How to Not Body Shame Actors: Just don’t

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  • Matt Whalen

For a few weeks now, the Facebook Page “The Broadway Body Positivity Project” , founded by Stephanie Lexis, is publishing anonymous confessions of body shaming in theatre. Dozens, if not hundreds of heart-wrenching stories of artists being mistreated by teachers, directors, designers are being published. What I’ve read is unbelievable, but sadly, I’ve witnessed some of it, as I’m sure most people in theatre have. It needs to stop.

I was ready to go on a soapbox and discuss all of the examples I can think of that would be considered body shaming, but there are too many, and I wouldn’t want to leave anything out. Here is a simple rule on how to avoid doing this: Just don’t. Don’t comment on someone’s body. It’s that easy. If you see someone else do it, call it out.

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There is no excuse for this behavior, and yet I have heard people make excuses. “Oh, he says stuff, but he’s harmless.” “he’s such a sassy bitch, but I love him.” People, it’s not funny. It’s not cute. Even if you are saying things that you think are complimentary about someone’s body, chances are, it’s going to make them uncomfortable. If you think a girl’s boobs look amazing, please keep it to yourself because I guarantee she doesn’t want to hear it from you. Don’t joke about doing tech crew because you like to watch quick changes in the wings. It’s gross.

The leadership in theatres need to do a better job of creating a safe space to work for actors, but they also need to hear about problems as they arise. I recently spoke with a girl that said she would not audition for a particular theatre again because as a high school student, an adult actor (who also directs) was making gross comments about girls in the cast and it made her so uncomfortable. I know the actor she’s talking about. I’m not surprised. That’s really sad.

After a show last year, someone commented on my weight while talking to me in the lobby. Her friends stood around speechless. I was speechless too. Even if something rubs you the wrong way, and you aren’t able to speak up in the moment, find a time to make the discomfort known. Talk to them directly, talk to someone in charge, talk to a friend on how to handle it, but if you witness it, don’t just let it happen, or it gives them permission to keep doing it. The safe space is created for them to continue to make people uncomfortable. Let’s look out for one another.