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The Tale of Two Sandras

A year out of theatre school, my agent at the time called me with “the part I was born to play.” Having been obese nearly my whole life, I’ve heard every insult and joke; I even made a few great ones myself. I would love to tell you that the script didn’t faze me, but it broke my heart.

CourtneyCourtney Lyons on How the Industry Views Obesity

A year out of theatre school, my agent at the time called me with “the part I was born to play.” Having been obese nearly my whole life, I’ve heard every insult and joke; I even made a few great ones myself. I would love to tell you that the script didn’t faze me, but it broke my heart.

The part was a guest star role in a medical drama: an obese young girl whose water breaks in a McDonalds. She was unaware that she was six months pregnant, despite five miscarriages. Upon arriving at the hospital, without any test or physical examination, the doctors determined that she was having heart trouble. They struggled with touching her because she was so fat it repulsed them. The majority of the show debated whether she was worth saving at all. The doctors felt she was killing herself anyway through her lifestyle. In every scene she was eating Cheetos or McDonalds. Her IQ seemed below functioning, and she was rarely able to form sentences. The only redeeming feature this character had was that she died at the end of the show.

I was the first girl to audition. After leaving the room the director voiced what I should have, had I not been so desperate for an audition; the script is disgusting, and offensive. So it was rewritten and I left that casting office with less hope that the industry could see me as a human being.

A few months later a really beautiful thing happened. I was cast in my first professional theatre role, as a character that had many similarities to the girl in the medical drama. In fact, they even shared the same name: Sandra. They were both obese, lower class, slow, but the second Sandra had redemption. Despite being the fat girl we love to judge, you could see that she was a human being, trying her best to find happiness in the circumstances she lived in. You felt for her, rooted for her, even saw a bit of yourself in her. Most importantly you judged her less after hearing her story.

For me, The Tale of Two Sandras presents two paths we as story tellers can take. The first Sandra, the medical drama Sandra, is the path we are on. It is the television of beautiful people. It is the television we produce about white men with a little token color. It is television where women are underrepresented sex objects. Television where fat people, ugly people, poor people, disabled people are seen less and as less worthy. It is television where we take the limiting stereotypes of our society and perpetuate them.

But there is another option. A road less traveled: a second Sandra, television where the characters on the screen resemble the people on our subway cars. Television about what we have in common; television that shows how race, appearance, size, gender or sexual orientation doesn’t inhibit our desire to love and be loved. This is television that helps us judge less and understand more.

When our stories resemble us, we recognize ourselves in the stories. Then when the show is over and we turn off the TV, what we saw stays with us. We realize that we are the heroes, and we are the villains. The people we will meet and have met are heroes and villains too. We approach each other with empathy. We spend less energy judging each other and more energy understanding and solving the problems. We question the truth in stereotypes.

I’m no longer obese. Still big. I started losing weight even before the Sandras and I’m 100lbs lighter than I once was. Oddly enough, I haven’t found a huge change in my intelligence, financial status or drive from losing weight. People treat me better, like I’m more worthy of being saved; but I’m still me, just smaller.

Courtney is originally from Sault Ste Marie, and trained in the BFA in Acting programme from the University of Windsor. She also spent a summer training at the Moscow Art Theatre. On camera credits include Joleene in the feature film The Calling, and Molly in the upcoming TV show 24 HOUR RENTAL. Past theatre credits include Sandra in Crush, Schmitz in The Fire Raisers, Helen in Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, Nurse Guinness in Shaw’s Heartbreak House, and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

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There is 1 comment

  • Carrie says:

    Awesome Courtney. xo

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