“Short and stubby, very chubby…”
As we enter 2021 and feel the routine pull towards new year’s resolutions of diet and exercise, I can’t help but remember the taunts of my grade 3 classmates. As a child, I was bullied pretty relentlessly for my weight. Looking back on how I grew up, I cannot think of any aspect of my life that was not shaped by the shame I felt about my body, especially my dreams of becoming a performer.
As a teenage girl, I accepted the narrative that I was too fat to be attractive, in a world where beauty seemed to be an all-important measure of a girl’s worth and potential in life. Resigned to the fact of my own ugliness, I accepted a lot of messages about what I would and would not be able to get out of life. Certainly, I would never get a boyfriend. Dressing well would be pointless when I should be focusing on hiding my body. And above all, I would never be taken seriously as a performer in the entertainment industry as long as I was fat.
Looking back, I really have to hand it to teenage Laura for how well she handled all that. Yes, she cried a lot. Yes, she went on many awful and unsustainable diets. But in ruling out romance entirely, she focused almost all of her energy on music. While her friends were preoccupied with the dramas of dating, she was in her room at night teaching herself to play guitar, listening to Beatles records, and writing sad songs about her unrequited crushes. She poured herself into choir and orchestra (she played violin at her mother’s insistence), and the friendships she formed with her fellow music nerds. She worked on the musical and social skills that have proven to be completely invaluable to me now. I am so proud of her.
When it came to professional opportunities, however—like going to auditions, finding an agent, or even posting to YouTube—teenage Laura just didn’t have the confidence to put herself out there like that. She thought she was too fat to land any professional gigs, so she didn’t even try.
Today, I have a much better self-image because the biggest lesson of my adult life has been discovering just how many of these messages I absorbed were nothing but lies. I have accomplished almost everything I was told I would never be able to do, including modelling for major Instagram accounts without losing weight. However, the value placed on women’s looks—the patriarchal contaminant in our society underscoring everything that happened to me—is still very much a reality. I am so grateful for the body positivity movement and the activists who have worked for years, not only to help women find self-acceptance and self-love in their bodies, but to actively change mainstream beauty standards to include people like me. Their work is something I have benefited from greatly.
That being said, the pressure on women in the entertainment industry to lose weight and fit the mould—even the world’s most accomplished opera singers—remains ever-constant. There is no question that the entertainment industry is superficial, that it judges performers based on their looks, and it probably always will. Therefore, it matters that women of all shapes and sizes are considered beautiful. Because when it comes to being a singer, body positivity could be the difference between someone believing she can, or thinking she can’t.
Of course, when teaching young girls I always focus on ability, work ethic, and the instrument. Additionally, I consider it a great privilege and a great responsibility to be an adult with a recurring role in a young person’s life. Even if body image is never discussed, I try my best to pass on to young students the true source of my confidence: not my looks, but rather my work ethic, my sense of humour, and the pride of my accomplishments. May they remember their “chubby” music teacher who did it all, and go after whatever they want in life. May they never take themselves out of the race over something as silly as their size.