The Daily Dose (November 22, 2011) ***Updated*** No thanks, fatty, we don't want you.

‘Tis the season, as you know.  No, not that season, it’s the school audition season.

As I talked about yesterday, I have an 8th grader looking at high schools and it did involve one audition for a performing arts high school.  But, as many of you know, I also teach the seniors at a performing arts high school and my job is to prep them for their college auditions. They are applying for a wide range of schools, and many of them will get in and go on to performing careers, or careers in show business in some capacity.

Here’s what’s  bugging me.  One of my kids, (who shall remain nameless but he’s very talented), came up to me and said he’d decided not to audition at one of the best schools (which shall remain nameless)  because they have a “do’s and don’t’s” list, and one of the things they talk about is weight.

“I mean, do you think, Miss Wheatley, that I should just skip it?  Am I too fat to go there?”  As he said this, he looked at the floor and pulled on his clothes and looked miserable, like he knew what I’d say before I even said it.  Like all his fears about being ugly were already confirmed and talking to me was a mere technicality.

I went and found the paragraph he was talking about on the school’s website, and although the paragraph is longer, I will single out the part he was talking about:

“It may be hard, but take a long, objective look at yourself in a mirror and assess what you see. Decide on your best physical presentation. If you need to lose weight or gain muscle, begin as soon as possible — but please do it safely……..Eat well and pass on the double whoppers with cheese.” 

Here’s my two cents worth.  This kid is not big.  This kid is also of an ethnic group that this institution is happy to have auditioning for them, in fact, there has been a bit of recruiting going on, and specifically with me and my class.

I made a point of telling this kid he should absolutely audition if he wanted to, but I didn’t go on to say how I really feel.   I saved that for you guys.

I’m ticked that this school, who is actively recruiting  kids of color, is losing candidates because of their narrow homogeneous vision.  The paragraph is wrong, on many, many levels and is not only patronizing but is also not in keeping with the current trends in the business.  I know this, not only because I have been a successful actress in this business for a long time, but also because I have eyes and can see who is getting cast right now.  The emphasis is on individuality, and the thing I always say is, if you are heavy you’d better be able to dance because current choreography trends are for “real” looking people who can move.  I can’t tell you how many times I have kicked my self that I skipped so many dance classes. 

More.  This summer I met a girl who is currently in a program (not this same program) and she sobbed while telling me that she is bulimic, and that the majority of the girls in her program are as well.  I begged her to tell her parents  or to get some kind of help, but she totally cut me off and would not respond to my e-mails.  This beautiful girl thinks she is so ugly that she throws up every day in hopes that she can play an ingenue.   Just imagine this girl as a senior in high school, reading a paragraph about “taking a long, objective look in the mirror and assess what you see”  can you imagine her reaction?  Do you know a single 18-year-old who would look at them self in the mirror and like what they see?  I understand that the school says to “do it safely”, but the kids don’t see that.  They just see, “If you’re fat–get skinny or don’t apply.”

I have another message for the “big kids”: learn your ingenue songs.  I sing them all the time.  I play leading ladies.  I am very rarely the “balls to the walls broad” on stage that you would expect of someone my size.  I know what I do best onstage: I fall in love.  That’s my forte, no matter what my jean size says, and I have the pay stubs to prove it.

So here we have a bunch of kids, who all want to apply to this top notch school, and on their website is this irresponsible, patronizing and wrong statement about looks.  I can’t stand it. Good health is a good thing–weight loss is great–I do not deny that at all.  Yes, pretty people have a higher chance of getting cast, but we aren’t all Mary Poppins (or want to be), so chill out about it and quit scaring kids who are already scared to death.

And yes, this is talking about show business, but the numbers and studies are there to prove that this rampant fattism is a problem across the board.  People don’t get promoted.  People don’t get jobs.  People get made fun of.  And through all of it, that beautiful girl is throwing up.

I am sick to death of it.

End rant.

Ladies and Gentlemen, BREAKING NEWS.  I just received word that the offensive language has been removed as of noon est today.  I will leave the post intact as proof that one little blog post can make a difference, and change is possible. The student I talked to yesterday has been informed of the change and the school has been thanked. 


(For the next post in this series, go here)


About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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14 Responses to The Daily Dose (November 22, 2011) ***Updated*** No thanks, fatty, we don't want you.

  1. Stephanie Bosler says:

    You should consider writing a letter to the college… how terribly irresponsible of them!!

  2. Mark Motz says:

    Spot on once again, Sharon. If I didn't think it would affect kids from your program getting into the school, I'd suggest you name names. Kids need to know what they're up against when they audition and some may want to take a stand against such discrimination.

  3. Barb Winfield says:

    as the mom of a theatre major, and a member of several internet parent forums, i can assure you, this is a hot button issue. this particular program had that same bit of advice on their website when we began looking into college programs, 5 years ago. at a time when we, as parents, are encouraging healthy habits…wise food choices, "everything in moderation", the importance of regular exercise for a healthy mind and body…these fine folks have to equate all of this with losing weight. in my opinion, there's absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging good health in an effort to be prepared for the rigors of college life. but this program's focus is clearly on *appearance*, at a time when these vulnerable kids need to be told, "welcome! we will help you discover *who you are*". instead, they only accept applicants who are willing to be *who they want them to be*. it's shameful. and i can't believe they're still getting away with this.

  4. Emily says:

    As an overweight actress on the opposite coast, I am finding wonderful things out about my size. I skip a lot of casting notices each day saying things like "sexy" and " hot" but I also submit for at least one a day. (I love being non-union at the top of my career and being able to be more concerned with resume building then being discerning about gigs.) And I am getting auditions! Within the last month of just starting to work on my career I have been cast in a play and in a student film! I keep finding notices that say "Melissa McCarthy type" because she's in right now, and making other overweight quirky girls in too, and I am riding that wave!

    The point is that yes, there's more roles out there for thin people. But there are still plenty of roles for those of us who look unique or unconventional. And a lot less competition for them! If people like Josh Gad in Book of Mormon and Melissa McCarthy are working, then so can the rest of us. I wish your student the best of luck, because it is all right in front of them. And it is going to be wonderful!

  5. Megan Shook says:

    THANK YOU!!! I'm starting to look around at new programs instead of the one I'm in now, and I'm scared to death of auditioning because of my size. I've been actively – and successfully – working very hard to lose weight and I am, but the auditioners don't know that when you walk in, all they know is what they see in front of them. I'm totally relating to this poor kid in your class.

    Thank you so much for writing this post!!! I feel like you always post a blog for whatever I'm freaking about at that point in time…you must be reading my mind. ;)

  6. caroline says:

    I think that's just terrible. In college I was told not to bother with taking theater class any more because I would never be on stage because my head is to small and actors need big heads. I changed my major because of this. I laugh now about it and enjoy telling people I wasn't told I wasn't talented enough just a pin head. Please don't let your students give up their dreams and passions just because they don't fit the" norm".

  7. MaureyL says:

    I am afraid I strongly disagree. Obesity is a massive health problem in the US and in the UK. I don’t think it is the same thing at all as recruiting minorities- of course people have a right to overeat, smoke or drink too much but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Obese people like smokers and alcoholics have many more health problems which is an issue for employers. If I were a black person I would be a bit insulted by the comparison. I think that paragraph is sensitive and gentle and encouraging someone who is obese to lay off fast food and take exercise isn’t going to make anyone bulimic.

    • sswheatley says:

      I see your point. My intention was to talk about THIS student of color, who perception is that he has a weight problem, not to make it sound like people of color fall into the unwanted category. I agree with everything you say about good health, I am on WW as I type this trying to lose weight, I applaud what Michelle Obama (and others) are doing to promote good health in children. Moreover, I think a good self esteem promotes healthy eating habits–it was certainly true for me. The more I felt "less than", the more I ate and tried risky weight loss, the better I felt, the more likely I was to lose weight in a healthy way. I just think–and I have to assume that you would agree with this–that eating disorders are rampant, especially among teen and early 20's girls, and the number ticks up in a shocking way if you are looking at girls who are pursuing this as a degree. So, in that regard, I don't think any paragraph that comes from a school in performing arts can be gentle enough. It's not possible–and I was really bothered more by the "take a long look in the mirror" language. Thank you for your input! I value different opinions!

  8. Brie says:

    How disgusting. I am so glad to work for a theatre program that accepts talented kids, regardless of size, color, type, etc. We have the most fantastically diverse and unique group of students in our program, and they all come out fiercely talented and work their tails off. A theatre education should be available to anyone who has a passion for it and the skills to make it happen. I've been a size 12 professional musical theatre performer for 10 years now and it has yet to hinder my career.

  9. Arianna says:

    This industry has unrealistic ideas of WHAT overweight really is. When I first moved to NY to pursue my musical theatre career, I was 5'8 and 125 pounds. I am curvy – a perfect hour glass figure when my weight is where it should be – and a size 6/8 depending on the cut of something. I remember one major audition I went in for where I was told, talent-wise, I was the best fit for the role – yet I lost the role because two of the three decision makers decided it was more important that I lose 15 to 20 pounds than that I was able to sing and act the role the way they wanted. The character was a Verdi era opera singer, not something that really required I be a waif. WHERE was I supposed to lose 15 to 20 pounds from? That would have been unhealthy for me. Today, I saw a casting notice for "plus size models." Their definition of plus size? Sizes 2 – 10. TALENT and ability needs to be the focus of an educational program. Weight will fluctuate – I had a severe injury a few years ago – I spent two years unable to even stand up straight – and I am now a size 14 because I cannot do the physical things I used to. I still book work. Everyone should try and be healthy. The thing is, not everyone is healthy at a size 2.

  10. Pauline says:

    Sharon while I'm not sure if I see the type of diversity you do in casting today (I tend to notice that its mostly young, thin people who are cast in the lead roles), I totally agree that an educational institution should not be making this part of their application process. And to tell vulnerable young people to take a long look in the mirror and asses themselves is irresponsible. Very few of us can do that, but teens? Their self-image is always askew even if they DON'T have weight problems. Its this type of request that will push some over the brink into bulimia and anorexia. So thanks for posting this. And I hope you're right and I'm wrong and more types of people are getting cast nowadays. As I said before, I haven't noticed it all that much but I'm not as close to the industry as I used to be.

  11. Kevin says:

    Great piece!
    I've worked with a number of (very physically fit) students from this university who to this day still count their calories. It's really a shame.

  12. Anski says:

    My son auditioned for the program-in-question a few years ago, and we were disgusted by the comments/suggestion on-line even before we got to the auditions. While there, even though my son is thin and fits the “look” profile of the school, he was struck by the homogeneous look of the majors in the program – everyone was the same slim body type and mostly white. The girls in particular were all blonde and statuesque – what he called “cookie-cutter.” He saw a number of heavier girls auditioning, and remarked that they would probably be eliminated before even singing a note. Then and there, he decided he didn’t want to go to a program that didn’t acknowledge the diversity of performers. After the audition was over, we all got in the car and drove back home and immediately crossed this school off the list of potential schools. Yes, performers need to be in good physical shape and take care of themselves, but people of all different shapes and sizes can be fit.

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