Lisa has a wide passion for fighting against social inequity. She is currently completing her BA in Psychology and Gender & Women's Studies.
I have always been a bigger person, even as a child. I have never experienced what it is like to have thin privilege, to be able to wear any sort of clothing I want, or to not feel the pressure of people constantly judging you because of your body whenever you leave the house. My mother started me in dance classes at the age of three, and I ended up falling in love with the sport and began to naturally excel at it. I became very serious about it around the age of eight, competing around the province, and continued it all the way into my university career. Little did we know that the decision to put me into dance classes with my bigger body created a toxic cycle of disordered eating and alienation from critiques and peers within the dance world. The different styles of dance that I participated in (ex. ballet) “require” a small frame and fragile physique, where I have a large frame and wear a size twelve, not a size zero. Having to stare at my body in a giant mirror, wearing skin-tight clothing, positioned beside girls who were all smaller than me, for six hours every day was immensely damaging to my psyche. I felt out of place and that I was somehow a bad dancer because I was not thin. I began to stop eating and exercising excessively out of desperation to be thin and to fit in more within the dance community. This malnutrition caused a plethora of injuries, limiting my ability to participate in my dance classes, which in turn made me want to eat even less because I was missing out on exercise, so I usually danced on my injuries anyways, because “as soon as you start someone into a weight-cycling behaviour, you’re more than likely going to damage their physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, socialization…” (Fattitude). I was continuously told by dance professionals and medical professionals that if I lost weight that dance would be easier for me, which I look back at now and realize how absurd that is; these comments made me feel disabled as a dancer. All of this destroyed my desire to continue dance professionally, firstly getting rejected from the Dance program at Ryerson University for not having “the required physical standard”, and secondly having to drop out of the Dance program at York University after only two months because I was both so injured, and also felt that I could not compete with the other girls in my classes because I was, and still am, considered obese in the dance world, even though I know that I am in fact not obese. Although I do not really dance anymore because of my chronic injuries that never healed properly, I still struggle a lot with my body size in general because I was exposed to those experiences in the dance world for over twenty years. I continue to feel the ostracism that surrounds being fat in my day-to-day experiences, and I continue to struggle with trying to love myself as-is, causing anxiety around food and constant restriction-bingeing behaviours. I am fully aware of myself being in good general health, yet I still want to sabotage that solely so that I can be thin. I logically understand that it would be stupid to hurt my health just to be thin, yet I still strive for it because of the societal pressures and fatphobia that continues to surround a majority of my life experiences.
If you are bigger in the dance world, you will get zero work. It is great to do recreationally, but forget it if you want to pursue it professionally. “It’s not that thin [dancers] are bad and evil, it’s just that we only see thin, white [dancers], we don’t see diversity” (Fattitude), which is basically the entire root of eating disorders being so common among dancers. There is almost a sense of disrespect to be a fat dancer; you are looked down upon and deemed completely incapable. As Fattitude explained, if two people with similar qualifications are to apply to the same job, the thinner candidate is much more likely to be hired, especially because “self-responsibility and self-disciplinarity are imperative in relation to a capitalist economy and neoliberal state.” (Hladki, 326). This is the same case in the dance profession, except worse. If a fat dancer has more experience, greater technique, and a greater passion than the thin dancer, the thin dancer is still more likely to be hired. “Beauty has a lot of power in our current culture. The idea that if you can be perceived as beautiful by the right people, you an get a lot of privilege and a lot of good things come to you.” (Fattitude). When I got into high school and decided that I wanted to pursue dance professionally, this became a huge realization to me, that my body was not “right”. I realized that I would be setting myself up for failure if I did not become thin as “When you’re a member of a community that doesn’t see images that look like you, that contributes to this form of cultural, personal, and emotional invisibility, the sense that you don’t exist-- either the fact that you don’t exist or shouldn’t exist.” (Fattitude); thus began my relationship with disordered eating and an unhealthy obsession with my appearance. I was determined to become the ideal dancer, to drop my weight down to such a low number that I now realize is biologically impossible for me. I felt “devalued in the public sphere because [I] represented, as many other minoritized subjects do, those who are “less than” the normative standard, particularly in terms of the productive, neoliberal citizen.” (Hladki, 316). My weight and size made me feel like a failure. I could not focus on other aspects that actually made me successful, like the fact that my grades were good, that I had amazing friends, and that I had a positive impact on so many lives around me, because I was so preoccupied on becoming thin; it is all that mattered to me, as “you’re not supposed to identify as a fat person, you’re supposed to identity as a struggling thin person.” (Fattitude), and that is exactly what I was and continue to be. My bigger size made me feel like I was wasting my time on existing, that I was taking up space for more important people who were both thin and successful. I felt “constructed as a problem, one which is absolute in the absence of the “solution” of drastic weight loss. There is no acknowledgement that my body’s emotional and physical responses might shift drastically depending on other spatial and intersectional forces.” (Meerai, 92); I dropped everything else in my life to focus on becoming thin. The concept of thinness haunted me everywhere I went and was constantly stuck in the back of my mind. I became guilty for eating anything, which is crazy considering it is something that I need to survive! I did not feel guilty for breathing, so why feel guilty for eating? Because I felt as if my bigger body was automatically associated with gluttony, laziness, and a lack of success, when in reality all of those things were completely the opposite of what I had going for me, but “the idea that somehow sacrificing your mental and emotional health to being degraded and disrespected, and being the target of bigotry and prejudice, is somehow healthier than being fat” (Fattitude) is the exact type of mindset that I had and could not get rid of. I believed that becoming thin would make me more of an asset and be the source of happiness and exceptional well-being, when in reality it was doing the opposite. “Because women feel that being beautiful is what they’re bringing to the table, it’s what they have to offer. And being beautiful means being thin, and therefore being thin literally becomes a direct value for women.” (Fattitude).
Because I got so many injuries from not eating enough during my dance training, I obviously had to see a lot of different health care providers, from chiropractors to surgeons. I got a lot of different kinds of comments from these people, like “your torn MCL will heal better if you lose weight to take pressure off of your knees” and “I’m surprised your resting heart rate is that low, you don’t look like an athlete”. It was an “experience with medial discourses [that] continued to be entangled with the social construction of how and when fat is too fat and what is healthy.” (Meerai, 92). These medical professionals made me feel that my fatness was the sole cause of my problems, which is awfully ironic considering they were all injuries from being an athlete! But in a way, they kind of were injuries indirectly due to my weight because a lot of the injuries stemmed from a lack of proper nutrition as I was trying so desperately to become thin. “The intersections between my body’s outer stylings and inner workings reveal the elaborate interactions between aesthetics, health, representation, size, and risk. Medical discourses are embedded in our daily living, seeping into our habitual enactments. They play on the power dynamics of physical, material, and aesthetic associations with fat, declaring causes for fatness and how fatness can lead to supposedly detrimental physical outcomes: disease, disorder, condition. This framing, which is internalized and embodied, manifests in how we present our bodies in the everyday.” (Meerai, 91). Whenever I got a new injury, I would treat it myself and refused to seek medical help for it because I feared being reprimanded for my weight. To this day I am still anxious to visit a medical professional because of these deeply negative associations I have with them now. My eating disorder was never noticed or taken seriously by anybody I personally told about it because I was never “too thin”; I was always bigger so my disordered eating was not an issue as the current issue was supposedly my size. My psychological problems became dismissed because I was not thin, and therefore I was treated as less of a human being because of my weight, as “power relations determine those subjects who will be eligible for recognition and those who will not.” (Hladki, 316).
I always assumed that my poor body image and eating disorder was just apart of being a dancer, but now that I no longer dance and still greatly struggle with my fatness, I can see that it is not, and that this is something that is deeply rooted into our capitalist society and affects millions of people around the world regardless of who they are or what they do. “Bodies supposedly tell people how worthy we are of respect, how smart we are, how valuable we are, and if you look at someone’s body and what you see is not the ideal, what you see is not what is “okay”, or “normal”, or attractive especially, by society’s standards, then it doesn’t matter what other qualities that person has.” (Fattitude).
Fattitude. Directed by Viridiana Lieberman and Lindsey Averill, Women Make Movies, 30 Apr. 2017.
Hladki, Janice. “Disability and Girlhood: The Anomalous Embodiment of the Chubby Girl in Critical Art Practice.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, Oct. 2015, pp. 313–329, 10.3828/jlcds.2015.25. Accessed 21 July 2020.
Meerai, Sonia. “Taking Up Space in the Doctor’s Office: How My Racialized Fat Body Confronts Medical Discourse.” Thickening Fat: Fat Bodies, Intersectionality, and Social Justice, edited by May Friedman et al., Routledge, 16 Sept. 2019, pp. 90–96. Accessed 21 July 2020.
© 2020 Lisa Hallam