Every time I attend a performance by Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, I’m impressed by the dexterity, prowess, and showmanship of their dancers. And I’m struck by the fact that if you passed some of them on the street, you might not imagine that they’re the excellent performers that have been wowing audiences since 1999. Rather than being willowy or svelte, several of the dancers are what our weight charts would probably call fat or overweight.
Their size certainly doesn’t stop them from singing and dancing for nearly two hours straight (okay, there’s a 15-minute intermission) and entertaining audiences with some complex maneuvers—nothing you’d ever want to try at home. As a tap aficionado myself, I know the intense, sustained energy it takes to do my 45-minute weekly advanced beginner class routine. I can’t imagine doing swing or Broadway show dancing or the like for going on two hours with only a mini-break.
Which brings me to my point of how we can never assume someone’s health or fitness by their size or appearance. I’ve certainly worked with enough underweight women (some dancers) who were far less healthy than my higher weight clients. Because of this and watching the WBTT dancers for a decade, I’m well aware that weight or size does not equal health or fitness.
For this reason, it’s important to observe and correct our assumptions about people. We’ve been so brainwashed into equating low weight with healthy and fit and high weight with poor health, that many people don’t ever question this assumption. How many times a day do you pass someone and think, “Boy, I’d like to be thin like her. I bet she doesn’t worry about getting diabetes.” Or you see someone who’s on the higher end of the weight continuum and cluck to yourself, “Doesn’t he care about his health or quality of life? He’s not going to live very long at that weight.”
Rather than making these assumptions, what beliefs would be more constructive to have regarding weight, health and thinness? How about: People can be healthy at every size, Low weight doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious eating or being fit, High weight doesn’t necessarily mean eating too much or making poor nutritional choices, being unhealthy or dying an early death. My guess is that you’ll need to catch your thoughts because of our culturally induced perceptions of fat and thin. Start noticing people of size who are runners, dancers, volley ball players, bikers, skaters, swimmers, hikers, or yoga practitioners and that will stretch your thinking in the right direction.