Big Girl Costuming Woes. Or “Why don’t you try a Galabaya?”

Me, wearing a galabaya for a Saidi number

Me, wearing a galabaya for a Saidi number

It is funny that I write this right after Tito’s video, in a way, but the whole simple costume issue does have a darker side. I’ve mentioned this in the past, and a recent conversation kind of brought it back. We are dancers, we are curvy. Or generously proportioned, fluffy, plus sized, big and beautiful… pick your descriptor (or euphemism) of choice, or call us simply fat if you want to get pelted with coin belts. But it’s a fact that we require bigger sizes than what is usually out there, not just on performance clothing but on practice clothing too. Warning, what follows is a rant, and a such, it’s overly emotional, and not exactly reasonable in places. I’ll cover possible solutions/alternatives in a coming piece, so you don’t get the impression that it is all negative.

The other day I was checking a supposed “plus sizes” website for sports gear. Specifically sports bra, because we need to keep the girls in place, right? Wrong! Apparently someone thinks that usage for sports bra stops at 38″ chest. Fine, I can wear a standard bra with moulded cups and underwires that has really not been designed to deal with the massive amounts of sweat I produce while exercising, and which will soak it up and irritate the skin instead of evaporating it. Let’s find pants (trousers). Wait, they are all stopping at size 20 except the ones that have massive amounts of fleece inside and are really lovely to wear in winter and use to curl on the sofa with woollen socks and a book. Or the plastic-feeling fabric that are an abomination that makes me want to throw the whole production into a big bonfire. But nothing that would be realistic to use for, you know, actual exercising. If I want anything I can move and sweat in, I need to look for fashion cotton leggings. Which are comfy, although they do wear off rather quickly. But if we can’t even manage to get decent workout clothes without a struggle, what happens when it comes to performing? The answer, more often than not, is “oh dear”.

Back to the title… if you do Cabaret style, and you are a curvy, generous size, you’ve probably heard this often enough. And the worst is that it’s said in a well meaning, if ultimately misguided, manner. You’ve asked for a fustan raqs, they offer you a galabaya instead, because it’s all they have for your size, which is the equivalent of you asking for an evening gown and being told to have an office suit instead. And the galabaya might not even fit right, it might open at the sides, but instead of giving you options to make it work, they might try to ignore your concerns, or make it look as if that’s the best you can do. But you know what? You deserve better.

Let me tell you a story. I’ve had a vendor -whom I won’t name for obvious reasons- who tried to sell me a two piece costume which was obviously WAY too small for me. The skirt was so tight, the side split was opening like an inverted V. And yet the vendor *insisted* that it was absolutely wonderful and suited me perfectly. Erm, nope. There was a costume that was more in lines of what I wanted. I could afford it. It was offered to my friend instead, who had asked for a Galabaya, of all things. The costume *did* fit me, as I found later, and looks rather good on me. But for some reason, the vendor didn’t even think of offering that one to me. I was fat, fatter than my friend, and the impression I ended having was that I was *not* expected to manage to look good in a costume anyway, so why even try to offer me something suitable? Everything that kept coming out was more and more horrible, and two pieces because “of course” I should wear that regardless, and I got the distinct impression I was being subtly punished for being big. I was even told that I just had no imagination to think of the possibilities of the altered minuscule 2 pieces. The vendor went as far as to call the seamstress to try to force a sale on me. The seamstress was so visibly uncomfortable with the whole process that was just walking away from me constantly, and privately, when the vendor wasn’t around, agreed with me that something skimming my body would be more flattering. Needless to say, I am avoiding the vendor now, and no, I didn’t get the costume that fitted.

Another vendor, another place. Again, I asked for that elusive fustan raqs. All my troupemates had one, or could borrow one. I felt like I was standing out in a weird manner. I already had my galabaya. I wrote to a vendor that worked with a designer I liked, mentioned I had three Galabayas from her already. “Well, we can take your measurements, but custom is always difficult… why don’t you get a Galabaya?”. Because of course, Galabayas, which should be used for specific styles, are the same as the evening gowns, and after saying I already had two, I could do with one more. And again, later on, at yet another place, with yet another person… I was wearing a galabaya at the time, my friend was wearing another one of mine (ironic, really) and this vendor said the magic words again… “why don’t you get a galabaya?” “because I already have 3, my friend is wearing one of mine too, so enough to lend, and I really would like something more in line with the rest of the troupe”. “Well, but a galabaya would be more suitable…”

I wanted to scream “More suitable for WHAT”. I didn’t, because there was no point. This person didn’t know. This person didn’t have to go through several people basically ignoring requests and trying to flog shapeless crap on me because “it’s the only stuff we have”. This person hadn’t been the one wearing the different costume at a parade or performance. This person didn’t have their judgement constantly coming under questioning from vendors, because apparently if you’re big, it also means that you’re clueless about what suits you, including shape and colour, or what your costume wardrobe is missing. This person hadn’t been on the receiving end of a very subtle but persistent notion that the big girl shouldn’t try to get the nicer pieces at all, that we don’t deserve to wear the prettier stuff, that we can only do the drab mass produced, shapeless pieces, or the “student sets”.

Of course, I ended making my own. Not because I truly wanted to, but because I saw no other way out. I still get a few weird looks every now and then from some snobs who apparently think that real Czech crystal embroidered and strung by me in a more subtle manner is no match for plastic beading done in Egypt, but sod it. Still, every time there’s a performance coming, I go into a small panic because I fear there will be a “special request” for something that I will obviously not be able to find off the peg for myself, and there won’t be enough time -or suitable materials- for me to make. I *hate* that I end coming up pushy because I want to ensure that I am looking my best, simply because I believe confidence is a huge part of performing, and I can’t feel confident if my costume is shoddily or hastily done or not fitting properly. But how can you ever convey how this feels to someone that has never had this issue?

The truth is, we all want to feel great dancing, we all want to feel fabulous, and wearing crap is not going to help you get there. Go out, get what you want. And if you can’t find it, make it. You should feel like a goddess, not like a scrapheap, and you should never, ever, let a vendor dictate on how you feel based on their stock. Give yourself permission to look great!
And leave that galabaya for the folk pieces.

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