Natasha, Weight Loss, and the Disney Princess of 1812
Before fourth grade, as far as I knew, I was beautiful.
A boy who'd lived in Germany was interested in me, and we held hands in Chuck E. Cheese's, and although I was far from the most popular girl in school - being far too brash and bookish to fit in - I was confident in my talents and in my person.
But then one day in early fourth grade, they paraded us all into the nurse's office where they gave us a chart on Body Mass Index (BMI) and weighed us publicly before each other. I was told, before everyone, that I was fat. Moreover, it was made known to me in no uncertain terms that this was not only undesirable but shameful, and clear evidence of moral failing on my part.
However, I was not fat. I was nine. I was growing. I was actually quite slim. I fit into leotards and didn't look ridiculous. And what is even more: Who the hell cares. My weight was not then and is not now my Self.
But try telling the stereotypes of the world that.
Because, as we all know, thin girls are pretty, and fat girls are weird. Thin girls get to dress up and sing about wanting more than this provincial life. Fat girls...are moms. In the background. Disapproving. Thin girls are sopranos. Fat chicks are altos. Thin girls should be seen. Fat chicks should be glad they're allowed in the picture at all.
Puberty hit and all my genetic predisposition towards storing away fat for those long Alpine nights in the freezing cold hit, and I did legitimately gain weight. With that weight gain came an unexpected loss. I went from being given leads on stage to being shoved into the chorus. All my roles had the first name "Mrs." and then, increasingly, "Mr." And then, switching over to Cyrano de Bergerac on the other side of the table as director, playwright, and producer, I even lost my own first name as I transitioned into "Miss Snyder" who didn't sing in public really at all.
Ever since moving to NYC five years ago, though, I've been working towards allowing myself to be seen, to be public, to be allowed to be a girl on stage and not just a disapproving set of heavy boobs with a booming voice. That is: to move away from my own ideas of what the "fat girl" is allowed to do, and to simply embrace whomever I am.
It's a very. long. process.
Earlier this year, as many of you know, I had bariatric surgery which has helped me lose a considerable amount of weight. And it's been utterly delightful to see my Disney Princess body emerge from under those layers of fat - accumulated through sitting on my tookus and having little interest in cooking, and exacerbated these past two years by a traumatic break-up. It's been wonderful to see me emerging, and to revel in the new soft curves of my body, just where I always thought they were.
This past week as I was preparing Monthly Music for my Patreon page, I thought I'd tackle the ingenue Natasha's aria "No One Else" from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I've covered the sexy (alto) Helene's song, "Charming," which is a fairly easy song emotionally, as is the equally sexy Anatole's music from the same. Because neither Helene nor Anatole ever show their vulnerability. They are the seducers and remain in control.
I began talking myself out of covering "No One Else." After all, I'd seen many a young lady on YouTube cover the song - all technically beautiful, some emotionally connected, every single one of them slim, young, perfectly long haired. Who was I kidding? I wasn't an ingenue. I've never been an ingenue. Ingenues were stupid anyway. The song had enough people singing it, who cared for another fat, old, white chick covering the most covered new audition piece? Besides, Natasha is so pure, so virginal, so...ingenue-ish...
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Basically: sour grapes because Emily's Not Allowed.
But something drove me on (mostly a friend saying something nice about me singing), and I decided to record the piece with a karaoke backing, freeing me up to simply let the song hit me as it would. I tried it a few days ago, made a few mistakes with the timing of the accompanist (made a lyrical mistake on the video above, too, but the hell with it)...and thought of scrapping it again.
Yesterday, however, as the train didn't come and I had nothing else to do, I watched that first video back, and became aware that I was still protecting myself emotionally while singing the song. My smiles were forced and afterthoughts. I was technically proficient, but the song felt layered on top of me rather than expressed from my soul.
"Ah!" I nodded sagely to myself. "The song's no good for me. That's because I can't be ditzy."
I watched the video a few more times.
"But," I amended. "Maybe I'm being judgemental. She needn't be ditzy. In fact, I could try to be myself."
So I recorded again today (see above). And decided to simply put myself to the task of taking Natasha's language at her word. Of mining all the things that interest me in any soliloquy: humor, intensity...(gulp) vulnerability. Honesty. And to see what would come out.
Which is above.
And which is, I think, quite good. And myself, stunningly beautiful. And I have to whisper to myself (but not too loud, in case the universe is listening):
"Emily. Emily. What if your body and your voice and your ability do match up? What if, in fact, you're allowed?"