I want to talk about the F word in pole. No, not one that you have to pay a sound editor to bleep out for your competition routine. I’d like to talk about fatness. I will be at PoleCon this June alongside Roz Mays for a talk about size diversity in pole. I cannot speak about size diversity from the perspective of an individual who has experienced size discrimination, because I have never been discriminated against because of my physical size. I can, however, talk about the role that I play in the journey toward this particular facet of body positivity. I’ve been an instructor, student, and performer of pole for a number of years, and its been a fantastic experience. Despite this, I have had no shortage of eye rolling and cringing at some of the (innocently) problematic thing’s I’ve heard come out of the mouths of thin women in the pole community with regards to size. I’ve created a short general guide for navigating the pole community and body acceptance. Some of these things are my own thoughts, and many of them are echoed from the feedback I have received from others through works of art, social media, and the personal relationships I have developed with dancers.
When I was about 14, I was watching a TV interview with Marilyn Manson and the talking head on the screen implied that he was an influential voice in music and asked him “If you could say anything to the youth of America, what would it be?” His response was, “I wouldn’t say anything at all. I’d listen.” This quote has stuck with me.
Sometimes the best way to participate as an activist is by not speaking at all. If you want to be an ally, remember that ally-ship is a title given, not claimed. Entering into a minority space and claiming to be an ally is an act of oppression because it strips the minority group of their agency. It is the assumption that they must want you on their side. This is not always the case. Sometimes the best way to be supportive is by listening.
2. Acknowledge your privilege, then check it.
I am a thin woman and chances are, if you’re a pole dancer and a woman and you’re reading this, you probably are too*. For the most part, I fit conventional standards of beauty. I’m 5’7’’, my curves are in all the right places, and I typically weigh between 135-140lbs. My dress size is a 0-2, and my jeans are a 4. I experience thin privilege every day. When I go shopping, I can easily find something in my size. When people look at me, they do not assume I am unhealthy. My body type is not the punchline of a joke, nor is it referred to as a dangerous epidemic. There is not “War on Thinness” like there is a “War on Obesity”. There are a number of pole dancers who do not fit the skinny bitch bill**. It is extremely important to have a working understanding of your own privilege. This does not mean apologize for your body nor does it suggest that you should stop being proud of your ability to fonji. The acknowledgement of privilege simply means holding in the forefront of your mind that fact there are situations, tricks, and benefits to your existence as a pole dancer that YOU DID NOT EARN. (and no, talking about how “hard you worked” to get where you are is moot because I’ve seen 250lb women who are not only training with the same level of commitment, but also deal with the backlash of even believing they are worthy of that training in the first place)
Example: When you are thin and you tell people you are a pole dancer, their response might be this:
When you are not thin, and you tell someone you are a pole dancer, their response might be this:
This is privilege. Acknowledge it. Check it.
3. Stop using the word “fat” as a negative qualifier.
I would like to challenge the usage of the term fat. Fat is the adipose tissue on every human being’s body. Some people have more than others, but we all have it. When you have acne, you say “I have acne”, not that you are/am acne, however, when someone has an amount of fat on their body that society has deemed unacceptable, we say that they are fat. This language is problematic because it classifies something that should be a condition as a character, and that character is always negative. This is a judgement because we all know that what fat really means. Fat, in our society, is denotative of misery, and this is a problem.
You have fat.
You are fat.
See the judgement there?
When a thin woman talks about how fat she feels what she probably actually means is “I feel disgusting”. This kind of language perpetuates the idea that having an excessive*** amount of fat on your body is inherently negative. Its not. Its a language construct that implies that certain people are less valuable than others, and that needs to stop.
4. Stop placing body acceptance and diversity as the sole responsibility of fat people. Do your part as well.
“If she can be confident, so can I”
“I just think its great that she really does seem to love herself”
Yes, I have heard this on more than a few (or 20) occasions at the skinny girl watering hole when big girls aren’t around. Here’s the thing: that big chick ain’t here to be your thinspo, girl.
This rhetoric implies that it is the sole job of larger women to address, come to terms with, and overcome sizeism for both herself and others around her. First off, value comes internally, not externally. If you’re looking toward an external source for a reason to embrace confidence, you’re looking in the wrong place.
5. Acknowledge potential for the awesomeness that size diversity holds in the pole community and run with it.
One of my favorite parts about pole is the fact that it is a performance art/sport that has the potential to accommodate all body types in a way many others have excluded. The prescribed set of goals of many forms of dance and sport rely heavily on the regimentation of the body, of which, size is a central concern. Pole could possible defy that. When Western Pole in studio’s across America emerged, it came with an invitation for every kind of woman. There is a distinct push forward with gender diversity and much smaller (but present) push for diversity in sexual identity in a traditionally hetero feminine zone (read: ballet), but size diversity seems like a dwindling concern. Why is that? What is the down side to embracing size diversity, aside from the fact that it would cause one to recalculate their perceived external value in the world, and that might be inconvenient for a thin privileged person?
The rebuttal that I have encountered in this assertion is that larger bodied people aren’t un-invited to the pole community. They’re welcome to join anytime they want, right? They aren’t being turned away at competitions or studios, are they? Chubby girls are most certainly welcome because they aren’t being turned away, so everything is cool, yeah? No. Neutrality isn’t positive inclusion.
It seems as if pole dance was the new girl in the high school, so she took on as many new friends as possible, but once she settled in and was socially accepted by the big hitters, she suddenly forgot about her less popular friends who had always treated her right. She isn’t mean to them, but she doesn’t call to hang out either.
There lies right in front of us a great potential to use our voice as a community to reshape how size is interpreted and valued in our culture. I am not proposing that we “use” plus sized women to fix the problems placed on women at large. I am proposing that as a whole we reconsider what it means to participate in the pole arena and consider the social impact of deciding that one body exists in better form than another by choosing to only represent that one kind of body.
I’ve seen a number of thin bodied women talk about how spatchcock “just isn’t their move”. I think its wonderful to respect and recognize the limitations of your own body. But why is it when someone with a larger body is trying something and not doing well, the response is to assume they aren’t trying hard enough? Telling a plus sized pole dancer to “just keep trying” her aerial chopper runs the risk of being dismissive and lazy.
Pole shapes are as unlimited as the bodies doing them. Embrace this. Get creative. Reinvent movement. Relinquish the notion that the ability to dead lift your body weight above your head, or even climb, is the mark of a successful pole dancer.
7. The “Health” Argument
Thin ladies, fellow skinny bitches, please, no. Correlation is not causation. It is often assumed that if you have an “excessive” (there’s that word again) amount of fat on your body, it automatically means you are without a doubt unhealthy. This assertion is categorically false. But, lets say for a second that it was true. Lets say that size is a measure of health and that thin bodied people are healthy and fat bodied people are not. Yeah? Ok. Ready?
Health is not a reasonable measure for determining the amount of respect someone deserves.
The “health” argument is perhaps one of the most negative. The implication is that the large person in question is unhealthy and until they are healthy they have to remain punished by being excluded because fat is bad and fat is unhealthy therefore unhealthy is bad. Health is not a moral imperative.
8. Do not assume that fat girls hate themselves.
Yup. ‘Nuff said.
*65% of pole dancers call their bodies “athletic” and range from a size 0-12.
**21.6% of pole dancers identify as “non athletic”, “plus sized” or “overweight”.
***excessive, according to who? Bare in mind that throughout history it has been suggested that ideal femininity is based in the concept that a woman should take up as little space as possible. If you need more proof, research corseting.
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