I never thought I’d take my clothes off in public. Ever. I’ve had sex in public, sure. More than a few times. But that was always under the shadow of a leafy bush or behind a slightly ajar cubicle door. And always with my T-shirt firmly on.
I’m fat, you see. I’ve always been fat. I was a fat baby (poor mum), a fat kid, fatter teen. Thinner for a bit in my late teens, when I joined one of those archaic weight loss weeklies who smack you round the face with shame when you’ve had one too many syns.
‘Ladies, Crystal’s put a pound on this week, let’s all watch her do fifty star jumps as her man boobs hit her in the face. It’s what she deserves.’
Obviously I gave up on that, and went on to be fat, fatter, fattest in my 20s.
Now, it used to make me feel uncomfortable to describe myself as fat. I’d say awful, fattist things to my friends like ‘I’m not as fat as [insert rare fat celebrity here] am I?’ Or ‘do you think I’m too fat to be attractive?’ Obviously they had to tell me no, or I’d snark at them for days, as I felt terrible about my big fat body.
‘I’m also a drag queen. My past disdain for my body affected this work too’
Then I discovered fat people online. Like properly fat, proud people who weren’t willing to change their bodies for a strange set of reasons foisted on us by society.
They taught me to remove the sting of the word fat. That it was merely a descriptor. Like thin, or hot, or sticky.
They debunked certain health myths about being fat: everything is nuanced. It’s not as easy as fat equals cancer, fat equals unhealthy, fat equals bad. That people prattling on about the health of fat people is a simply a means of controlling big bodies.
As my friend Sofie Hagan says, it’s not like people are going into clubs and knocking drinks out of people’s hands. And it’s not like we’re walking into coffee shops and smacking flat whites out of people’s hands because caffeine also causes cancer.
The point here is: the world hates fat people. A lot. They think we’re a visual reminder of what all this consumption does, while of course turning a blind eye at the flight they just took to Australia. Or the number of trees which had to be mowed down to make that surprisingly creamy almond milk.
I’m also a drag queen. My past disdain for my body affected this work too.
“You can sing, but you’re fat”
My drag sisters would sport ab-skimming crop tops and teeny tiny bikinis. And they looked great. While I wore a giant black trench coat for a whole Edinburgh run and was frequently described as the Adele of the group. ‘You can sing, but you’re fat.’
And people found this kind of self-hatred for my body difficult to deal with.
A drag queen should be full of herself. She should be confident. A shining beacon of ego and self love. And in many other areas I was. But not when it came to my body.
Until I started stripping on stage.
Sure, I imbibed the messages of the brilliant fat activists I’d seen online and met in person like a long, cool drink. But I still covered my body, always thinking that other fat people looked great, and I looked terrible.
But then, in a rehearsal, with my drag sisters I told them I wanted to strip while singing Shakira, Underneath Your Clothes. They were supportive, of course, and I didn’t practice the actual act until the night of our first show.
‘There was nothing but love for it from every onlooker’
I was shaking, my voice wobbling, and my knees almost ready to give way. Dress off. Trousers off. Tie off. Shirt off. And there I was — belly out for all to see. And there was nothing but love for it from every onlooker. All of them all clearly understanding what it feels like to hate your body whether thin or fat.
I was electrified. And for days I walked on the ceiling, completely enthralled by this new sense of joy I never knew my fat body could provide me.
I went on to strip every single night in Edinburgh last year, and every night for a month when we brought the show to London. And eventually the nerves dissipated, as did the joy. Not to a bad place, though.
To a place where instead of feeling joy or hate towards my big belly and boobs, I just felt nothing. Apathy. Something I never thought I’d feel about my body.
The shift wasn’t caused by the celebration of it either, it was simply brought about by the fact I’d taken my clothes off nigh on sixty times in front of nigh on 8,000 people in total and nothing bad had happened to me. Fattism still exists. But it was no longer running riot in my head.
Two weeks ago I went to the doctor about something completely unrelated to my weight. She gave me a general check up — and everything was great, her literally using the words ‘the perfect picture of health.’
Then she weighed me and took my height and told me that I was obese, and that I must get to Weight Watchers as fast as my fat ass could take me. I asked her why, if I’m the perfect picture of health, and she had no answer.
I left unscathed. Completely feelingless about this news that I already knew. That I had already known for 20 years.
‘I’m not apathetic about what my body can do’
My body is the thing I’ve felt most shame about. Especially on the queer scene which can be so unknowingly fattist. But now when I aspire to be like someone I don’t look at their body. I look at their skill. What they say. Their talent. And their kindness. Stripping did that for me.
This year a large part of my Edinburgh show will be spent in underwear, heels, a wig and nothing else. There’s no set piece around it; simply my body, unbothered, uncelebrated on stage for all to see.
I’ve found apathy, and that’s far more exciting when it comes to your body than obsession or celebration.
I’m not apathetic about what my body can do, however. And if you want to hear a big fat non-binary person sing with a soaring (unless I’ve had too many drinks) falsetto then come to my show and I’ll buy you some gorgeous, greasy chips afterwards.
Crystal Rasmussen presents The Bible 2 (Plus A Cure For Shame, Violence, Betrayal and Athlete’s Foot) LIVE! is at The Belly Dancer, Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1JR at 5.30pm from 1 – 25t August. For tickets go to underbellyedinburgh.co.uk.