A Lesson in Fat-Shaming from The Guardian. Thanks Guys.

‘Big Ballet’? Yep, had to be a Channel 4 reality show. Feature in The Guardian? Had hoped for a thoughtful and sensitive critique but…

Big Ballet C4 Hannah Baines and dancers


As Helen Pidd in The Guardian points out today, a backlash is inevitable for a TV programme that gives larger women (what, no men? Sigh) the chance to dance: at least one person in the comments section dismissed it as a freak show, and more will follow. But I agree with Hannah Baines, one of the dancers (pictured front) who simply says, “I can dance. … Everyone who’s laughed at me, they’re going to watch and see what I can do.”

I suspect they will. Because, NEWS FLASH, people who wear a size larger than 10 are actual people who can do things like dancing. I know. Astonishing.

So I’m looking forward to watching this, for two simple reasons: I like watching dance, and I’m pleased that we get to see a wider range of people dancing. If only that was all that mattered!

Unfortunately, The Guardian has trouble with this larger-people-dancing-is-no-big-deal thing. They can get behind the larger-people-as-normal thing, but only in that really derogatory way when larger women are praised for being normal rather than, you know, spectacular or cool or anything else which is only possible at a size 8.

I have made a list of things in Helen Pidd’s article that I find Questionable:

  • “Baines is a size 18 and weighs 14 stone despite being just 5ft 3in tall.” Despite being just..? Oh right, being that weight at that tiny height is actually unacceptable. Disguised fat-shaming #1.
  • “Would viewers tune in to laugh and point at someone playing a role usually danced by a woman half her size?” That’s right half her size! She’s huge, right! And we’re really concerned that people will bully her for being so huge. Disguised fat-shaming #2. (I know this point has some value but I feel it could have been better made.)
  • Show choreographer Wayne Sleep “gave an interview declaring them “quite frankly fat. They’re too big to be dancers and they don’t mind me saying it.” Some of the women begged to differ”. I’m sure they did: even their choreographer thinks they’re “too big to be dancers”, not perhaps that the dance industry has very narrow standards that this programme is supposed to challenge. Disguised fat-shaming #3. They just couldn’t help quoting Sleep there.
  • There follows a section insisting (quoting Sleep and others) that the show is not intended either as a freak show or a diet show. This is good. But then: “Loughman is far more worried about the dancers’ fitness than how they look. “We’ve been plagued by injury. One girl tore a ligament in the very first rehearsal,” she says.” I.e. ‘we’re doing our best but they’re just too fat to move’. Disguised fat-shaming #4.
  • Dancer being fitted for her costume: “Her cheeks redden as a camerawoman pans up her size 20-body”. Ya think? The cameras just can’t help emphasising how fat these women are, and The Guardian just can’t help mentioning it. Again. Disguised fat-shaming #5.
  • “Early on, Sleep and Loughman decided to spare the women the indignity of wearing tutus”. Excuse me? Oh of course, they’re too fat for tutus. Disguised fat-shaming #6.
  • “The contrast between the dancers and the willowy [professional dancer] Loughman could hardly be greater”. Totally needed reminding of that. Disguised fat-shaming #7.
  • “Loughman says she and Sleep choreographed a 30-minute version of Swan Lake to “enhance the beauty of these everyday women”. Because ‘everyday’ is the best they can ever hope for. It’s a compliment, honestly! Disguised fat-shaming #8.

I’d like to emphasise that there was plenty of good stuff in Pidd’s article, and I’m glad this show is getting attention, but when reading it I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that between the lines it read FAT! FAT! FAT!

Am I overreacting? I’m willing to reconsider in light of other opinions, but I’ll stand by my list: this is a far too common way of talking about weight, and it is not OK.

4 responses to “A Lesson in Fat-Shaming from The Guardian. Thanks Guys.

  • BroadBlogs

    It’s crazy that all this fuss is made about women who are probably perfectly healthy and yet what’s “normal” are anorexic dancers.

  • carinaintheory

    Yep, there are some skewed and contradictory ideas of what’s ‘normal’ floating around, as if all kinds of shapes aren’t normal! One thing is certain, that professional ballet dancers don’t have normal bodies, whether they’re anorexic or not – they’re highly trained and are selected for a particular body type. No one else should be judged against the demanding standards of ballet, and neither should it be presumed that only people with one body type can dance.
    Thanks for the comment!

  • Josie

    Ok this “fat shaming” in ballet stuff really peeves me. It basically comes from the insulting assumption that ballet is easy and anyone can do it. After all, no one complains that there are no overweight professional gymnasts, divers, sprinters, football players etc. these people train at an elite level. Most of them since they were children. It’s difficult to be overweight when you train full time. Secondly, ballerinas are expected to be lifted up by other people. It is totally unfair to just shrug your shoulders and say “more of me to love baby” and expect the man you lift you. I’m not saying they need to be waifs but at least don’t expect your partner to risk a back injury lifting you. Thirdly, basic physics. Pressure = force/area. Point shoes place your entire body weight on a tiny area. The stress on your toes is huge. The more you weigh the bigger the force.
    This girl says she dreams of a career in ballet but I find her ‘determination’ hard to believe if even losing a little weight is out of the question.
    Like any sport, if she wants to give it a go and have fun. Go ahead. But don’t expect a career from it. She needs two guys to lift her for god sake. Honestly!

    • Carina Hart

      I agree, and when it comes to disciplines like ballet, weight is a slightly different issue. As you say, classical ballet requires a certain body type in order for pointe work and lifting to be possible. My point though is that overweight people can still dance, and shouldn’t be shamed out of dancing if they want to.

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