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Carol has been a member of the performance troupe FAT LIP Readers Theatre (FLRT) for six years. She also works as an attendant for a disabled person, puts in twenty hours a week working for a parks and recreation department's art center, and works part-time at Radiance magazine as an editorial assistant. Carol's delightful sense of humor and insightful observations make for wonderful conversation.
About a year before I joined FLRT I had begun attending an exercise class for large women. I really love to dance. That's what got me to class.
At first I didn't really look at myself. I would watch the teacher and other people, but not myself. Four or five months into the class I started to watch myself more. I hadn't lost much weight, even though I had been on a diet. I started to really become fascinated. I looked at the other women's bodies-how we moved and how we differed, our diversity and beauty. I certainly had never had any reason to see beauty in my own body before, unless it was above my chin and below my hair.
I attended a weekend retreat Alice Ansfield (publisher, Radiance magazine put together, just a lot of large women coming together in a mountain resort. I remember feeling incredibly powerful when we were driving back. The first time we stopped at a gas station I went into the bathroom to wet down my T-shirt (it was so hot!) and there was this small-size woman there. I remember looking at her and thinking, What is wrong with her?" All of a sudden I just started laughing, realizing she was the first thin woman I had seen in three days. It was one of those few classic times when the light bulb in my head went off.
Another epiphany camethe second time (not the first) I heard someone say that dieting doesn't work. Then it was, "Well, gosh, I've been doing this for twelve years and I'm fatter than I was when I began. Now, let me see . . ." Certainly you blame yourself, as a dieter, every time it doesn't work. That you didn't try hard enough, that you screwed up, that you went off the diet. Whatever. You're weak-willed. You're a slob. But you know, that's not who I am in the rest of my life. I'm a bit of a procrastinator at times, but why would it be in just this one area of my life when the rest of my life is fairly together?
The first time I saw FAT LIP Theatre was amazing. These women were up there talking about my life! They were talking about clothing, doctors, being called names on the street, relationship stuff, and hating yourself . . . but building toward a self acceptance message in the end. They were advertising for people to come to an informational meeting and be interviewed to join them. That's how I got involved in FAT LIP.
We work from a feminist collective point of view, with consensus. What I've learned over the years is that every woman's voice is important and you should listen and not dismiss anybody. Maybe we can't find a compromise all of the time, but often times we can find something that will work. Together, as a group of fat women, we are taking a message to the world about who we are. That includes both our diversity and our similarities.
We average ten to fifteen performances a year. Our scripts cover all ages of our lives from childhood, medical, social, and employment issues, and relationships. Planning the script depends on whether or not the audience is already on our side. We have done scripts for a particular audience, such as medical people. For instance, we might show them "this is what it's like to be a fat patient" or "what it's like to be a fat woman in this world and part of that is being your patient." We address things like access issues. For example, if all of the chairs in their waiting rooms have arms on them, what does that say to the fat patient who comes to them? Or if you are sitting there with a glass of Slim Fast on your desk, what are you, as a professional, saying to a patient? The audience just kind of sits there thinking, "Whoa! I never thought of that before!"
I get a lot of reinforcement from our performances. In fact, last week there were two times when I had to dance on-stage-solo-while a woman read a poem about a fat woman dancing. I was in this black one-piece body suit, clinging, and a short vest. I was up on stage, dancing in front of a group of predominately small- to medium-sized medical people. When I jiggle, I jiggle. When I shimmy, the flab on my arms, breasts, belly, and thighs really shakes. Someone called me a sex goddess afterward.
I like my body. It belongs me a lot of pleasure . . . sex, dancing. I like the way my body moves. It has a wonderful sense of rhythm. Of course I have pains in my body, but I challenge a mid-size person to tell me she has never had pains in her body.
When I got out of college I wanted to be a photographer but kept putting it off. It was so ingrained in my head-"Let me lose weight and then they will hire me." Now I say, "Go for it!" Get yourself dressed in the best thing in your wardrobe, get your resume together, put down all the wonderful stuff you do, and put it under peoples' noses. Smile at them and say, "Here I am!" Your self-esteem may take a beating if people say no, but if you never try, you're always going to be stuck in one spot for the rest of your life.
Six years ago I started my last diet. This was to be the diet to end all diets. This time I would do it'-right." Sensible, nutritious food on only 500 calories a day! And what would really make this the "perfect" diet was my newfound commitment to exercise. Now exercise as torture I had been through before, but this time I found a class especially designed for fat women. This was not just any old exercise class full of painfully remembered calisthenics, but it was a dance/exercise class. It was my personal dream come true!
I threw myself heart, soul, and body into my new program. Then something started to change and it wasn't my weight. I found myself really looking and listening to these women. For the first time I heard fat women say they were happy with their bodies, and they showed it as they bounced, jiggled, and strutted their way through each class. I heard these fat women question all the medical and social myths around weight. This was my first exposure to fat politics and I was fascinated.
But the most important change occurred during that first year. In the beginning, I hated to look at myself in the wall of mirrors we had to face, but gradually, from class to class, I started to really study the way my body moved. I watched the other women, noticing what our bodies had in common and how they differed. Where once I was repulsed, now I saw beauty in each step, in the clap of their hands, and in the swaying of their bellies.
And I was transformed. Where once stood a blob in leotards, now I saw an incredibly graceful fat body.
Segment of FAT LIP Readers Theatre script by Carol Squires.
Copyright ) 1997 by Judy Sullivan