The Fat Studies Reader

By Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay | Go to book overview

36
Embodying Fat Liberation

Heather McAllister

As the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque and the Fat-Bottom Revue, the world's first all-fat burlesque troupe, I've learned that fat liberation occurs only when we embody it physically as well as accepting it politically and theoretically.

Far from fat liberation community, I read Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser's Shadow on a Tightrope (1983). I stopped drinking diet soda and became a fat activist. My experience as a queer social justice activist dovetailed with my fat activism. Both of these identities—fat and queer—were crucial in the vision and structure of Big Burlesque. Regardless of the sexual orientation of the individual dancers, Big Burlesque was “queer” in every sense of the word.

When I started Big Burlesque, there were a couple of “bigger” burlesque performers on the neo-burlesque circuit, but they did not specifically advocate fat liberation. Fat dance is rare enough; fat exotic/erotic dance is pretty much unheard of outside of “fetish” acts that alienate rather than normalize fat bodies. Just being fat and positively sexual is radical in a culture thoroughly inculcated with sexism and anti-fat prejudice. In making this argument, I acknowledge that intentionally or not, New York-based performers like the Glamazon Girls, World-Famous Bob, and Dirty Martini pushed the envelope in the neo-burlesque scene. The NYC gals struck me as “just like everyone else, except bigger,” which is certainly one good way to approach it; it reminded me, however, of assimilationist lesbians and gay men, who are “just like everyone else, except who we have sex with.” I wanted something different.

The first performance of the Fat-Bottom Revue happened in 1999 at an alternative culture festival in the Nevada desert, Burning Man. For the following three years, I held workshops and performances sporadically until June 2002, when I contracted with Big Moves, the country's only organization dedicated to size diversity in dance, to produce a one-night-only show in San Francisco. The place was packed, and we received a long standing ovation. It was this positive reception and enthusiasm that spurred my decision to move to San Francisco and form a burlesque troupe made up exclusively of fat dancers.

Fat dancers are a rare enough breed, and even fewer are interested in burlesque as a form of self-expression. My outreach garnered me enthusiastic, talented, but, for the most part, untrained performers. Like many burlesque dancers, I had no formal

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