Average?), and therefore she must be the butt of every fat joke. So while being fat doesn't effect my real life as directly as it might, it's going to absolutely define the experiences of many characters that I play.

This sucks in 17,000 ways. It hurts me because I feel like I'm only "useful" or employable when my size is there to make a point. I can't play regular characters; I can only play fat characters. Because fat people aren't regular, normal, "real" people, according to what I see in media or at least what I interpret from what I see in media. It's like being professionally objectified, but not for "positive" reasons. It's like no one wants to hire ME, they only want to hire my size/fat/body, and I'm just there as a joke or a cautionary tale. And that hasn't been my life experience, which I suspect is partially because I'm Entertainment Fat, but also because I'm a human person and not a walking, breathing fat trope. Like, believe it or not, being fat or plus size or whatever isn't the defining feature of my personality, or anyone's.

The worst thing about this is that there are tons of people who are bigger than Entertainment Fat who are not seeing themselves represented AT ALL, who are instead watching people my size and smaller - not technically even plus size - play characters who are violently marginalized for being too fat. I believe that this is one reason there are relatively few fat actors; fat people (even Entertainment Fat people) are discouraged from pursuing acting because they see so little representation of themselves in theatre, TV and film. And this is one of the major reasons why I want and need to keep acting. At the end of the day, it is a privilege to represent the experiences of other fat women, even though some of those experiences aren't the same as mine. But people of every size deserve representation - positive representation that doesn't just have to do with how fat they are - and although there are exceptions, as long as Entertainment Fat is a thing, they're unlikely to get it.

I truly believe that my perspective on fatness in theatre and media is valid and deserves to be heard, but the fact is, I am not every fat person. There are levels to discrimination and privilege, and I'll admit that my level isn't the absolute highest. I don't know how to end this post in any neat and conclusive way, except to say that it's messy, it sucks, and there are a lot of gray areas that have to be acknowledged. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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