Lisa Lampanelli in ‘Stuffed.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
By Matthew Wexler
If you’ve been even remotely tapped into recent lifestyle trends, you might think that women of all shapes and sizes are finally getting a fair shake. Model Ashley Graham is unapologetically curvy and has graced the pages of Vogue, Sports Illustrated, and the cover of New York magazine, just to name a few. Rain Dove—the firefighter turned model—has also been making waves, referred to by some as androgynous or genderqueer. But if you’re an everyday woman, going about your business in what appears to be an increasingly misogynistic world, those glasses might not be rose-colored after all.
Comedian Lisa Lampanelli, often known as “the queen of mean,” is finally peeling back the layers of pathos that have been fodder for decades of insult jokes to pen and perform in Stuffed. Subtitled “a big-boned, skinny-ass, all-you-can-laugh new play,” the piece premiered in the fall of 2016 at New York City’s WP Theatre. It has now been remounted with a new cast (minus Lampanelli, who reprises her role) and the same director (Jackson Gay).
Lampanelli’s script relies on five archetypes: Lisa (played by Lampanelli), a chronic overeater/dieter; Marty (Lauren Ann Brickman), a plus-size woman with inner confidence; Britney (Eden Malyn), a recovering bulimic/anorexic; and Katey (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a “skinny” woman who can’t gain weight. This sets up the convention for she said/she said, where the women challenge and dispute who has it worse. As you might imagine, camaraderie and support win out at the end of the day, but not before we learn a bit more about each woman and the contributing factors to her relationship with body image.
The action shifts between various forms of theatricality. At times, we see Lampanelli (outfitted in a bedazzled pink jumpsuit) with a microphone, working the West Side Theatre like one of her club acts where she knows how to play a room and land a punch line. There are other portions—mostly too long—that function as a sort of stream of consciousness where the women directly address the audience. Played at a decibel level befitting a packed bar during happy hour, I wished the women would dial it back. We’d still get the point in spades.
Other creative snapshots more closely hit the mark as Lampanelli puts her cast in various SNL-like scenarios such as a game show called “Save the Bacon” and a “Laugh-In”-like scene where the women pop out of Antje Ellermann’s creative 1950s-inspired kitchenette set.
Like the title, Lampanelli stuffs an awful lot into the 90-minute intermissionless play, allowing each character the opportunity to tell her story, revealing the complexities of their relationships to food. The young ensemble rarely delivers the same gravitas or biting humor as their leading lady, though Brickman as Lampanelli’s morbidly obese boyfriend Frank offers the evening’s most touching moments.
Stuffed will appeal to many women who can identify with the complex relationship between food and body image, as well as men who are willing to recognize and admit that we’re often judged by an easier standard than our female counterparts. I hope I am one of them.
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Tickets on sale through February 18, 2018
In an effort to better understand how the women in my own life process these issues, I reached out to three of the sharpest writers I know to share their experiences regarding food and body image. This is what they had to say:
Winnie McCroy, Women’s Editor, EDGE Media Network
The problem of women and body image in the media has only gotten worse over time, forcing women to embark on a constant struggle to be thinner, sexier, and younger. Even little girls are pressured to have a ‘perfect’ body, sexualizing them before they even hit puberty, and setting them up for a lifetime of disappointment. Need proof? Back in the 50s, Marilyn Monroe, with her size 12 figure and sexy curves, was the sex symbol of her day. Now, she would be seen as plus-sized.
Make no mistake: every woman, no matter how happy she is with herself, deals with body image issues. The pressure to have the ‘perfect’ figure permeates the media, and women’s bodies are used to sell everything, to the point where a nearly naked woman in an advertisement is ignored, while an actual woman breastfeeding her baby in public has to be legislated and separated. In the past, there used to be less pressure to conform to patriarchal standards of beauty within the lesbian community. But these days, lesbians must also be Portia de Rossi-perfect, and young gay men are one of the fastest rising group suffering from poor body image and eating disorders.
Fighting against the prevalent social norms can get exhausting. You work out, you eat right, but in the end, we all become old. And if society has told us anything, it’s that the only thing worse than being a fat woman is being an old woman. So at the end of the day, you just have to learn how to be happy with your body and love yourself how you are.
Kelsy Chauvin, Writer and Photographer
I have a skewed perspective mainly because I live in New York City, one of the world’s most progressive societies, and one of the only places on earth where women can be themselves in all their glory—and beautifully self-possessed in any shape and form. This is a city that lets a woman build her own confidence, and fortunately, I’m able to take my positive sense of self with me when I go to other places where women are “kept in their place” (like in my home state of Louisiana).
But overall, no, I think women overall face the ultimate struggle for self-love: They need to work harder at supporting each other, rather than judging/reducing each other. From what I know of the world, American women have it the hardest because ours is such an extremely superficial society, and that’s ingrained in girls from the moment their able to look at a TV screen or billboard.
It’s strange because my family never pressured me about my body, and yet I naturally came by a negative impression of my body. It’s taken me years to dig myself out of that, despite being surrounded by positive role models and supportive friends and family. I’ve always been the curvy side, and I’m sure being made fun of for my shape starting in elementary school right through today doesn’t help. But I have another body-image wrinkle because I look rather androgynous, and am a fairly tall woman with short hair and broad shoulders — so I’m often mistaken for a man and am called “sir” on a regular (sometimes daily) basis. It’s shocking and kind of horrifying that even in New York City in 2017, a shop clerk can still make that sort of assumption based on a haircut. Some days it bothers me more than others, but regardless I’m mostly irked because I’m buxom too, and that should compensate for my man-size height.
I used to take ugly body-image comments way harder, but now that I’m over 40, stupid remarks only bug me if I’m in a male-dominated environment, or if I’m generally in a sensitive headspace. Sometimes I feel strong enough to not be bothered at all. Sadly, when I’m feeling blue, I can go down the negative body-image spiral—it’s only in these recent, older/wiser years that I’ve become more resilient at separating stupid external-world garbage from the beauty that is me, inside and out.
Jill Gleeson, Independent Journalist and Memoirist
We’re starting to see plus-size models occasionally—very occasionally—on the runway and in commercials, but those instances are way too few and far between. Until we stop routinely sending the message that beauty only equates to thinness (and youth and whiteness and traditional femininity and on and one), women are going to continue hating their bodies and themselves for not measuring up.
The truly sick thing is, it’s a standard no can measure up to. Even the models are airbrushed to appear more “perfect.” We have a long way to go and until we get there, women will pay the price with diseases like anorexia and by carving themselves up in pursuit of an ideal that, when you come right down to it, isn’t so ideaPreview (opens in a new window)l anyway. After all, isn’t perfection boring?
My weight has gone up and down my entire life—and with it my self-esteem. Now, instead of spending my time dieting, I spend my time training, in the pursuit of not necessarily beauty, but strength. Besides, all the best people know that curves (and muscles, too) are sexy.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at www.wexlerwrites.com.