Actor Miriam Cheong tackles weighty issues in new play
Rethink what it means to be fat in a world obsessed with thinness at this new play The Other F Word. The one-woman show, which stars Singapore actor-playwright Miriam Cheong, explores the complicated relationship she has with her weight and how her body is perceived by society.
The play marks Cheong’s debut as a playwright, and it will also see her perform sketches based on real-life observations such as her experience as a member of her school’s Trim and Fit Club, and the challenges of being a plus-size actress in Singapore today.
We chew the fat with Cheong on her sold-out show – staged by local theatre company Wild Rice from 24 to 28 Mar – and what she thinks of society’s obsession over body weight and health.
What does body positivity mean to you?
As I get older, I try to make a distinction between body positivity and fat liberation or fat acceptance. Body positivity tends to be a very inward, introspective movement that focuses on learning to love your body no matter what state it is in. But I hope we can also start looking at the fat liberation movement, which focuses on addressing the systemic mistreatment and negative attitudes towards fat bodies and how that affects people of all sizes.
Body positivity was something I really needed as a child, but it was something I felt excluded from because it was so often overtaken by diet culture. I often heard “it’s okay to love yourself, as long as you’re healthy”, and “lose the weight because you love yourself and want to be healthy,” which just made me feel under-qualified to receive love until I started living a certain way.
If you could change one thing about society’s view on body image, what would it be?
I would end the positive framing of fad diets like juice detoxes and intermittent fasting.
What is your view on the body image messages that media outlets carry?
I am not a fan, but I find it infuriating when people say, “That’s just the way media is.” The media wasn’t birthed from Mother Earth’s womb declaring, “Why yes, time to drop those Lunar New Year kilograms!” We made it that way and we can unmake it.
What is it like being in an industry where people are image-conscious?
One thing I don’t go into detail in the show is that I don’t send in my CV for camera work anymore. I think local TV and film companies still see “plus-sized” as straight-sized people who just happen to not be super thin. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen casting calls ask for “big-sized” or “chubby” people, and when the video comes out, I have to squint to find the plus-size character they were casting for because they cast people who are of a similar size to the rest of the cast.
How can we better discuss weight and health in a world obsessed with thinness?
I believe it involves rewiring our brains to think of health not as something defined by a certain image, but as a collection of behaviours, all of which are unhealthy or healthy in their own ways. This, for example, shifts us away from the stereotype that a person suffering from an eating disorder needs to look a certain way, and instead asks that we consider behaviours which may indicate that one has the illness.
Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.