Without role models, how will you ever learn to love a large woman? If you really want to learn, Candye Kane can teach you.
Kane, a blues diva whose career began in adult films and topless modeling, has always used what she had to her advantage, but behind her light-hearted lyrics are political convictions as strong as her voice.
"If all you see on television is thin, beautiful women, and all you see in magazines is thin beautiful women, and in movies, how can you ever be happy with just an average woman?" Kane asked. "It makes the standard unrealistic."
Kane said she's never had the type of figure the media consider ideal, and though her experience in the sex industry was, for the most part, positive, even there she was made to feel inadequate.
"Fat girls in the sex business are marginalized as much as they are in our culture," she said. "You're fetishized, and someone who's attracted to you is also marginalized by being made to feel it's not normal to like a fat girl."
Kane hopes to bring that preference out of the closet and onto the stage for a fat-positive celebration with a lineup of performers who are down for the cause. Phat Man Dee, a full-figured jazz artist from Pittsburgh, and San Francisco's Fat Bottom Burlesque Review, an eight-woman troupe of dancers who give audiences a peek at the goods, promise to shake things up as they join Kane on her current tour for four dates in September.
"It takes a lot of guts to get up there at any size and strip down to your pasties and g-string, but especially if you're 200-pounds-plus," Kane said.
Using the term "fat activism," Kane and others are launching a counterattack on pervasive social stigmas that vex large people in America and challenge any messages that say fat women can't be beautiful, something Kane has been doing for years. Singing songs like "200 Pounds of Fun" and "Big Fat Mamas are Back in Style" is self-empowering, she said, but also encourages other large women to love their bodies and "work what [they've] got.
"It's a mutual-healing love fest," she said.
Though size diversity has managed to stay mostly outside of the mainstream media, there is an entire movement forming around the issue.
The 11,400-member National Organization to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) has claimed victories in cities that now prohibit size-based discrimination. In July, San Francisco was added to the short list when its leaders passed an ordinance making unequal treatment based on height or weight in employment and housing illegal.
NAAFA spokesperson Peggy Howell said activists are intentionally using the word "fat."
"Fat is not a four-letter word," she said. "And by using it freely we take the power away from the people who try to use it as a weapon against us."
Kane said her first weight-based rejection came in 1986 when her manager at CBS/Epic Records told her she needed to change her image-figure included. "He said, "You need to lose weight and clean up your act and stop cussing and be a bad-girl-gone-good," Kane said. "That was the first time I was really faced with the choice of losing weight or losing my record deal, and I ended up losing my record deal instead."
Conventional wisdom has it that high mortality rates are associated with extra pounds. But despite the fuss over the nation's "obesity epidemic," many find the rhetoric hard to swallow.
In March 2004, a report released by the Centers for Disease Control attributing 400,000 deaths per year to obesity set off a media blitz . A spokesperson for the CDC told CityBeat the study looked at mortality rates associated with poor nutrition and physical inactivity-not obesity-contrary to how it was reported at the time. Using different health factors and more recent data, the CDC now estimates the number of obesity-related adult deaths in the United States at 112,000 per year.
Mike LaMonte, the director of epidemiology at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, which conducts research on the relationship between living habits and health, said there are some adverse effects of being obese, including an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, but moderate exercise each day could be enough to greatly reduce or, in some individuals, even eliminate the risk, he said.
"A large proportion of the health risk that we assume to be related to body size and weight is explained by lifestyle habits like nutrient intake, smoking, alcohol use and physical activity," he said.
Fat activists insist they're not advocating unhealthy behavior, but they argue that despite exercise and dieting, some people will always be heavy.
LaMonte agreed that genetics play a role in a person's body type, but considering the increase in the obesity rate among adults in the United States-which doubled during the last two and a half decades-he said heredity could not account for the additional cases.
"Our genes haven't changed in the last 50,000 to 100,000 years to any great degree," he said. "It's not only logical but evidentiary-based that something else explains the higher-than-expected levels of overweight [individuals] and obesity and the higher-than-expected levels of diabetes in our country today."
Howell acknowledged that some fat people do suffer health problems because of their weight but said the diagnosis is used much too often. "Not every health issue that a fat person has is because they're fat," she said.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that overweight and mildly obese people who are physically active are likely to live longer than thin people with sedentary lifestyles, LaMonte said, adding that carrying extra pounds later in life can protect the body from undernourishment and falls.
Fat activists acknowledge they have a long way to go to reverse pervasive misconceptions about weight and health.
"Just living a full life as a fat person is a radical act," said Fat Bottom Burlesque Review founder Heather MacAllister, known on stage as RevaLucian. "People would rather see us skinny or dead. We're not supposed to be living happy, full, productive, sexually and romantically satisfied lives and still be fat."
But when she and the other dancers hit the stage with Kane, they'll put that thought to bed and celebrate large bodies.
"Even if I'm never on MTV or never sell a million records, I'm reaching people and make my living playing music and I didn't have to give up anything," Kane said of her decision to accept both her body and her past.
"I'm a work in progress," she said. "I need to keep doing these positive affirmations because it's working for me and hopefully it's taking some other people along for the ride, too."Candye Kane, The Fat Bottom Burlesque Review and Phat Man Dee will perform on Sept. 9 at Tio Leo's, 5302 Napa St. in Linda Vista. Tickets are $10. 619-542-0562.