“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.
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.