Years ago, my favorite part of the Drew Carey show was the opening credits, which featured Drew, who is fat, dancing.1 (Apparently Carey liked dancing — dance scenes were crowbarred into the story of several episodes, e.g..)
So if there’s a show featuring fat people dancing, I’ll give it a try, even if it’s a goddamn fucking weight loss show.
The dance part of the show is entertaining enough. The dancers aren’t as good as the dancers on So You Think You Can’t Dance (most of whom are professional dancers), so the choreography can’t be as interesting or challenging. But it was fun and perky, and often a lot of fun to watch.
So what about the fat politics? Well, for the most part, they’re awful. Being fat is constantly spoken of as the opposite of being healthy; that dancing, moving and eating well could be a good thing even for people who don’t lose weight isn’t even on the radar here. And, of course, the contestants are graded (or eliminated) based not only on how they dance, but on how much weight they lose. There are lots of tearful confessions connecting life goals (teaching their kids well, getting a girlfriend or boyfriend, etc) to losing weight, and the inevitable close-ups of the fat people eating fries, donuts, and the like.
So does it “work”? Do they lose weight? Of course they do. These fat people, for the weeks they’re on the show, are essentially full-time weight losers, in the most unrealistic environment imaginable. They don’t have jobs; they don’t take care of kids. They have a nutritionist, a work-out room with a dedicated trainer, and when they’re not in the work-out room, they’re dancing.
Like most weight-loss plans, it’ll work… for a while. The dancers will lose seemingly incredible amounts of weight — I’m guessing the ones who make it to the end will be 50-100 pounds lighter than their starting weight. But it’s not sustainable. Because, for the vast majority of fat weight losers, nothing is sustainable. Weight-loss plans don’t work. 2
And because this show is teaching contestants to measure victory mostly by their waistlines — not by a sense of accomplishment, or joy in movement, or good health measured in any way but weight — I worry that this will actually be bad for the dancers, in the long run, if they gain weight back and it makes them feel they’ve failed.
But it’s not all bad. Inevitably, despite itself, the show includes fat bodies moving, fat bodies being sexy, fat bodies being competent. Fat bodies, in short, dancing. It’s impossible not to notice that some of the fattest dancers, like Mara, are also the most talented. Heather MacAllister once said:3
Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act.
I wouldn’t call “Dance Your Ass Off” revolutionary, or even really fat-positive. But it has fat-positive elements despite itself.
- Actually, the show had a bunch of opening credit sequences over time, but at least a few of them were dance numbers. [↩]
- The show includes a professional con man — I mean, weight-loss doctor — as part of the cast. I’d really like to see a complete accounting of all his patients from prior to 2004, and how his services have helped them in the years since. [↩]
- Yeah, this is the second time I’ve quoted this in a month. [↩]