People with larger bodies are often discriminated against in the workplace, in their relationships and in health care settings, according to research from the University of Calgary.
Now two actors who proudly call themselves fat are telling their stories of bias and acceptance in a play that explores the shame and fear associated with being fat.
Bianca Miranda and Keshia Cheesman used to have a difficult relationship with the word ‘fat.’
“I was afraid of that word,” Miranda said. “It felt like every time I heard the word ‘fat’ — even if it was someone talking about food, like this pork has a lot of fat — it would just send shivers down my spine.”
The two Calgary friends decided to put their experiences on stage in an Alberta Theatre Projects production called “The F Word.”
“I wanted to hide and not be associated with that word, because it was always seen as something that you shouldn’t become,” Cheesman said.
The play explores anti-fat bias in society which both actors say they have experienced.
“Theatre rules are so limited because we’re not seeing fat people as main character,” Cheesman said.
Both Cheesman and Miranda now see the word fat as a neutral descriptor.
“We have reclaimed that word. Society hasn’t yet. So people are still using that word as a punch to someone else or as an insult,” Cheesman said. “Other people haven’t had the same journey as us. They are not there yet in their journey.”
The pair want people to leave the theatre feeling joy but also admitting biases.
“There’s this idea that if you’re fat, you’re just living in this ‘before’ and waiting for the ‘after,’ that you cannot fully live and can’t enjoy yourself or be happy because of your size, which is so untrue,” Cheesman said.
Studies from the U of C show how a person feels about their body can be a better predictor of their health than how much they weigh. If a person feels good about themselves they are more likely to practice healthy behavior.
“Size doesn’t equal health at all,” Miranda said.
Both the medical community and these actors say weight bias has been overlooked, and if the goal is to improve health behaviours reducing weight bias needs to be addressed.
“I am proud to say I am a fat person and there’s so much power in saying that,” Miranda said.
Miranda says they wrote the play for a wide range of people, including those who may not often see themselves on stage because of their body shape or ethnicity.
“I want them to feel seen and celebrated, and for the first time here’s something that they relate to,” Miranda said.
“I would hope that it causes self reflection. The first step that we ever did in this kind of work was to look inward, so I would hope that people do the same,” Miranda said.
“Admitting what your biases are is always the first step.”
The production runs from February 9 to 19 at Arts Commons.