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BWW Blog: The Problem with Tracy Turnblad

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I'm unashamed to say that my favorite musical is Hairspray. One of my fondest childhood memories is singing along to Mama I'm A Big Girl Now with my Mom. Beyond nostalgia, it has a great message, and I relate to the character Tracy Turnblad. She's a plus-sized girl who loves performing, has a huge heart, and wants to use her performing to create social change. I have embraced my Tracy Turnblad-ness with pride. I continue to fight tooth and nail for performance opportunities and to be recognized as legitimate in my craft, not to be counted out due to my body type. I'm unapologetically myself, even if my bubbly-ness and (sometimes too much) concern for my friends and loved ones can be a bit overwhelming. Tracy Turnblad is almost like looking in a mirror.

However, I have a problem. It is not with Ms. Turnblad herself, but that she's the token plus-sized female musical theatre role. As a plus-sized musical theatre major, I constantly hear "Oh, you'd be such a great Tracy!". The thing is, while vocally and acting-wise I would like to think that I make be a pretty darn good Tracy, I am not a dancer first, and Tracy clearly is. If I am being honest with myself, I still have dance training and skills to hone before I could do justice to Ms. Turnblad's choreography. Their assumptions are not based on my skills or even my personality. Rather, it is solely based on my clothing size.

Hairspray is the only "mainstream" musical that features a young plus-sized woman as the lead. While there have been large strides forward in recent years, what with the character Bridget in Bring it On, almost the entire cast of 2015's Off-Broadway musical Gigantic, and of course, Bonnie Milligan's masterful performance as Princess Pamela in Head Over Heels (Bonnie, if you are reading this, I was that random girl who sobbed to you about how inspirational you are at the stage door. Can we please be best friends and fight the Broadway body positivity fight together?). Regardless, I can count the number of musical theatre roles written as young plus-sized women on one hand. Yet, I can easily list three times as many written-or-traditionally-cast-as-thin roles.

Theatre is about telling stories, be they fantasy or reflections of the real world. In fantasy, who cares if the pretty princess does not wear a size two? In terms of real-world stories, these people exist, (one even wrote this very post), and have stories to tell that would translate to musical theatre beautifully. Why not a bio-musical about an influential plus-sized person, like Tess Holiday? Why not a musical about the plus-sized woman's perspective, such as an adaptation of the amazing TV show Drop Dead Diva? (Sidebar: I would love to write this, but I'm a broke college student without the funds to buy the rights. Someone, anyone, please do so and thank/cast me as Jane Bingum later).

In all areas of entertainment, diverse representation is needed now more than ever. More characters and stories of color, different religions, ethnicities, identities, sexualities, and body types. Representation does not only impact how performers see our role within this industry but also how many see each other's validity and normalcy in this world. If there were more Tracys and Princess Pamelas, the lives of many, including myself, would be very different and for the better.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Emma Rose Dorsch