The Fat Studies Reader

By Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay | Go to book overview

35
“I'm Allowed to Be a Sexual Being”
The Distinctive Social Conditions of the Fat Burlesque Stage

D. Lacy Asbill

The lights dim as jazz music fills the room. A voluptuous woman
steps into the spotlight, wearing a man's suit and top hat. The
woman begins to dance around the stage, lightly landing on the
balls of her feet as she twirls, leaps, and spins to the music. She is
amazingly graceful and fluid in her steps. As she moves, she begins
to slowly strip out of her suit. First, she slips off her jacket. Then,
in one quick motion, she drops her pants, revealing men's silk box-
ers! The audience roars with laughter. The dancer bats her eyelashes
playfully in response, shimmying out of her boxers. Placing her foot
on a chair, she rolls a stocking up her fleshy leg, hooking it into a
garter belt. Next, she bends over and removes her hat; her volumi-
nous red curls fly through the air as she flips her head back. She un-
buttons her white shirt very slowly, teasing the audience. Electricity
binds the dancer and the audience together; we hang on her every
movement. Finally, she snaps open her shirt, ripping it off her body,
and shakes her broad corseted chest to the audience's delight. As the
song comes to a close, the dancer bends over, reaches into her cor-
set, and releases her massive breasts. Wrapping a thick arm around
her chest so as not to reveal her nipples, she lifts her other arm tri-
umphantly into the air, winks at the audience and skips off stage—
the perfect tease! The audience groans and shifts in their seats, clap-
ping and shouting accolades at the stage. I hear a man behind me
say, “Finally! We got to see something substantial!”

—Author's field notes, Peachy Plush (pseudonym)
at Theatre Luxe, July 18, 2005

In modern burlesque performance, fat women's bodies are both revealed in their fleshy materiality and revealing of contemporary discourse about embodiment. Fat burlesque dancers use the performance space to present, define, and defend their sexualities, resisting a backdrop of medical and social discourses that inform their everyday lives. Although the fat body commonly represents a burgeoning public

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