By Janet Conroy-Quirk, MSW
Bold continues its commitment to demanding justice and equality. We remain dedicated to providing a platform for the stories of Black voices and sharing advocacy resources. We also persevere in celebrating bodies that have been dismissed, with gratitude to the Black women who founded the Body Positivity movement. We are sharing this story as an acknowledgment of all the action and education that has made it possible for a magazine like ours to exist. Our work goes on, on many levels. Thanks for being here with us. We’ll keep being here for you.
About a year and a half ago, I participated in a YouTube video about size diversity. I represented the size 28’s of the world, and was happy with how I looked, and what I had to say. I was open about my body and vocal about my confidence.
The video had thousands of hits, and my friends and family loved it. But I made the mistake of visiting the comments section one night, and found…well, the usual. Unoriginal, abusive remarks; ignorant assumptions about my health; juvenile insults like “fat whale.” Nothing clever, nothing accurate. But there was one comment that really struck me. One woman had written, “I know I’m gonna get so much hate for this, but she looks like the Gungan King from “Star Wars.”
I googled it (sorry, I swear “Star Wars” is on my list to watch!) and, of course, it wasn’t a nice comparison. I remember feeling many emotions about being compared to a fictional “ugly” character. But what really bothered me was the way she prefaced her comment with: “I’m gonna get so much hate for this…”
This woman’s attempt to establish herself as the victim, before choosing to engage in the public abuse and humiliation of another human being, was outrageous. And yet, for those of us who live in bodies that are critiqued and judged every day, we know that her move probably worked. Fatphobia, Diet Culture, Food Morality- they’re all very closely protected by society. The individuals who worship these childish, racist, misogynistic structures are terrified of losing power. When they see a shift, or even a bit of empowerment from bodies that have been declared “wrong”, they lash out. Often they inhabit these bodies themselves, or have at some point. Other times, they’re people who profit from the flawed and vicious system of body insecurity. They know it’s not right, but they don’t have the strength to change their mindsets or behavior. And generally, it’s tolerated.
By now, many of you are aware of Amanda LaCount’s ”America’s Got Talent” performance on June 9. If you watched it, you saw a smart, beautiful, talented woman, who, at age 19, is already an inspiration to millions. Her resume includes credits many dancers never achieve.
Amanda stood on the AGT stage and told her story of resilience in the face of bodyshaming. She spoke of her mother’s dedication and sacrifice, tearing up in a genuine, endearing and brave way. And then she danced. She danced for every “no” she’s been given in life, for every nasty internet comment, and for every aspiring dancer watching at home. The audience went wild.
Then, Heidi Klum hit her buzzer, indicating a “no” vote regarding Amanda’s progression in the competition. Still, Amanda danced on, and finished her routine, to a crowd that was on its feet. A conversation then ensued. Sofia Vergara enthusiastically commented that she couldn’t take her eyes off the performance.
Klum, however, offered weak, conflicting feedback such as, “It got me bumping in my seat, but it’s not a million dollar act.” Interesting, given that later in the show, Klum DID NOT interrupt the act of a gentleman whose talent was ripping thirty T-shirts off his body in a minute. No, I’m not kidding. That, to Heidi Klum, was an act worth respectfully watching until the end. Apparently, she felt it was essential to watch someone destroy clothing for laughs amidst a global pandemic that has left millions unsure of how they’ll even afford a wardrobe. But a dancer who represents curvier, bigger individuals? No, no. That was simply not worth her time.
Some will say that’s how these competitions work, or employ the, “If ya can’t take criticism..” rhetoric. Amanda is a professional dancer who is well aware of how feedback and rejection work. We will never know what made Heidi Klum press her buzzer. What we do know is that the audience ended up clapping and shouting for Amanda, resulting in a change of mind for judge Howie Mandel, who reluctantly became a “yes”, along with Sofia Vergara and Simon Cowell. Cowell then talked to Amanda backstage, encouraging her and empowering her to continue in the next round. He noted her “joy was contagious.” The camera then returned to the judges’ table.
At that moment, Heidi Klum, a model who has walked on hundreds of runways and appeared before crowds of thousands, looked around at the audience, feigning fear, and stated, “It’s the scariest thing when you have like, thousands of people booing you.”
In case it’s not clear, she was referring to herself. She was alluding to thousands of people challenging her inadequately-explained interruption of Amanda’s performance, and their passion in advocating for a young woman with talent, intelligence and undeniable stage presence. Much like wading through the online comments about my YouTube video and finding the, “I’m gonna get so much hate for this” comment, this was the part of the story that really bothered me.
The “scariest thing.” No, Heidi. Boos? Boos are not the “scariest thing.” Not for anyone, but certainly not for a pampered judge on a hit TV show who is in no actual danger whatsoever.
Let’s summarize this. A 47 year- old supermodel who has been treated like an “angel” (or whatever the insipid, archaic titles Victoria’s Secret bestows upon their models are) for over 29 years tried to play the victim card because her judgment was questioned after she inexplicably tried to shut down an accomplished, exceptional 19 year-old dancer who dared to share her story of mistreatment and prejudice and then performed at a level far beyond many of her fellow competitors, including a guy who tore up clothing as entertainment. Wow.
The day after I read that Gungan King thing online in 2019, I attended Bold’s “Love Yourself” weekend. I wasn’t working for Bold yet, but had done some writing for them. Amanda LaCount was one of the panelists at the event. Later in the day, I found myself chatting with her and her mother, and I shared some of my recent online stress/harassment. They were both helpful, inspiring, and gave me very good advice on how to let it go, but defend myself when needed.
I chose to write this not just because I have tremendous respect for Amanda and her family, but because I have no patience for a world that says only certain bodies can dance, or act, or model. But I believe that world is slipping away. The protectors of the status quo will continue to make themselves the victims, and sniffle about being “scared” by the pushback. Because they know we’re on the edge of something great.
I’m not an expert on dancing, but I know what it looks like to effectively command a stage and captivate an audience. I also know what professionalism and leadership look like. Amanda went on with her performance despite Heidi Klum’s buzzer, which is all it was- noise. But that type of noise doesn’t really matter to people who are strong enough to tune it out.
Amanda LaCount tunes it out. She keeps on dancing, and yes, her joy IS contagious. Some might even call it “scary.”
Keep following us for more on Amanda’s AGT journey! She’ll be back on soon!