Friday, 11 October 2013

A Weighty Issue

This week I encountered a situation that has a) taken me by surprise and b) never happened to me in over six years of performing burlesque and cabaret.

I was told that in order to continue performing at a venue I needed to loose weight.

I have been working there regularly for a while and always received excellent feedback from customers, staff and fellow performers. However it seems to be that on this one particular occasion a manager decided I was too fat and asked the poor show booker to call me and tell me I needed to drop some weight in order to continue working there. I can only imagine how she must have felt before delivering the news!

Apparently he had been watching the show with some of his friends and they thought I needed to loose a few pounds. I was also told that there had been comments from some of the audience members as well.

Below are some quotes from feedback on the venue page on various review websites, pertaining to nights I know I was performing:

"The burlesque girl had an amazing voice and only did one burlesque song where we got what we could consider entertainment. I truly thought she was wasted in that place. She looked the part and put her heart into it but I think she was restricted to what she was able to do."

"...a delightful solo singer/dancer."

"...the show was great (more cabaret than burlesque) and probably one of the better shows I've seen."

"We loved the burlesque dancer, she was so fabulously sexy and very playful with the audience, she had everyone smiling."

Now, given the propensity of the internet to go overboard on bitchiness when protected by anonymity, this does not seem, to me, to reflect the opinion that audience members think I am overweight; more the opinion of one man and his mates.

I am not. I am a size 8 to 10 - with perhaps a little extra junk in my trunk than a commercial size ten model.

I admit this next part is going to sound a little 'girl-crazy': I often get audience members, after a show, telling how nice it is to see a 'real' woman on stage, or saying how I make them feel good because I'm not a skinny minnie. Things like that. I have issues with those statements on many levels (because I *am* girl-crazy!) but what they are basically saying is that it's nice to see that a woman doesn't have to conform to a certain look, weight or body shape in order to be fabulous, sexy and an entertaining performer.

And that's one of the many problems I have with this whole thing: I have never, ever been told that I need to loose weight in order to perform at a venue or show. I am good at my job and my lack of commercially aesthetic perfection has never been an issue. I am hired because of my acts, my performance standard and my work ethic; not because of how I do or do not look.

I sent a very polite, very reasonable (under the circumstances) email back, explaining that I was no longer prepared to work at the venue. I refuse to work for someone who has such a misogynistic viewpoint and would not feel comfortable performing there any more.

Also: how would they propose to police it? Are they going to weigh all their performers and not hire those who do not fall within certain, pre-defined limits? Are measurements going to have be sent with CV's with weekly sessions with a tape measure to check each girl doesn't creep over a set waist to hip ratio?! What the hell? 

Admittedly, performing burlesque, I realise I invite a certain amount of critique. Performing to audiences raised on a diet of airbrushed page three girls or waif-like catwalk models, anything deviating from this supposed ideal is going to get a raised eyebrow or two. However I am healthy, I am fit, and I know my body and its limitations. 

Coming from a dance background I have heard horror stories of weigh-ins at auditions (even auditions for colleges and schools), of students being told to loose weight throughout their time training, of dancers not being hired because their body shape is not suitable for a particular job. And obviously in the modelling world this kind of discrimination is also rife. However I am happy to say I have never before encountered any of this sort of thing: I come from a very supportive family and went to a wonderful college where the focus was on training each student to be the best they can be, not on forcing them to fit into an identikit mould. I am, and always will be grateful for this.

It has taken me a long, long time to become comfortable with my body shape and natural size. Throughout my late teens and early twenties I struggled with an eating disorder and I have tipped the scales at both ends of the spectrum. I have dieted off and on and my weight fluctuates on an almost daily basis. Now, if I decide to diet it's usually based on how my costumes feel - I don't own scales and refuse to weigh myself - and if they're getting a little snug I loose a little weight. Purely because I need my costumes in order to do my job; if they don't fit I can't afford to buy new ones!!

If I was a newbie, or less mentally strong than I am, or even still in the throws of disordered eating, this could have potentially been devastating. As it is, I got angry, got a bit ranty and wrote this blog.

Burlesque is, or should be, first and foremost about entertainment. If a performer is entertaining I'm usually not looking at whether or not they have a twenty-six inch waist, I'm enjoying their act. There are so many burlesque artists who do not have a so-called 'perfect' body, but that doesn't detract from the impact of their performances. Burlesque embraces all shapes and sizes and celebrates femininity in all its forms - it is through burlesque that I have learned to, if not love, at least appreciate my body (cheesy but true!) and I will never, ever allow someone to make me feel less than wonderful about myself.


  1. I whole heartedly agree with this word for word. I am booked for my dedication, performance and attitude, not my shape. Good on you for taking a stand. If more people did this, a change for the better would happen. Some of my favourite performers range from stick thin to rather large and it is because of their grace, elegance and showmanship/showwomanship on stage. X

  2. Good for you. I as well have had issues with me, my body and mind, now I'm in a place where I accept who and what i am and if others don't I'm not going to change for them. xx