YoungGiftedandFat: Performing Transweight Identities

At this point, the “I” in the final phrase “So here I am” is the borderland. “I” is the place and space that my obese psyche and slender body share. “I” is black, a woman, and a site of total confusion, while Fat is literally trying to catch up with Skinny. “I” is Sharrell, who waits patiently at the border, hoping to fully integrate with Fat and Skinny to build a new, complete life. “So here I am” also affirms my presence in this world and my right to interrogate my identity as a means to peel myself apart and put me back together again.

As I continue to think through my various personas, I have come to understand that Fat and Skinny truly experience the world differently, while my liminal self acts as sort of mediator between the two. The work that I am doing in the borderlands is born out of a desire to love that part of me which is fat just as much as the world loves that part of me which is slender. My journey is a difficult one because I am consciously making an effort to erase the border, revealing a whole human being. As I continue my research and performative inquiry, I do so knowing that I may never reach a resolution. I am also aware that the possibility of being physically deported is quite real, as my genetic make-up and appetite work against my slender existence at every meal. Nonetheless, I do believe that peace, harmony, and healthiness can co-exist in my mind, my body and my art. Thus, I explore and I write and I perform and I write some more. The work at the borderlands is multifaceted. This work is integral to my survival, for crossing over is never an easy task.

I went missing in 2008
Shed my skin, withered away
This body ain’t mine; it never belonged to me
Escaped like a thief in the night and now I’m tryna find me
With all my might
What is this in my hand? What is this in my hand?
If you force me to speak, I will surely tell a lie
When I killed myself, I had an alibi
I was at home, alone, wanting to be let out
Had to find my song
And now my ancestors tell me it’s been within me all along
so why in God’s name am I so far from home
A skinny bitch could NEVER do this shit
That fat, black girl sings my song

Sharrell D. Luckett is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at California State University-Dominguez Hills. She is an award-winning director/producer of over 60 shows and has co-created four musicals. Luckett received her Ph.D. in Theatre at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she was selected to serve as Doctoral Marshal and keynote speaker. Her upcoming projects include the world premiere of her one-woman show, YoungGiftedandFat, and a seminal manuscript outlining the Freddie Hendricks acting method.

[1] Solo performance artist Misty DeBerry made this statement at the Mellon/Northwestern University Institute of Feminist Performance in the African Diaspora, 20 June 2011.
[2] Kathleen LeBesco, Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 62.
[3] F. Grodstein et al., “Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program. Can you keep it off?” Archives of Internal Medicine (JAMA) 156, no. 12 (June 1996): 1302-1306.
[4] Fat Studies is a field of study dedicated to ending discrimination against large people and accepting size diversity.
[5] Lily O’Hara and Jane Gregg, “Human Rights Casualties from the “War on Obesity”: Why Focusing on Body Weight Is Inconsistent with a Human Rights Approach to Health,” Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight & Society 1-1 (2012): 32-46.
[6] Sander Gilman, Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity (Cambridge: Polity, 2008), 9.
[7] Steven N. Blair and I-Min Lee, “Weight Loss and Risk of Mortality,” in George A. Bray, et al, eds. Handbook of Obesity (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008), 805-818.
[8] Rose Weitz, introduction to Section III: The Politics of Appearance in Rose Weitz, ed.,The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 133. See also Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue (New York: Paddington Press, 1978).
[9] Sandra Lee Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” in Weitz, The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior, 25-45.
[10] Gilman, Fat, 13.
[11] For this essay, I define slender as being in one’s BMI (Body Mass Index) normal range or lower overweight range.
[12] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (New York: Routledge, 2000), 11-13.
[13] 6 months to a year.
[14] E. Patrick Johnson and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, Eds., solo/black/woman: Scripts, Interviews, and Essays (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2014; Nicole Fleetwood, Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); and Harvey Young, Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010).
[15] Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” 34.
[16] Andrea Shaw, The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies (Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006); Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
[17] See Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987).
[18] See Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture for further discussion of the ‘third space’ (New York: Routledge, 1994).
[19] Holding Up the Sky is an original play adapted by Milbre Burch, first produced in 2009 & 2010 at the University of Missouri-Columbia, directed by Clyde Ruffin.
[20] Weitz, The Politics of Women’s Bodies, 133.
[21] Claire Van Ens, “The Poetics of Excess: Images of Large Women on Stage and Screen” (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1999).
[22] Judith Butler, “Embodied Identity in de Beauvoirs The Second Sex,” paper presented at the American Philosophical Association, 1985, quoted in Bartky, 27.
[23] Ibid.
[24] See Lesa Lockford, “Social Drama in the Spectacle of Femininity: The Performance of Weight Loss in the Weight Watchers Program,” Women’s Studies in Communication 19 (1996): 291-312.
[25] See Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), 77.
[26] See Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 4-5.
[27] D. Soyini Madison, foreword to solo/black/woman, E. Patrick Johnson and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, eds.(Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 2014), xiii. Emphasis in original.
[28] Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 81.
[29] E. Patrick Johnson and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, introduction, solo/black/woman: scripts, interviews, and essays, xx.