Fat Burlesque

A few days ago a joke about fat burlesque dancers was posted on twitter, and it upset me pretty badly. After I calmed down and had a dialogue with the poster, who was extremely gracious and responsive to my hurt and anger, I realized that my anger wasn’t really with her or the tweet itself, but was really because the seemingly innocuous joke was in terms that are so ingrained in our language, most people wouldn’t have thought twice about it. What bothers me more is that this shaming language is so invisible, yet there is little visibly-positive dialogue to counter that shame.

Fat-hate is everywhere, and it’s often couched in terms of pseudo-benevolence. Many people who overtly engage in anti-fat talk claim that this mask of benevolence justifies their discrimination and hateful commentary. There are lots of examples and increasing amounts of dialogue happening about this topic, but since that’s not the point of this post I’m not going to talk about it at length. For a brief overview about Fatism check out Bradley University’s The Body Project. If you have more references or information about this topic, please share them in the comments below!

The following quote is (hopefully) of no surprise to anyone:

“Research has documented that women are most often the victims of size discrimination. Perhaps this is because men have traditionally garnered credibility through the power and wealth they accumulate, and women have garnered credibility through how closely they conform to society’s ideals of beauty.” (read the full article)

Any woman who lives in mainstream American culture understands the impact of body image on self-esteem, social acceptance, and general well-being. We are no strangers to self-hate. We are constantly engaged in an unwinnable battle between authenticity and expectation – a deeply powerful love/hate relationship.

One of the reasons I love burlesque so much is that its job is to poke fun, to turn social expectation on its head and exaggerate and illuminate the ludicrous – and truly, the manner in which we fight against our bodies is so deeply ludicrous we could make fun of ourselves all day long!! So much incredible work is being done by burlesque dancers of all sizes and body shapes, and audiences and fans around the world are responding in overwhelmingly positive ways.

But honestly, it’s hard to get up there and reveal ourselves, no matter what kind of body we have. We do it, and we love it and feel liberated by it, but that doesn’t make it easy. We all have times where we feel too fat or too skinny, like our boobs are too big or too small or uneven or wrong, and sometimes we just feel dammed unpretty. I truly, truly love burlesquers of all genders and body shapes because I think the ability to manage these feelings and still find authentic power speaks volumes about the person’s character.

But you know, I realized something yesterday, in the midst of the twitter-angst. I realized that even the so-called fat-positive dialogue focuses more on why fatism is harmful than it does on any real body positivity. I think it stands to reason that until our everyday dialogue actively celebrates women’s bodies, we won’t start feeling better! So fiiiinally I’m getting to the heart of why I started writing this post….

I Love Fat Burlesque Dancers

(I love the skinnies too, but this is a special shout out to my sisters of size)

I went to the Dita von Teese show a few weeks ago, which was truly spectacular. Her costuming was breathtaking and her acts were beautiful.  I felt awed by her, mesmerized, and quite often felt like I was looking at living art. When Dirty Martini came on stage, though, I was totally blown away.  I laughed with her, was amazed by her, and felt…. well, I felt sexy! I felt connected on  a real level. Watching her, I felt like I got a glimpse of her as a real person… which is really the art of the tease at its best.

Even though an authentic body presented with power and confidence is at the top of my sexy-qualities list, I also just really love the bump-and-grind! I love the ways that curvy women can move – it evokes a sense of fluidity and fullness that cannot be conveyed by costumes or sets. When I see a thick, sexy woman owning the power of her body, I feel powerful too.  Curvy burlesque dancers are like my church – they keep reminding me that I don’t want to keep buying the commercial myth of beauty. I wanna keep buying THEM!

So here’s my giant thank-you to all the burlesque dancers who jiggle, who flop, who shimmy and shake, who have cellulite and big assess and big boobs and big hearts. YOU are one of the reasons this art feels so real and right to me and I am always awed and inspired by you. Please don’t stop the music!

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