What does beauty mean to you? I asked myself this recently and found that what draws me to people, what I find the most beautiful in someone, is confidence. The ability to not only know the power you are given in this life but use it, to me, is absolutely gorgeous and irresistible.
Usually, I keep my negative ranting on FB to a minimum. However, what I experienced last week was the most extreme case of discrimination and sizeism I have ever faced. My outrage and the painful sting was so much that I felt I had to share publicly. Though at times I wished I hadn't written that post, I believe there is a reason I live my opinions out loud; so others experiencing similar situations will know they're not alone and to draw attention to archaic ways of thinking that still exist, in hopes one day it will change.
On a Wednesday I got a very exciting call asking me to hoop for 4 days in two cities, (one
city being San Diego at a location very close to where I'm living right now) with a very good pay rate. I was excited to be given this opportunity especially because the gig was specifically looking for hoopers with multiple hoop skills. Multi-hooping, in circus on-body splits, various boxes, juggling and Native American shapes have all been a passion of mine for a couple years now and what I have been focusing on most in my training. This seemed like exactly what I had been spending all those hours training for. A high level, high paid gig asking for the same skills I love.
There was one catch, I had to do someone else's choreography...three different ones to be exact and I had to learn them all in two days. Because yep, the client waited until the last minute. Surprise surprise. The choreography was a disappointment but really a small concession for 4 days of good work as a hula hooper! So I watched the videos of the choreography, was slightly underwhelmed and checked with the agent that they had various sizes of costumes for the various hula hoopers. The costume was an important part of the look for the performance. Turns out no, only one size and lo and behold my size 8 was too big. WAIT! WHAT?! They made the costumes for the performers before booking the performers? They assumed they would only be hiring someone size 0 - 4?
It's totally normal to think they would find a model sized, talented multi-hooper NOT booked for a Friday and a Saturday two days beforehand. Yeah. Right.
Before it was determined that I was too large to fit into their body suit, the agent asked me if I knew someone else who could also do one of the cities. They needed another performer for LA. Yes as a matter of fact, I know several people who could do this gig with me from San Diego. Let me refer you someone.
As soon my dress size was brought up, the agent told me I might not get the gig at all but the person who I referred (who has a smaller dress size than me) would be getting the gig. All four days. It's a dog eat dog world out there in corporate land.
I have to hand it to the agent. She worked hard to get me the gig. She felt awful that the client was turning me down, someone completely qualified and specifically trained for the skills requested, because of my dress size.
It was a rough couple of days. I had serious ups and downs and I was extremely emotional about it. I had to send pictures of me hooping, body shots, selfies, head shots, natural-looking pictures. At one point it seemed I had convinced them but then it turned out no, I wasn't getting hired but the woman who I referred was. Also turns out they picked someone else in my place who only had one-hoop skills but is model sized.
That's when my FB post hit:
Turns out being skinny is more important than being skilled. I just lost out on a incredibly highly paid semi-regular gig b/c of my dress size. I want to cry and punch something at the same time. It doesn't matter that I am the best person for the job (multi hooper) or that I've dedicated my life to training, performing, teaching, living and breathing hoop dance. All that matters is my body type. The shallow nature of this industry and society in general is depressing. I'm bringing booty back!About 100 people commented within half an hour and I was in tears all over again. People wrote some of the most touching things to me I have ever read. Real life instances in which I had inspired, worked with, taught, danced with, performed with or mentored were coming out of the wood work. Some of my favorites include:
"... you're my IDOL. I've agreed to do a hoop burlesque performance this month and you are my inspiration, you are the Fairy Burlesque Hoop Goddess who whispers to me, 'Cookie, you are sexy with those curves!' " -Jennifer Mountain
"The way you love, embrace, and use your body has always been such an awe and inspiration to me. And on top of that, you're extremely successful and thriving, rocking a gorgeous body, without a size 0 build. So basically fuck 'em The impact you've had on me and probably countless other girls is way more important than some dumb gig that doesn't see the beauty in you." -Katelyn Carano
"What I love so much about dancing with you is that you know and teach us how to have FUN rocking your body, and that all the women you are making happy don't fit a standard body type but are confident enjoying the body they have, no matter what shape or size! Whoever can't appreciate this doesn't deserve it! Keep up your amazing work performing and teaching and inspiring people around the globe!!! And yes, I'm all about booooootay!!! Bring it on!!" - Tine Be
"Valentina, because of you I moved beyond what I thought my ideal body image for myself was. You inspired me to love my body just the was it is, and flaunt it. I've been a size 12,10,8,6,4,2... Cellulite, stretch marks, saggy skin - all of it! This is the main reason I'm involved in performance art, to pay it forward and show men and women what FEELING good looks like!" - Emeraude LaStarrNeedless to say I was crying reading all of these comments. I decided to let it all go and
went to go take a shower. When I had washed off the icky feeling of being emotionally dragged around by shallow, inconsiderate corporate whores, I looked at my phone and saw that the agent had convinced them to hire me! WHAT?! They changed their minds? After I went public about their sizeism I was being offered the gig. What to do now?
It took me a while to decide what to do. A large part of me wanted to refuse the gig to prove a point. They didn't deserve me anyway. In the end I decided to take the gig because I knew I could rock the body suit and I knew I could rock the hoop moves! I wanted to show them that you do not have to be a size two to be publicly viewed on stage as a performer or even as a model. Now I definitely don't consider myself a model but ironically around the same time this happened, Sports Illustrated published a "plus sized" model Robyn Lawley in their February issue. She does not look plus sized to me. But she definitely looks beautiful.
So I did the gig. I felt both curvy and sexy in the body suit. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. The make-up they did on me, though it was a bit heavy, was fun to play with for a couple days. The most ironic thing about it was that multiple people, both the general public and the employees of the company, complimented me relentlessly on my body. "You have the perfect body!", "I want your body!", "Can I have your body?" These phrases came at me all day. I was gracious, said, "Thank you" and laughed to myself inside. See, you little corporate piece of shit, this is the type of person who should be seen on stage, the REAL, healthy, strong, empowered, talented woman. The one who is more like the everyday woman than the photoshopped models on the cover of magazines.
|The 2015 Face of Temptress|
So many hoopers reached out to me who had gone through the same types of experiences. Someone skinnier and less skilled (or even in some occasions more caucasian) got the gigs over them. Even people who had been offered the same exact gig with the same company but in a different city also feel victim to sizeism discrimination.
It hit me hard that there are still people out there in this world who think like this. I have surrounded myself with people who do not think this way. And maybe closed myself off to current prominent ways of thinking. Homophobia, racism, sexism, sizeism, they all feel like "isms" of the past. This experience showed me that they're still out there. In full force.
Ironically, the same weekend as this gig I had entered myself into a Pin Up/Talent Pageant for my favorite store in San Diego, Temptress Fashion. This store has tempted me into becoming my most glamorous pin-up self on many occasions and I have dreamt of representing them as the "Face of Temptress" for about 5 years. Since I had always been at Burning Man or traveling the world when they had their pageant, I couldn't consider doing it until this year when the stars aligned. Their pageant was in February AND I had made a conscious decision not to travel internationally for at least a year. So it seemed to be my year! I competed in the pageant and I WON! Yup, right after almost being denied a job I was completely qualified for because of my body; I was celebrated and elevated to a representative position of a Pin Up company, because of my talent. Every single woman who entered the pageant was curvaceous and gorgeous. Every single one, when asked why they wanted to be a pin-up model said it was because the pin-up world encouraged women of all sizes to feel beautiful.
|My winning performance|
All of this in the same weekend!
This experience has showed me even more how important Burlesque and Pin-Up culture is to me. Burlesque is full of superstar women who are absolutely rocking life and they're not a size two. Women who inspire me so much because of their talent, business sense, success, creativity and passion...still not a size two. For some women, particularly my students, I have a similar role in their lives. I dedicate my life to dance, performance, art, teaching, traveling, fulfilling my dreams, circus and genuine small business practices...and guess what...I am not a size two! I feel supported, loved and encouraged in the Burlesque, Hoop and Belly Dance communities for who I am. EXACTLY WHO I AM. Thank you to those of you who shared your personal experiences with me, how I have effected you positively through what I do. When you take the time to tell me, it gives me more inspiration to keep doing it!
|At the Face of Temptress Pageant|
When I first started performing Burlesque, one experience that I will never forget is a couple of women came up to me and said that they loved my performance because I am not a size two. They said they could see how much fun I was having being in my not-society-approved-perfect body, how sexy, confident and beautiful I felt. They said that if I could feel this way about myself on stage just as I am, then they could feel the same way about themselves! Huzzah! That's exactly when I knew what my purpose as a Burlesque performer is! And it has carried onto my purpose as a dance and Burlesque teacher as well.
I want to say that sizeism can go both ways. There has been a huge anti-skinny movement lately that has left those size two ladies feeling slighted. I DO NOT believe anyone should be considered beautiful because of their dress size. As I said in the beginning of this post, what I find the most beautiful is EMPOWERMENT. Even though the song below walks the anti-skinny girl sizeist line, I still can't stop singing it and feel parts of it are a new anthem for me. Particularly this Postmodern Jukebox version :) Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top!
|Click the image!|