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  • Writer's pictureMeg

Amazing Show, Crap Title: Real Women Have Curves The Musical

On December 27th  had one of the most meaningful and powerful theater experiences of my life seeing Real Women Have Curves. Before I deconstruct why and gush about it I want to acknowledge that the title Real Women Have Curves is hot garbage. I almost didn’t see the show because of it. The idea that there is a “real” woman and that the value of the body of that “real” woman is specifically tied to body shape and size is beyond problematic.  “Real” women, if there is such a thing, come in all kinds of bodies and the title of this show does not acknowledge that in a meaningful way (though the show does a pretty good job of it).

Okay. Disclaimer done.  I fucking LOVED the show.  Like I said, the title almost kept me away and I’m so so glad it didn’t.  When I see theater I am generally the fattest person in the audience and WAY fatter than everyone on stage.  The first thing I noticed going into ART for this show was the number of fat audience members.  My People!  Squishing into theater seats and seeing a show that celebrates our bodies!  It was so moving just to see that. 

Seeing theater can be tough if you are fat. Seats often dig into your hips and legs and if you are AFAB (assigned female at birth) and fat the bathroom stalls almost certainly don’t fit you.  When I saw Hamilton in NYC I came home with bruises from the seats having had the unenviable experience of not being able to wipe in the bathroom because there wasn’t space to spread my legs.  Drip drying for the win!  This show was at ART and those seats are decently sized and the bathroom is manageable (and they have great signage about gender!).  But seeing a show is always a risk. Seeing so many fat folks streaming into this show and taking that risk was amazing.

I knew that there were going to be fat actors in the show and I was excited about it. I never get to see that!  How great! I absolutely underestimated the effect it was going to have on me to see bodies like mine on stage.  It bowled me over in the best way.

When I was in high school the only time I got a decent role was a character whose description read that she was chubby.  The drama teacher I had the second two years of high school was very clear with me that she could only see me as an old slightly crazy person. I never even got to be the sassy best friend!  She was also very clear that acting beyond high school was not in the cards because most directors weren’t going to look at my body favorably. I never planned to be a professional actress but I would have liked to do theater in college and she basically told me it was impossible. And I believed her.

Sitting in the theater looking at people with bodies like mine singing and acting their hearts out showed me that there are people who didn’t listen to that drama teacher and didn’t listen to critics and society and still gave their heart to the stage. I’m sure they felt and it and it has probably been an ongoing struggle but they made it, they kept acting despite the garbage messaging and seeing it was amazing. I started to cry the minute the fattest actress walked onto the stage.  Not only were there fat actors on stage but they were playing fully embodied glorious, confident, sexy, women.  They owned the stage. They owned the room. They owned my heart.

Of particular note was Carla Jimenez who played Pancha.  She had the biggest body on the stage and also played one of the most confident and capable characters. Pancha talked about kids, about sex, about life, never once saying that fatness limited her in any way. She made jokes, she had touching moments, and damn, girl could dance.  I found Carla after the show and tried to put into words why it was so meaningful to see a body like mine on stage. I couldn’t find the words and mostly just cried all over her while saying thank you. She gave me a hug and asked my name and was so kind about my little meltdown.  She will probably never read this, but if she does, please know Carla that your performance was one of the most meaningful things I have seen on stage and your response to my tears was one of the kindest responses I’ve received when getting emotional in public. I am deeply grateful for your performance and your existence.

The title number was amazing. I kind of expected to hate it because, as discussed, I hate the title, but it was absolutely transformative and I was sobbing during most of it. Shoulders shaking, making tiny noises as I tried to suppress the noise, tears soaking my mask.  It was probably the most emotionally out of control and vulnerable I’ve ever been in public. It was pretty awesome.

In the number, the women who work in the dress factory take off varying amounts of clothing and celebrate their curves and their bodies.  I’ll be honest. I didn’t hear a lot of the lyrics because of the crying, but watching people with bodies that are not celebrated by society stripping down and dancing and singing with power was amazing.  Not all the actors went down to bra and panties, and there was some shapewear going on that you might not have been able to see if you weren’t in the front row like I was. Pancha wore a slip and I absolutely get it. At this moment in my life I might be comfortable stripping down to bra and panties for a number like that but not everyone is, and I respect that. I might do it but it would scare the hell out of me and might make my experience of the play the experience of that one moment. I can see where a fat actor wouldn’t want that.  Still the moment that Pancha took off her top and skirt and revealed the slip was one of the most affirming moments of my life. She may not have been naked but she was wearing something that showed her body in a way we almost never get to see on stage or in media.

One the car ride home I processed the show with my sister. She is not fat but the show impacted her incredibly strongly. She reminded me the culture of thinness hurts everyone and that seeing something that affirmed all bodies so strongly hit her hard (in a good way).  So, you know, skinny people should see the show too!  Everyone should see it!

The show was amazing and transformative and I hope it goes from ART to Broadway and then goes on tour. I have already booked my tickets to see it a second time and am debating a third. Please take all my money ART and please, gods of Broadway, take this show as far as it can go.

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