Posted by: Michelle Anbar-Goldstein
Welcome back to the limelight, everyone! Without much warning we are all of a sudden allowed to trickle back into in-person meetings, rehearsals and onto stages (both indoor and outdoor) and resume doing our thing IRL (in real life). We are no longer just faces on a screen/zoom meeting/Instagram Story- we have moving, breathing, performing bodies and… is it just me, or are we all just a little fatter than we were 17 months ago?
It can feel devastating to gain weight. Take it from a person whose body shape would once change with every new health fad marketed as a miracle cure for low self-esteem. I would eventually stop buying-in to diet culture because it became glaringly obvious that the diet industry is, objectively, utterly toxic (and I am simply too old for that crap). At 36, I have settled into the knowledge that I am both fat and attractive, and I desperately want you to get there too.
Do you all remember the Susan Sommers Diet? Because I do. At seventeen, I lost 40 pounds in three months eating primarily cheddar cheese, only to gain it back starting with a night of binge drinking following a Dave Matthews Band concert (ah, the early 2000’s). What about Dr. Bernstein? The medically monitored, anorexia-based diet that forbade oil, limiting my caloric intake to 750 a day? Yes, I obviously tried that too and it left me with bald spots. What about Dr. Brown, the “dietician” who offered me hormonal supplements to promote amenorrhea, literally trying to stop my period so I could be less fat? Obviously, I trusted him with my health. Finally, my personal favourite, the often memed-about, but never-quite-mentioned-out-loud “weight-loss-side-effect-of-stimulant-and/or-cocaine-addiction-diet”. That one worked well for a long while, until it very much did not (and for that, I am grateful, and still here).
I remember vividly the shock I felt when my size, teetering at a woman’s 14, finally landed on the other side- The Plus Side. I used to hold on tightly to my self-perception of an average sized person with the slightly re-worked sentiment of my patron saint of womanhood, Britney Spears: “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” In my case: “I am chubby, but not yet fat!” Fatness of course is a description synonymous with the bad and the ugly and the undesirable. I was a little plump, almost average! Suffice to say, after one pregnancy, and following the truly shocking number of Uber Eats orders I made over the course of the pandemic, I am most definitely on the “woman” side of the equation, and I am not mad about it either.
For performers, there is an unreasonable amount of focus placed on the outward presentation, both online and in person. From the clothing you wear and the art on your skin to the photos you post- even your mannerisms and the filters you use on social media play a role in how you are perceived, how often you are hired, and what both the industry and the “consumers” think of you and your value. As we are all well aware though, ultimate importance is placed on the size and shape of Your Body. During the pandemic “can you see my side-profile in my IG story? Do I need to FaceTune my chin/jawline?” was our biggest dilemma as we live streamed from our living rooms and shared select moments from our lives in quarantine. The end of that is approaching, however, and now we must actually perform/exist “in-person”.
The aesthetic aspects of performance take time, devotion and energy, and, if we are being honest, also encourage disordered, or at least borderline-disordered eating patterns. Detoxing and fasting for days prior to show, a tour, a festival, or shooting something that the world will see is completely expected. Missing meals, jacking ourselves up on protein powder, and working out incessantly so the tone in our arms is highlighted with sweat while playing. Why do we effectively sacrifice our own comfort and safety for the sake of staying small and taking up less space, when the goal itself is to be seen? While we are on the topic, is making art not about breaking boundaries, rather than killing ourselves to remain inside them?
Following the rules during our recent post-apocalyptic, government-mandated hermitting period allowed us a certain amount of leeway when it came to appearances. Some of us got sober and started eating again. Others discovered sweatpants for the first time. A lot of us gained weight. Presenting oneself with the aid of digital editing software helped to preserve the appearance of our once slender bodies. Nevertheless, here we are, seventeen months later, a little poorer, a little more jaded, a little fatter, and hungrier than we have ever been to return to our jobs. How do you contend with seeing yourself in a different body, as a different person, and simultaneously return to the stage?
Some advice from a caring friend: be gentle with yourselves. Try to remember your body got you through a deadly global virus, and that you should very much be thankful to have emerged on the other side of things. Be kind to your body. Instead of remarking that you feel “so fat” after a large meal, say that you feel bloated. Treat your body well and nourish it with intuition and loving kindness. Get your body outdoors and get active. Buy some clothing that fits your current shape and size, forgiving yourself for having to rely on fast-fashion brands for the time being. Be expressive and engage with the world around you. Remember that no one truly cares about the weight you gained because frankly, they are more focused on themselves. On social media, follow people with your current body type and pay attention to how they dress themselves. Be inspired. Spend time with alone with your body and get used to the form it has taken. Reclaim your sexuality and your desire. Have sex in this current body and enjoy it. Spend time with people with diversity in their shapes and sizes and begin to find the beauty in all forms. This all seems trite, but it works. Spend time with confident fat people: our magic is contagious. Wellness is holistic, changing your exterior requires you to lift the hood, and fix what is going on underneath. Finally, be grateful. You are alive, the world is opening up again, and you have the privilege of providing the soundtrack to a Great-Gatsby level of partying, the likes of which you have never seen before. Honestly, who cares what pant-size you wear?