It Happened to Me: I’m Fat, Love to Dance and it Blows Peoples’ Minds!

19 Feb

I love to dance. I also love to eat. What happens when you combine these two things? A fat dancing queen. Which is exactly what I am. I love to bust a move when given the chance whether it means I’m doing a not-so-subtle two step down the cereal isle at the grocery store or workin’ it like it’s my job at Zumba. Some of the best times I can remember have involved me listening to the jams of my choice and breaking it down with friends (including ones I arrived at the scene with or new ones I made on the dance floor). So why am I telling you this? Well, for starters I was moved by some reaction pieces to an article recently posted on XOJane entitled ‘It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It” In the article, the writer (a thin, white woman) explains her reaction to, for the first time, having a curvacious black woman in her class. I don’t go into details about what she says because, quite honestly, it gives me a headache. What I do want to go into, however, is a reaction piece I read. In “I’m a Big Black Girl Around Small White People and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It: My Response to xoJane,” writer CeCe Olisa discuses her experience in a mostly white yoga class. What jumped out at me in the article was the expectation that, because she was larger, she wouldn’t be able to do the poses and that when she did she was greeted with praise because she defied the expectation. Being a larger lady myself, I can relate to CeCe’s experience quite a bit.

Last year I went through a phase where I was going to Zumba almost as frequently as the instructors. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but I got to a point where I was going to classes 4 or 5 times a week. At the time my job was flexible (which is a nice way of saying unstable and with limited hours) so I had more freedom to roam around town finding classes and instructors that I liked. I’ve always been big but I’ve also always been active in one way or another – I was the fat girl who kicked major ass at kickball and played for an undefeated basketball team in third grade. HOLLA! I became a regular at some classes and sprinkled in new ones here and there. Let me tell you, being a big girl wearing yoga pants in front of a room full of women is not the greatest way to work on your self esteem but once I got into the groove I felt like I belonged in those classes just as much as everyone else, if not more so because I could actually dance. The reason I even care to mention that is because if you’ve ever been to a public Zumba class then you would know that mad people (and I’m talking MAD people) just cannot hear the damn  beat! Some folks are born without rhythm – and that’s ok! I found that the classes created a fun, pressure free environment where you could shake your booty – on or off beat – without judgment. Instructors were always encouraging even if you weren’t getting all the moves. But that’s the thing. I WAS getting all the moves and I was damn good. The weird thing is, I always found that there would be someone in any given class that would praise my dancing ability. Now don’t get me wrong, I like getting a compliment as much as the next person but I always felt like they were complimenting me not because I was good but because I was good – for a fat person. Maybe it was the look on their face, you know the one – the wide eyes, eyebrows raised that conveys a sense of shock. Yes, I was fat and a good dancer! People just could not see how those two things went together.

What I found so troubling about this was wondering exactly why they would assume I would be bad. Is it because fat people aren’t supposed to have stamina to make it through an hour long class? Or because they think fat people are lazy? Did they just think fat people are incapable of dancing? Having a higher BMI doesn’t affect my hearing, y’all!  I can hear the beat and dance along – it’s really not that hard. What I also hated was that, after they got over their initial shock, they went into “good for you!” mode as if I was making some great stride as a fat person valiantly striving towards bettering my life. Ok, I was trying to better myself but but weren’t they? No one else was getting a pat on the back for attending class yet we were all there for the same reason. If anything, they should have been praised for having the guts to show up to class when the danced like Soy Bomb. In a way it did make me feel good that I was breaking their stereotypes but what bothered me the most was the fact that people felt entitled to make their judgments about me known. As any overweight person knows, we’re magnets for unsolicited advice. People love getting in their  monthly mitzvah’s by giving us diet tips or telling us about this great doctor their uncle’s friend’s brother went to – and now he looks great! Once, after a Zumba class, a woman approached me in the locker room to compliment me on my dancing. I think it went something along the lines of “you’re so graceful” as in “you’re so graceful for a fat person” and then began to tell me to “keep it up” and suggest other exercises I do. I’m sure she said this all with the best of intentions in her heart, but it really was none of her business to give me tips that I didn’t ask for. Its like going up to someone with gray hair and suggesting a great salon they can go to to cover those pesky grays – mad awkward right?! And it’s not just that people feel entitled to comment on my body, it’s that they do it as if I haven’t heard it all before.  Would I like to lose more weight? Of course! But that’s for me to work on, not you. And just for your information, fat people know that they’re fat. They have mirrors, they go shopping, they get weighed at the doctor – THEY KNOW. When I go to a class for fun, to exercise and enjoy myself in front of a HUGE unforgiving mirror that is reminder enough already, I don’t need you to drive it into my brain that I stand out in the class because of my size. I got it. Thanks.

As women, we’re constantly being looked at, critiqued and often times criticized. I want these classes to be a place where, for once, I can be free of that; a place where I can enjoy being in my own skin. I’m not trying to play the victim here because I judge people, too! All the time. Just ask Valeria. I look over the women who walk into class, making judgments about them in my mind. The difference between me and the people I’ve mentioned is that I know what I’m doing is wrong. No, I shouldn’t judge the girl wearing booty shorts in class, but I do. But then I remind myself that what she wears is her choice and I have no place to tell her what to do – so I don’t.  I keep my judgments to myself because the bottom line is that what I think of someone shouldn’t affect how they live their life. If she’s proud of her body, then she should be able to wear whatever she likes without comments from strangers who disapprove just like I should be allowed to do something I enjoy without unsolicited advice. I suppose that, in a way, my experience has given me perspective and made me realize that we’re all being judged, just in different ways.

So what’s the point of me saying this? Well I suppose it’s to vent about my experience but it’s also to give a suggestion about your next gym or exercise class visit. Don’t single people out because you subconsciously don’t think they belong there or because they don’t fit your idea of a regular. In reality, we’re all  in there for the same reason; to better ourselves. Some of us just have a longer way to go.

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