In modern society, many people consider being fat the worst thing that can happen to you. Used as a synonym for ugly, the word fat is often thrown around as the ultimate insult against everyone from school children to the President of the United States.
Stigma against overweight and obese people has increased by 66% in the last decade, making it comparable to some of the worst forms of discrimination in America today. Given that 35-40% of adults are considered obese, this is a little terrifying - a world where 40% of people are victims of socially acceptable discrimination is not fair to anyone.
Luckily, there are some amazing people out there helping to fight the stigma and show the world just how awesome it is to love your body, no matter how big or small. Luckier still, some of those amazing people are using the art of burlesque, meaning humorous and provocative live performances, as a way of showing the world just how awesome a larger body can be.
In a world where hating yourself is the norm, these ladies use comedy, dance, music, and striptease to embrace every inch of themselves.
Plus-size burlesque performer Lillian Bustle knows a thing or two about loving your body. Looking for a way to celebrate her body instead of hiding it, Bustle turned to burlesque in 2012 and fell in love with the art. Burlesque taught her to embrace the word fat, stating
"I'm 5'3", so I call myself short. I'm married, so I call myself a wife. I'm 240 pounds, so I call myself fat. And I am beautiful, so I call myself beautiful. And I am all those things at once."
While she acknowledges that the world of burlesque isn't a utopia, she believes it is one of the best places to see and experience all kinds of diversity. This is a great thing, because studies have shown that people who are exposed to a wide variety of body types tend to find a wider variety of body types both acceptable and attractive. Bustle credits burlesque with helping her feel that she is worth looking at, and that is a beautiful thing.
One of the problems faced by plus-sized people the world over is workplace prejudice and the world of burlesque, while pretty diverse and accepting, is no exception. Performer Ruby Rage experienced this firsthand when she was let go from Lucky Pierre's in New Orleans for being too heavy. Bringing the issue to social media, Rage explained that she has always viewed burlesque as a form of empowerment, stating,
"It doesn't matter if you're a woman, man, transgender, big, small...etc. What matters is what you bring up on that stage and the amount of talent you have and the confidence to back that talent."
Because the world of burlesque appreciates talent and largely embraces diversity, Ruby Rage did go on to perform in other shows. After all, you can't keep a good burlesque dancer down, unless, of course, that is part of her act.
Winner of the 2016 Miss Coney Island burlesque beauty pageant, Fancy Feast loves to embrace comedy and controversy. Even her stage name, a sly reference to the sheer number of cat-themed monikers of other performers, is designed to elicit a double take from the audience. Her acts are typically funny because she is funny, typically sexy because she is sexy. "The character is me, just amped up a bit." Fancy said in an interview with HuffPost.
Fancy pushes herself to do something on stage that frightens her every year, expanding her boundaries in her quest to connect with her audience. She has even pushed herself to find new audiences that would never normally see a performer like her on stage.
"I want to perform for people who've never seen burlesque before, who have never seen a fat person on stage. I need to get that message out to those people."
She acknowledges that blazing the trail for fat women in this way is both a blessing and a curse, but there is nothing that will stop her from spreading her message of body positivity to the world. In fact, she has an hour-long documentary about her life and her work available on her website.
When you think of ballerinas, the word plus-size doesn't often come to mind. Frostine Shake has never let that stop her though! Working as a model, fashion designer, and burlesque dancer, Frostine puts her ten years of ballet training to good use on the stage.
Co-founding the troupe Black Satin Burlesque in 2007 and going on to solo performances several years later, she has brilliantly combined both worlds by allowing the elegance of ballet to saturate her burlesque performances, even dancing en pointe from time to time.
Known as the burlesque dancer's burlesque dancer, Dirty Martini is a world-renowned performer who has perfected the art of the classic burlesque strip tease. Famous for fan dances, shadow stripping, balloon strip tease, and several other dances that harken back to the original vaudeville stages, her act is so famous that she has even been photographed by Karl Lagerfeld at the House of Chanel for a magazine spread in 2010. She appears in several documentaries and films and a drawing of her was used as the poster art for the film Tournee.
Dirty Martini is unique, not just because of her immense talent but also because she doesn't immediately identify herself as a plus-size performer. While she clearly fits that mold, she doesn't necessarily define herself by her size. It doesn't much matter whether or not she identifies as a plus-size dancer though, because her message of body positivity shines through no matter what words she uses.
Did we miss any lusty ladies of burlesque? Let us know who you think should be added to this list!