Monday, February 25, 2008

The "Big" One

Several weeks back, I attended a Broadway show with a friend. In between numbers, I whispered to my friend something about one of the cast.

"Which one?", she asked.

"The big one," I replied.

My friend looked at me curiously. "I'm surprised you said that," she said, all-too-familiar with my work.

The show went on, as did our hushed dialogue.

"Why?" I asked, "I didn't mean it negatively. I was just trying to identify her." And, I was, in a sea of tiny, ballerina-bodied cast mates, simply targeting the feature most quick to differentiate. I also could have said, "The one with the long, black hair" or referred to her as the part she was playing, but this was honestly the first thing that came to mind, and when you're talking during a Broadway show, sometimes brevity is key.

For the record, the "big" one was probably as Size 12. She just stood out. And, to me, there's nothing wrong with referring to someone as "big," or "fat," or "large." (I actually much prefer these to "obese" or "overweight.") They're simply descriptors. . . just like long, black hair.

So, was I wrong? Should I have found another feature by which to identify her, or was I (un)consciously working to destigmatize big?


Anonymous said...

I don't see anything wrong with it. Like you said it was just a way to point the one girl out. No different than saying "the skinny one".


It isn't like you said "the fat disgusting one".

Erin said...

Ummm. I'm not even sure how to answer that. True, its a description and you weren't trying to be mean.

But last night my nephew did something similar by asking what was wrong with the white guy on tv. He meant nothing by it by I asked him if he could find anything else to describe the his hair color or clothes or character name. He asked why it mattered and I said when the first thing you notice is race or something "different" then you focus on differences and might start to treat people differently.

He understood and he's only six. He understood that it might hurt someone's feelings to be pointed out with a physical characteristic. I felt proud of him. I felt like it was the beginning of teaching him a lifestyle of acceptance and of judging people based on something other than looks.

Twistie said...

First things first: you were talking in the theater in the middle of the performance? That's not okay. While there are some performances where it's okay to say something (a folk concert where the band is requesting audience participation, a pantomime or melodrama where the audience is expected to involve themselves in the show), a Broadway show is rarely one of these. As a matter of basic courtesy to both the performers and the other audience members, conversation should be saved up for intermission and after the show has let out.

As to your question, I have to ask why if the character had a name you felt the need to identify her by a physical characteristic? You could have commented on 'Daisy' or 'Joanna' or whatever her character was named. If your companion was then confused, then you could have mentioned something she said or did in the role. I can't see any reason why you called her 'the big one' particularly when - by your own admission - she wasn't actually big. She just happened to be the largest woman on stage.

I know your intent wasn't to be rude about her size any more than your intent was to be rude to your fellow audience members, but yes, you were rather rude on both counts.

emmy. said...

i see nothing wrong with that. people seem to be offended by it, but it's fact. if a person's big, they're big. like sandy said, that's the same as saying they're small. it's all in comparison and an easy way to differentiate.

i never understood why people too offense to that. it was not a judgment - it just is what it is.

Anonymous said...

I think referring to someone as "big" or even "fat" rather than using euphemisms (which imply being those things is somehow bad) is the way to go. Referring to her as "the big one" makes sense, as she was the biggest on the stage.

I think that sometimes over-sensitivity to descriptors like big or fat (or even white) can be divisive rather than encourage inclusiveness. If we are constantly afraid to offend, we may feel uncomfortable around people who fit those descriptions and avoid interacting with them.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you have anything to feel bad about. Unless you automatically think that describing someone as "big" as an insult, which clearly you don't. If you had described her as "the tiny one" you probably wouldn't be writing this post today. If there's any predjudice going on, it's why you would want to overthink the political implications of the word "big" as a description of a person.

Twistie, I've been to many Broadway shows over the years and WHISPERING is allowed. Which is exactly what she described. Talking over the actors is not, but that's not what she did here. And so I think your response was pretty rude. Much ruder than describing an actress as "big."

tori_927 said...

I don't really know what to think about it, personally...I think if I was that "size-12" girl, I probably wouldn't want to be called out for being the biggest one on the stage...

But the reason I'm posting is because I'm a little curious that you and a couple other people mentioned "fat" as being a euphemism for "overweight" or "obese," when I always thought that "fat" was more offensive than "overweight." Someone want to educate me? I'd like to know why "overweight" is more offensive, when that's what is used in the medical world, and fat just seems so much more...harsh. :-S

Jen said...

Hi Tori--'Fat' is not offensive because it has NO bad connotation, just the connotation our society gives it. 'Fat' in and of itself is just a noun and an adjective to describe the size, shapeliness, and likely texture of something, and fat folks all over the fatosphere are reclaiming it, taking the power away from it being an insult or a bad word, and making it harmless, making it our own.

'Overweight,' however, while having been viewed as a less blunt way to describe someone as fat, implies that there is indeed an 'ideal weight,' and you are not it, you're over it. Well, there is no ideal weight, there is only health. So 'overweight' isn't something to be used, because it counteracts the idea of Health at Every Size (including various weights). Hope that helps :)

PS- a.) nothing wrong with describing her as the big one. If we're about size acceptance, being noticed as the big one is no more an insult than it is a compliment--it's just a characteristic.

Gingembre said...

Frankly, I love it when people use 'big' or 'fat' as simple descriptors. I am the fat one, just as I'm the redhead and the one in boots and the one with the giant shoulder bag. My friend is the short one, the blonde one, the thin one. My colleague is the tall one with the miniskirt. It's all just stuff, and we pick up on physical characteristics all the time. Big is no more insulting an adjective than any other, but people won't see that unless we use it without negative connotation, and keep on using it every day.

Fat_Chic said...

It's not like you were using "big" as a judgment word, which is what "obese" would be. I've been referred to as "chunky" when someone was trying to "play down" the "judgment" of fat. I prefer someone just says straight out fat, if that's my identifying feature at that time.

Sarah said...

I would have thought "fat" when I heard you say "big," but I think that says a lot more about me than it does about you.

Lillian said...

I don't see 'overweight' as an insult. It's just a marker to a reference point. A reference point that I don't agree with. Most people that I know that are in the 'normal' range look very thin to me like my stepdaughters and my younger son. I think people that are quote overweight looked the best.

Beth said...

Actually, Twistie, I think it probably was okay to exchange a hushed comment between performances or whatever the case. It's not like there was an ongoing conversation. Don't blow things out of proportion.

Just like this comment could have been blown out of proportion. I think some people like to take offense to anything they can find or attribute too much meaning to neutral comments. Using the descriptor, "large" is neutral and appropriate for the given situation.

Alicia said...

You know as a size 12 I at first took this as offensive. "How dare you! Size 12 isn't *BIG*!" but then I thought about the actress on stage. Its very rare that you see a fuller figured actress on stage. Broadway and theater in general can be brutal and competitive. Shes probably proud to identify as a "big" (if she does at all) because she was chosen for the role because of her talent, NOT because of her size.

Anonymous said...

Size 12 is "the BIG one"? Oh my.

Paula said...

Of course there's nothing wrong with it. I'm a recovered anorexic, and one thing that helped me a lot was a play I watched in Spain (I'm Spanish) named "Gorda", litteraly, "Fat". The main actress is one of the most loved Spanish actresses, who is very fat (morbidly obese, actually), and has a great, strong, optimistic personality. When she talked about the play, she explained two things I'd never forget: 1) She could be thinner, and she actually was. It is recorded in some of her movies. She weighed 80 pounds less and could wear tight leather miniskirts and have fun with that, but the thing is that now, 80 pounds heavier, she finds herself exactly the same. She can have fun with a miniskirt as well, so being heavier or thinner does not really matter to her.
2) Being fat is not a bad thing. It is a descriptive feature. She compared it with being blonde, brunette, Spanish or English. It's just another charasteristic, that's everything. And no one should feel offended if being called fat. We should feel indifference for fatness or thinness.
This two things helped me a lot during my recovery.

cggirl said...

I see nothing wrong with it either.

To act like it's taboo is to play into the idea that it's negative.

Now, I have no problem acknowleding my size and in many situations I (a size 12) am the biggest one in the group. So what?

Of course, I know not everyone feels okay about being whatever size they are, and not everyone has come to accept "fat" as a neutral descriptor. So when the person in question can actually hear me, if I don't know for sure how they feel about it, I refrain from saying anything like that. After all, we're all different and I can't demand that they be in the same place on this as I am, and I certainly wouldn't want to hurt their feelings (though of course I think there is nothing to be hurt about, but in this society it stands to reason many people WOULD feel hurt if I called them fat or big, so I don't want to risk it).

But, in this situation that you describe, she can't hear you anyway, it's just you and your friend and your friend knows very well that you don't think there is anything bad about being any size, so you're both on the same page and it seems fine to me.

Okay now on a totally different, self serving topic: dr stacey if you happen to read this comment - I finished my animation project awhile ago, the one that you were kind enough to post a work-in-progress of and i got some helpful feedback from your blog readers. And I promised to keep you posted on that... I emailed you awhile back that it was finished but it's possible that it went to your junkmail. So at the risk of being a nudnik, I just wanted to check in and see if you ever got my email, and if not, I can resend you the link to the finished project if you'd like :)

Becky-BBW said...

Full figured gals are way hotter than stick figures - I always believe this when I found this on the famous big people online club

Ashley said...

I find people have a problem with any description that isn't inherently complimentary. For instance, it's ok to talk about "the slender blond with the small voice" but not ok to talk about "the one with the froofy hair." (Recent example) Similarly, you can't discuss a person's age, even when it's really obvious. For some reason people have a problem if you point out that the professor, in her 40's, is older than her students, in their 20's. Why this is insulting I'll never understand, as it's a simple fact of life.

People are weird about descriptions, for some reason (and I can guess at those).

beauty said...

I don't see anything wrong with it. I feel nowadays we have become overly sensitized in such areas. What's wrong with being honest?

At one time I was the "big one", but
I always remind myself and others too

"Words only have power give you give them power."

beauty bagel

Anonymous said...

Identifying someone you are not familiar with by using an obvious physical characteristic is not offensive. Erin - your nephew didn't understand anything other than that Auntie was offended. Why should skin colour be a topic more sensitive than hair colour? Answer: it's only an issue because of the weight society places on the point. Want to really pull the plug on prejudice? Allow simple descriptives to carry only their own qualities - not those of society.

Anonymous said...

In this crazy world, calling someone "the big one" Is an insult, even if not intended. However, I do not see anything wrong with your description, especially as you had no ill will directed at that size 12 (horrors!) actress. I don't even mind "obese" for fat people. I can't go as far as the fat acceptance people do, in pretending that obesity has no health pricetag attached to it. For me and for many people, it Does. Still, the shame of being "the big one" is a cultural mandated feeling that is in every woman, I think (either as shamefull reality - she really Is "the big one" and, try as she might, it often hurts to be this way - Or fear that she ever will be or could ever be described as such by Anyone).

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. I'm a size 12, and I don't usually feel like I'm big. I've always been bigger than my friends, peers, coworkers, etc. (although that is changing as the world's waistline expands), but if someone chose to point that out about me, it would likely hurt my feelings. It's just a matter of being sensitive to judgment, which is often the place from which these comments come (sidenote: I don't believe you were judging her, but alas, you aren't most people).

As well, what jen said about "fat" not being insulting was dead wrong - in the real world. I'm a dietitian, and I work with a lot of overweight/obese patients. They trust me because I'm not skinny, but I'm very healthy (I used to be 50# heavier, and I readily share my experiences with anyone who wants to know). Certainly, some of my patients are pleased to discuss how "fat" they feel and whatnot, but the vast majority would likely run screaming from me if I used that word to describe them (or even "large," which I now understand is worse than "big" for some reason). Even worse, if I chose to use "fat" to describe their children, I would likely be sued.

Food for thought, so to speak.


I went to see the Lion King Broadway tour, and I was really super pleased to see that there were bodies of all sizes on the stage. A size 12 was definitely not "the big one" in that case. There were people of every race and size up there--it rocked. :)