Voices: Stand-up comedy has completely changed the way I view my body

·5-min read
I wonder how many women are held back by the notion that doing something like comedy means being looked at and judged and compared? (Jordan Gray)
I wonder how many women are held back by the notion that doing something like comedy means being looked at and judged and compared? (Jordan Gray)

I don’t know when it started, but I feel like I’ve always been aware of my weight. From pounding the step machine for hours a day in the run-up to my school prom, through my “difficult” spell in uni (subsisting on vodka and tins of sweetcorn), to a mercifully brief dabbling with prescription slimming pills lifted from my mother’s cupboard (with ingredients from the amphetamine family – be still, my racing heart), doing everything from dieting clubs and militant gym twice or three times a day, and purging when I feel I’ve overeaten.

The mood in my brain over the last two decades has swung wildly between Beyoncé-like affirmations of “girl, you own this!” to the dark cocktail hour of the soul that is the cabbage soup diet. All with an underlying pathological fear of bread that I have never quite shifted since Dr Atkins ruined food for everyone back in the early Noughties.

You wouldn’t guess this about me as I am not thin, and I never really have been – apart from when I was very ill in university. Disordered eating isn’t just the domain of visual extremes; it’s a rich vein that runs through a lot of women (and men) like me who grew up in the Nineties, an era where thin was always seen as better.

We had to contend with mantras such as Kate Moss’s infamous “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, the bizarrely restrictive Special K diet, Slimfast and the so-called “circle of shame” in certain women’s magazines. We have had it hammered into us for years that our whole worth is tied up in our size, have had bizarre deprivation efforts such as “the grapefruit diet” pushed onto us, and weight-loss lauded and recommended.

While we’re getting a lot better at understanding that you are worth more than your weight, we’re still not there yet. I went to the doctor just before lockdown to check for a thyroid problem that is hereditary in my family, yet before a single test was done I was asked if I had considered WeightWatchers. Most women over a size 14 will have a story like this. It reduces your whole view of yourself to your weight.

Which is why it’s extraordinary I have ended up in stand-up comedy, doing something that requires people to make quick judgements of you while you stand before them on stage.

I’m inviting people’s judgement and somehow having to trust that what I have to say – that my personality – will come across stronger than anyone’s view on my size.

I’m having to accept that people will take photos of me and put them up on social media – and I know that that is a good thing, because it means someone has enjoyed my performance. I have had to watch videos of myself, even the ones at terrible angles that are cruellest to my body. But a surprising thing has happened in this process.

I’ve started noticing things about myself: how much fun I have doing stand-up; how many ridiculous expressions I can call out to articulate a point. I have also fallen in love with how I can influence people’s moods, and I’m galvanised by how many women will come up to me at the end, delighted to see someone like them on the line-up and entertaining the idea that they could do it too.

I wonder how many women (and not just women – this is just a female perspective) are held back by the notion that doing something like comedy means being looked at and judged and compared?

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I’m now at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time and have performed my first shows. It’s a massive deal for me, not only because I’m doing shows I’ve been working on for two years, but also because for possibly the first time in my life I’ve not responded to a big life event by putting myself on a restrictive diet.

It has crossed my mind more times than I like to admit, but I’ve batted it away because it is just not as important as making sure I’m funny and entertaining and have the time and headspace to support my friends.

Edinburgh is a really unique stressor – it’s one of the scariest, most high-pressure situations you can voluntarily put yourself through. It’s a huge privilege to take a few weeks off my normal life to do it, but the stakes are high: you’re competing against thousands of talented peers to win over an audience.

But one thing is for sure: whatever happens, I now know that my value has nothing to do with my size. I’m happy to take up the space I take up now and not put the life I want to live out of reach in the mistaken belief that I need to be thin enough to deserve it.

Vix Leyton will be performing her solo show Pedestrianand hosting “Comedy Arcade” at the Edinburgh Fringe from 6 to 28 August

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