I have never seen The Greatest Showman. The Greatest Showman is on my list, waiting to see if my love of musicals will outweigh my distaste for Hugh Jackman. When the cast took to the stage on Oscar night to perform their nominated song, however, I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction. I had never heard of Keala Settle, but she was about to make me cry. Keala, a woman who is the same size as me, was featured on an awards show that historically values slim, sleek physiques.
When you are fat, you tend to feel one of two things: you painfully stick out, or you're invisible. This is our representation in most media as well. We are the fun sidekicks, the loyal best friends, or the outcasts. We are ridiculed or we are sidelined. It is rare to see a fat person in a role that doesn’t revolve in some way around their weight. It is rare to see a leading character, especially a leading lady, who has regular problems, is desirable to others, and happens to be fat. The lack of positive representation reinforces how many of us feel in real life.
So when I saw one of my idols, Viola Davis, with a cheek-splitting grin, dancing along to Keala Settle’s remarkable voice, and when I saw a room full of the top representatives of classic beauty rise to their feet to applaud her, and when I saw her standing in the front of the crowd, the focus on a stage full of people – I began to cry.
When I was nine, I wrote a letter to the children’s music group The Mini Pops and asked if I could be a member. In my letter, I was sure to include that I knew they wouldn’t want me to be on screen, but maybe I could sing on an album. I was fat. None of them were.
When I became interested in acting and attended a school of the arts, I did so knowing that I would never make it as a professional actress. It’s hard enough to break into the industry when you’re beautiful, after all. Why would I even bother with the odds stacked so high against me?
The reality of a slender Hollywood is something I have grown accustomed to. There will be article after article posted showcasing the classic actress forms in their elegant gowns. They will be listed according to best and worst dressed, but they will all be considered beautiful and desirable under their chosen garments.
I’m more comfortable in my own copious amount of skin at 38 than I was as a teenager, and I don’t notice the lack of people who look like me on screen anymore. But when Keala took over that stage, with a body like mine, and received nothing but respect and love, I realized how ingrained the message of being less-than was in me. I am used to feeling inferior and unworthy of the spotlight. And so the tears flowed while Keala stood in hers. She was confident. She was beautiful. She was unashamed to show off her talent for fear of what people would think of her. And she looked like me.
I’m sure I will see The Greatest Showman at some point. It’s on the list after all. I’ve added “This is Me” to my Spotify playlist. It’s become somewhat of an anthem for me now; a reminder that I don’t have to be invisible. I’m not likely to step out onto an international stage anytime soon; But Keala has given me the confidence to go to a club, or a get together with other moms, or any other place I so often feel apologetic for my own existence.
Representation matters. I matter. Thank you, Keala, for the reminder.