(Tw: mentions of eating disorders)
When I was a junior performing arts major in college, my whole graduating class spent a good month at least preparing to audition for the showcase of seniors. These students would have the opportunity to travel and to perform for important people who could potentially get them employment, which as an actor is especially important and hard to find. A few weeks before the audition, a friend of mine told me that her professor, one of the directors of this showcase, had been talking to the class about it. One of the things he said was a comment that they “only want girls up to like size 4.” I wasn’t terribly shocked (mostly I was shocked he just came out and said it), but I was certainly upset to hear this, and I went into the audition prepared for disappointment. Unsurprisingly, when the cast list went out, every single person was thin, and there wasn’t a girl n it who I would estimate to be over that size 4.
Now, I am about a size 10, and proportioned in a way that I tend to look smaller than that. I am aware that I have a GREAT deal of thin privilege in everyday life, and I’ve learned a lot here reading the stories of people less fortunate in that regard than I. However, by the industry in which I wish- and have studied hard- to be employed, I am firmly placed in the category of “fat,” and I am far from blind to just how much it has affected my prospects. I see the same, thinnest girls get role after role, get called in for every film audition while people who look like me are lucky to get a call a semester (the camera adds ten pounds, after all, and you’ve already got enough of those). I am not saying these thin girls are not talented, or do not deserve the opportunities given to them. But they are not the only talented, worthy people who deserve to be given a chance. And the fact that so many of those other talented people were not even considered for such an important, possibly career-advancing opportunity purely because they were not considered to be of an “acceptable” size is just appalling to me.
The fatphobia in the performing arts is not only rampant, but also completely accepted and considered normal. Even if fat acceptance someday gains the traction it deserves, there will never be any discrimination suits for us. Our ability to be employed is forever dependent on how we look. Appearances are everything, and fat women can never be beautiful- we tell stories, and just like every other form of media, all the stories must be about thin people. As someone who has struggled with eating disorders since the beginning of high school and is just now beginning the road to a successful recovery, I have had to think very hard about whether doing what I love with my life is worth the way I will be treated, the pressure to be thinner and prettier and fall back into old insecurities and habits that could ultimately hurt or kill me. I have learned to like myself at the size I am now. I wish I was allowed to feel that way- that accepting myself how I look now did not basically mean making myself unemployable. I have the talent. These same fatphobic professors and directors have told me this. But as long as I’m not as thin as those other girls, if the choice comes to us, the role, the employment, the wages will always go to them. Every time. I wish I saw options other than “make yourself miserable and possibly sick to get as thin as they want you to be” or “find another career,” but I don’t.
Thin privilege is not having to consider giving up having a career doing what you love purely because of the fatphobic pressure you know you will face for the rest of your working life if you don’t.