fatphobia

“You have such a pretty face.” “You carry yourself so well.” “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.”

These are “compliments” that I have received countless times, delivered to me by countless people, some of whom spoke from places of good intention. The last one, however, I found the most insidious.

The word “fat” has long been used as an insult, yet it is no different than descriptors such as blonde, thin, brown eyed, etc. The fatphobia that is rife in our society has turned this simple three letter word into an arrow of vitriol launched with an aim to wound whomsoever happens to be targeted.

Somewhere along the line it was decided that a larger body diminishes the believability of a love story.

“You’re fat.” vs. “You’re thin.” – how did you read these two statements? Did a snide tone creep into your mind as you read the first? Did a neutral to complimentary tone amble its way into the second? If so, don’t be hard on yourself. We have been conditioned to admonish fat, and praise thin. We have been conditioned to associate indolence and stupidity with fat, and movement and intelligence with thin. We have been manipulated.

I am an opera singer, and in the last year and a half I have lost over 100lbs.

“It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” How many times has this phrase been used since it was coined in 1976? How many times have we heard, read (or even said) this colloquialism? The glaring irony behind this proverb is that it refers to an industry in which there exists rampant fatphobia.

fatphobia
Canadian soprano and writer Lauren Margison.

Through veiled “caring” language, I have been removed from shows because of my size. I have been told to my face that if I didn’t lose weight, I couldn’t hope for a career no matter how good a voice I had. I have been offered work contingent on my not gaining more weight. I have been surveyed with a sneer. I have been mocked, judged, passed over, and hurt, simply because my body fat percentage happened to be on the higher side.

If we are told enough times that a blue pen is red, we will start to believe it. Fatphobia became the O’Brien to my Winston, and before I knew it, I had accepted 2 + 2 = 5 as axiom. The more I believed that I was not worthy because of my size, the more weight I put on. As the self-directed voice of opprobrium within myself grew louder, the more I used food as a means of punishment and escape. Positivity cannot hope to grow in a garden fertilized by negativity.

This journey started for me when I realized that I had forgotten why I hated myself. Sure, I was fat, but I was also kind, loving, generous, talented, forgiving, and beautiful…not just my face, but all of me. I was all of these things existing in a body that happened to take up more space. The more I chose to forgive myself for the years of disparaging self talk, the more my appetite changed. Weight loss happened to be a symptom of cultivating self love. I didn’t lose weight to make myself more hireable, I lost weight because it was part of my pilgrimage to arriving at myself. It will be different for different people.

The exhausting dichotomy of being a fat opera singer is that you are constantly being told to lose weight, yet are also being warned about the havoc that extreme weight loss can wreak on your technique. The fat opera singer finds themselves living in a catch-22.

A fat body can express and feel every colour in the spectrum of human emotion, and a fat voice can touch the very depths of one’s soul if just given the chance.

My journey involved a slow and steady approach to weight loss during which time I continuously monitored my technique aiming to maintain and even obtain further control over my support. There have certainly been a few hurdles over which I have had to jump, but with the help of my teachers and coaches, and a gradual increase in physical activity leading to a deeper understanding of my own body, I now have more stamina at my disposal.

The fact that this physical change will most likely help my career going forward fills me with chagrin. As my father has said countless times, “why aren’t people in bigger bodies allowed to love and be loved through the operatic lens?” I echo his question through every fibre of my being. Why, indeed? Somewhere along the line it was decided that a larger body diminishes the believability of a love story. The size of the body has no bearing on the ability to be desired. The size of the body has no bearing on the worth of the human, or their abilities as an artist.

One of the main reasons I fell in love with opera was due to its portrayal of human emotion, but until all humans are welcomed into that storytelling medium, the honesty is absent. My self discovery involved weight loss, but for those who feel like themselves in bigger bodies, there should not be the accompanying fear that their authenticity will come at the price of a career. A fat heart can break. A fat smile can light up a room. A fat body can express and feel every colour in the spectrum of human emotion, and a fat voice can touch the very depths of one’s soul if just given the chance.


Lauren Margison is a singer and writer from Toronto, Ontario. A graduate of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, and the Atelier lyrique of the Montreal Opera. She was a first prize winner of the George London Competition. Lauren continues her vocal training under the tutelage of Richard Margison and Valerie Kuinka.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article, Lauren. You are so lucky to have such wonderful parents. I haven’t heard you sing in a long time. The last time was the recital you and your dad gave in Bancroft with Mellisa Stevens accompanying. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good luck in the rest of your career.

  2. Well done Lauren – brave, and clever lady. The last time I heard you sing was with your famous father at Yorkmister Park church years ago. What a lovely family you are! Your talented mother directed La Boheme with Opera Mississauga, and I sang in the chorus. I have a wonderful photo of you and your parents that I took at dress rehearsal. Congratulations for all your successes Lauren.
    Cheers, Elizabeth Hutchison.

  3. Dear Lauren~
    All I know is you were a beautiful baby, child, teenager and now woman with a gigantic talent and a god given voice. I look forward to the next opera I get to work with you in and have I’ve been in your cheering section since the first time I heard you sing. You have it all~~beauty, talent, and a voice that will take you anywhere you wish to go! Brava to you, and your very special parents!!

    • Dear Sarah,
      Thank you SO much for you beautiful words of support. They mean the world to me. I still think fondly of your playing in Rusalka!
      All my love,
      Lauren

  4. Lauren, you don’t know me…I knew your Dad back in the day, because we both studied with Selena during those years. I saw you sing at her memorial and couldn’t stop talking afterwards about your immense talent (and Selena told me many times all about you, too! Perhaps some day I will have the chance to tell you about what she told me after hearing you sing for the first time….). I am so impressed to see that besides being an amazing singer and musical talent, you are also a talented writer. You are able to tap into issues with great insight and eloquence. I was so disappointed not to see you as Micaela in Carmen, here in Victoria. I hope you will come back sometime soon and share your many gifts. Congratulations on every level! Sincerely, Joan Humphries

    • Dear Joan,

      Your comment has touched me greatly! I miss Selena deeply. She was such an incredibly human who touched so many lives, and I always love to hear from those she touched. 🙂 hopefully the reschedule of the Carmen won’t be long off and I will be in beautiful BC!

      All the very best to you,

      Lauren

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here