REGINA – A musical about weight discrimination in show business is stirring up a debate about fat suits in a Regina high school’s version of the play.
Tricia Leis (LEES) is upset that two teens who shared the lead role in Campbell Collegiate’s production of “Hairspray” had to wear special costumes to make them look bigger.
Leis says the choice only emphasizes society’s obsession with thinness and does nothing to show respect for all body shapes.
She says the role is great for plus-size girls and sends a positive message to young women who may be struggling with self-esteem.
“Hairspray” is about a girl named Tracy who gets rejected for a TV dance show because she’s overweight, but overcomes the odds to become a star.
The school says vocal ability and talent were used to pick who would get the role.
Terry Lazarou, a spokesperson for Regina Public Schools, said there was “never ever any intent of disrespect or irony or ridicule in the use of that suit.”
“The role was never acted in a disrespectful way. It was always done so very sensitively, respectfully, and with all of the intent that the original playwright John Waters had in representing the transformation, the pride and the ability of all people, regardless of size, to achieve their goals.”
Leis said at first she was happy the school was tackling a play with an important message, but believes it was wrong not to pick a girl with a body shape more appropriate for the role.
“These girls are forming their opinions of themselves, and being told there’s something wrong with them, so having this show come that was going to send this positive message and have this great role model – I was really excited about it.”
Her daughter, Morgan, is in Grade 10 and unsuccessfully auditioned for the part of Tracy. Leis said that’s not why she is upset and she would have been equally angry if Morgan had been chosen and asked to wear a padded costume.
“I would absolutely be offended by them trying to put my daughter or anybody in a fat suit. I find it repulsive,” she said.
“Something that we tried to point out to them was using a fat suit is pretty much the same as putting a white kid in blackface. Ironically, the fact that nobody recognizes (the suit) as offensive is part of the problem that people face.”
The play also has a racial component, which Leis said the school chose to highlight.
“They talked about how proud they were about this great message that they were sending out and how socially aware they were, while very obviously omitting any reference to the size issue.”
Lazarou said school diversity played a big part in deciding who would be assigned parts.
“Campbell is a very diverse school. We had students of all different races and backgrounds and origins playing a variety of roles in this.”