thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

An Open Letter to Amber Riley

In body politics, Dancing With the Stars, gender on September 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

Dear Amber Riley,

I have loved you since the first episode of Glee. Your talent, your presence, and your charisma–and Mercedes’ compassion–have long made Mercedes one of my favorite characters on Glee. Then, I watched the opening episode of Dancing With the Stars, Season 17 and realized that you are more amazing that I even knew (and check out the Langston Hughes reference in the video. The best.).

Firstly, your dance. Hot. I aspire to move with that kind of agility, presence, and general panache. You looked like you have been dancing your whole life. You are, it turns out, a triple threat–even though Mercedes needed dance boot camp on Glee, you clearly do not.

Secondly–and really most importantly–thank you for not telling America that you were dancing to lose weight. When plus-size ladies from Kirstie Alley to Ricki Lake have gone on Dancing With the Stars, their narratives have primarily centered on weight loss. Winning the mirrorball trophy often seems secondary to slimming down. Losing weight, according to the show, is key to feeling sexy again, reminding people watching at home that only people who look a certain way are supposed to feel attractive.

That’s why it was so refreshing when you looked into the camera and said you were here to show girls like you how to move and be healthy and beautiful just as you are.

You’ve said something similar before in Marie Claire, talking about your character on Glee: “I also never had her insecurities about weight […] but I love that now I get to show girls how to be comfortable with their bodies.” Thanks for saying it then and saying it now.

Thirdly, your victory dance after you got your scores during week one. Do it all the time. I am rooting for you.

A huge fan!

Phoebe B.

PS I loved your jive and your chemistry with Derek is amazing.

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