Sallie Cinnamon credit Alexis D.Lea

Credits: Alexis D.Lea (Photographer)

Me again! Your friendly neighbourhood Fat, Queer, Icon Sallie Cinnamon. Before I get stuck in, I want to acknowledge that this is based on my personal experience. I also want to acknowledge my privilege as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered, AFAB performer. I recognise there are a lot of challenges in performing that I don’t personally experience.

A little content warning: I use ‘fat’ and ‘plus size’ to refer to my body so take care if you struggle with these terms for yourself.

Only one in the room

It can be a challenge to feel welcome in a space that seems to be screaming ‘we don’t want you’ from the building to the apparatus, to the marketing, and even to the clothing required. How do you feel confident if you’re the only person in the room that looks like you? I’ve walked into a lot of spaces as the only fat performer. What is important is the people and the community. Find the spaces in which everyone is celebrated, and negative body talk is at a minimum or even forbidden. Seeing you there may inspire someone else to come along. That’s nice, right? I mean, as someone incredibly inspirational, I can confirm it is very nice. Once again, I am asking you to find performers that you like and that are like you. Find your fat and fabulous performers and see how they make their way through spaces. It will definitely help you feel like you can do that too.

Finding something to take off

Whether your performance includes stripping or not, you gotta have something to put on before you can take it off! As a pole dancer and Burlesque performer I can tell you this can be a challenge. Fatphobia is real and it’s everywhere, particularly in fashion, and accessibility of costumes is an issue. It can be difficult to find things that are sustainable, affordable, well fitting, and most importantly CUTE.

One way is to get in there and make your own and, as the proud owner of two costumes that absolutely look like they’ve been handmade by a complete novice sewer, it can be fun and liberating to learn how to make something yourself.

If a brand you like doesn’t have inclusive sizes, ask them why.

But if you’re like that one Drag Queen on Drag Race that doesn’t know how to sew, what can you do? Be resourceful. Buy plus size swimwear if it’s easier to source. Look for brands that have plus size collections (size 20 and up). If a brand you like doesn’t have inclusive sizes, ask them why. They should know that there is a market for their product (and that maybe they could be doing a little better in being inclusive). Support businesses that offer custom sizing – they’re often hand making things and are so ready to accommodate your needs. I use several brands that offer plus and custom sizing and I am very happy with the results. Ask fellow fat/plus size performers where they source their costumes.

Remember: hand sewing and hot glue guns can make a costume that looks good from far away (even if it’s a big old mess up close). Performing is about smoke and mirrors, painting for the back row, creating an ILLUSION. Lean into it.

Be confident, idiot!

Et Voila! You’re confident! All it took was an imperative and an insult and you are cured of all your doubts, right? Good. But just say if you did still have doubts, not you of course, what would help for someone whose body has been repeatedly held up as an example of moral failure, poor health and an excuse for a barrage of unwanted tweets from Jordan Peterson?

  • Learning what looks and feels good to you: one of the best ways to build confidence is to learn how you move. Because you can start to focus on the ways you move that makes you look and feel tippy-top. Do you like moving slowly or like a chaos demon? Are you sultry and still or do you feel the fantasy Aerobics Oz Style? Test things out and don’t be afraid to experiment.

  • ILLUSION: those smoke and mirrors aren’t just about the clothes, honey. There is always a degree to which you are faking it in order to get to the making it. It doesn’t need to be a full persona – it can just be the version of you who feels all the things you wish you did.

  • I’m not ok (I promise): it’s ok not to feel it sometimes! You can regularly find me crying to a friend, mentor, or local barista. Remember no one feels themselves all the time. It’s about utilizing the times when you do feel good.

  • Community – not just a TV show: Community is important. Find the people who genuinely love to lift each other up. And be that person yourself. I cannot tell you how great it feels to be part of a group of people who are positive and who vibe with one another.

It’s not all on You

I know I’ve spent these last few (hundred) words telling you how to make your way through these challenges. But it’s not always your responsibility. This goes for anything that makes your life and livelihood harder when performing. It’s on all of us to remove those societal attitudes, pressures and stigma. Remember that these biases are largely unconscious, especially in positive performer communities in which diversity and inclusiveness is celebrated. I know I’m still unlearning a lot of things too.

So for anyone not fat or plus size reading this I would suggest the following:

  • Producers/venues: aim to choose multiple fat/plus sized performers for lineups and even actively seek out fat/plus sized performers

  • Dance wear and lingerie brands: make your products inclusive and offer sizes that go beyond size 18/20, and at a minimum go to size 24 (if your size range starts from 6)

  • Dance studios that sell dance wear and lingerie: stock an inclusive range of sizes (which is obviously more difficult without the above)

  • All performing spaces: consider banning talk regarding weight loss/gain as good or bad, diet and other negative body talk

  • Promotional material: if you welcome all people to a space/brand/studio, reflect it in the promotional material. It’ll be darn good for business!

  • If you’re not a plus size performer, consider recommending your fat/plus size performer friends for gigs and go to shows that showcase fat/plus size performers

And then as a fat/plus size performer you can frequent the spaces/work with those who are doing the above. I appreciate all the places, people, brands, and spaces that are. They give me the strength and confidence to be my fat, Queer, Iconic self.

Take Up Space because people want to see you (no, really)

For all the messaging, social media comments and targeted advertising suggesting the world is closed to you if you’re fat/plus sized, performing is a space where people are there to see you shine. Remember that you are on stage doing something a lot of people can’t do. And they are there to be entertained, moved, or awed by you.

So don’t forget to fully utilise the space you’re given - in fact - demand it. You have something to say and express, and don’t let others say you can’t. There might be someone in the crowd who is inspired by you to become a performer. And that’s, like, super nice.

Remember that you are on stage doing something a lot of people can’t do. And they are there to be entertained, moved, or awed by you.

Some final expert Tips from me, a non-expert:

I thought I’d wrap up with some tips for all performers, whether plus size or not. Because teamwork makes the dream works production company. I think that’s how that saying goes.

  • Diversity is hot – finding and promoting spaces in which everyone feels welcome and safe is pretty cool

  • Flexibility is sexy – remember not everyone has the same access to things so be willing to adjust

  • Professionalism is attractive (i.e., not being a dick) – being nice to people and staying positive in a performing environment is crucial to making people feel good about who they are and what they’re doing (and important for booking gigs in the future – no one wants to hire a jerk)

I hope that has revved your engine sufficiently to get out there and be your wonderful artistic self.

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