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Cass, Carpenter, and the Unsustainable Conditions of Industry Standards

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter lately. Both were women known for their incredible alto instruments and their fraught relationships with their bodies.

Mama Cass was born 9 years before Karen Carpenter and died 9 years before her. They were the same age at the time of their deaths. They also died of the same thing: cardiotoxicity.

For Carpenter this degeneration of muscle around her heart stemmed from anorexia nervosa. For Cass it was due to extreme yo-yo dieting. However, after her passing the story that became immortalized was that she died choking on a ham sandwich. This is both false and cruel. Reducing a lifetime of pain to a cheap joke.

While it is true that Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter died of the same physical condition; one could argue that they both died of a standard placed upon them that was impossible for them to uphold or attain.

Performers come in all shapes and sizes. We need performers of all shapes and sizes.

As an industry there is a pervasive history of telling artists they are not enough. Women have historically borne the brunt of this, particularly as it is applied to their bodies.

Performing well requires nourishment. Performing well requires empathy. This empathy should be applied to your own body—meeting it where it is at and praising it for what it is capable of.

Singing, acting, and dancing require strength. That strength comes in a variety of bodies with varying abilities.

Where change really needs to happen is in our collective consciousness as an audience. We should praise abilities in all bodies. Fat folks should tell their own stories: the fact that it is 2021 and we are still having to discuss the use of fat suits is truly alarming. Fat performers are here, we are capable, and we are no longer willing to shrink ourselves at the determent of ourselves and our art.

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