I felt heart sorry for Lisa Reilly, aka Mandy from Emmerdale when I heard she was to take part in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing.
In fact I believe I had a bit of a mini rant about how the producers of the show were obviously out to make a laughing stock of her. I believe they were setting her up as the token fat girl - the comedy act to be seen lumping around the stage in an ungracious fashion for the nation to laugh at over their Saturday night carry out.
My fear that she would make a show of herself had been heightened by reports that she was taking part in a role reversal of sorts when she would do the lifting, rather than be the liftee during her routine.
As a chubster myself, I suppose I felt embarrassed for her. I guessed she would be opening herself to a slew of comments from the less tolerant of the media and the general public about her appearance.
I know she is a big girl (excuse the pun) and more than able to stand up for herself. I’m also sure she is probably not all that worried that some woman in Derry who she has no knowledge of is fretting about her ego getting bruised. But for big girls everywhere I cringed a little - which is wrong of me.
You see I used to take dance classes once - a long time ago before I fell pregnant with the boy. I loved it - and my fitness levels soared as I attended class three times a week.
But when I had the boy, and my weight soared instead of my confidence, I couldn’t bring myself to get back on the dance floor. The main reason for my reluctance to get back on the floor was the fear that I would look like Undercover Elephant (children of the 70s, I hope you remember this cartoon) as I shimmied and cha-cha’ed.
I lived in fear of hearing those immortal lines, “Not bad, for a fat bird”, and for the most part of the last nine years, although a part of me still longs to dance I have hidden myself in corners afraid to draw attention to myself.
So, when I heard that Lisa Reilly was going to dance alongside a troupe of professional dancers and celebrity skinny minnies I wanted to beg her not to.
Now I’ll freely admit that I was being fattist - which is hypocritical of me given that I am indeed a fat person myself. But there was a part of me which dreaded the onslaught of the fat comments - the statements that she looked disgusting, or graceless. The ever present and seemingly acceptable demonisation of fat people which seems to pervade all corners of the media these days at times makes me feel physically sick. As does the over willingness of people to offer solutions - as if all fat people are stupid and don’t know how to actually lose weight. Sadly it’s just not that easy - not all the time anyway.
It’s hard when you look at yourself in the mirror every day and don’t like what you see and when that feeling is reinforced and rammed down your throat by keyboard warriors just dying to make people feel even worse about themselves, that is tough to take.
So it was with eyes slightly hidden behind my hands that I switched on Strictly Come Dancing to watch on Saturday night past.
What I witnessed in the three minutes she danced was a revelation. And I know this sounds rather over dramatic and probably a bit poncy but I actually cried as I watched. There she was, lighter on her feet than some of the contestants half her size, whizzing around the dance floor with an expression of unadulterated joy on her face.
She shimmied and she shook, she cha-cha’ed and twirled and not once during the performance did I think of her size. In fact the strength of her dancing, and the joy on her face was enough to ensure that her weight was the least important part of her performance. Quite simply it was thrilling. Technically, it was excellent and for entertainment value it was spot on.
For once the “fat bird” on Strictly was not forced to play it for laughs.
My inner sense of self-pride screamed with joy! I felt proud. If I still had that pair of stylish dance shoes in my possession I would have slipped my feet into them there and then and hit the dance floor with aplomb. I realised the joy is in the dance, not what other people think and that when it comes to being able to move around a dance floor, size really doesn’t matter. I look forward to seeing what she does next.