- Lisa Riley: The surprise Strictly Come Dancing contender

Lisa Riley: The surprise Strictly Come Dancing contender

Sofeminine writer Alison Potter speaks out about Strictly Come Dancing constestant Lisa Riley who has been ridiculed by the press because of her size...

Hopefully I wasn't the only one who bristled at the Daily Mail's headline which read, "Strictly Come Dancing: Lisa Riley is proof you can be chunky and funky".

The 36-year-old, who first found fame as Emmerdale’s chubby Mandy Dingle, was initially disregarded as this year’s joke act, following in the dance steps of another less-than-svelte Strictly Coming Dancing star Ann Widdecombe.

To make matters even worse, prior to the show several blogs joked about the "Emmerwhale" actress and what they assumed would be nothing more than a "fat and funny" comedy appearance.

Yes Lisa Riley is on the larger size of the scale, but the widespread disbelief at her impressive dancing ability left me with many troubling questions.

Why did everyone appear to be so shocked that a women of her size could not only maneouver herself around a dancefloor, but also display rhythm, poise, and a sense of humour about her weight.

The Emmerdale actress herself even seem surprised that she did so well, gushing to The Sun's TV Biz after her much-praised first dance: "I never thought I would get the reaction I did out there.”

Following her comment The Sun patronisingly wrote: "Now she hopes her success will encourage other 'big girls' to embrace life, whatever their size."

They seemed to imply that women of a similar size (18 stone if reports are accurate) were confined to their homes as if someone of such a weight was unable to enjoy a normal life of social occasions and other general life experiences.

In her own words, Lisa told The Telegraph that “fat people can dance”, and it's precisely this attitude that gets my back up.

Why is it expected that fat people can't dance? I'm a size 8/10 yet I have rhythm issues and have humiliatingly tried to follow a Tracy Anderson dance DVD, only to find I have neither the rhythm, nor the dancing aptitude to pick up the moves.

I have similarly slim friends who have the same issue and dread nothing more than taking to the dance floor on a night out.

Since when does weight dictate rhythm, dancing ability and how quickly you're able to pick up dance steps?

In a world where being skinny is goal for many women, it would seem that ladies who are size 14 and above are severely limited in terms of their perceived abilities.

Describing Lisa's Cha Cha Cha with partner Robin Winsor, the Daily Mail said: "She proved to the nation not just that big hips can move, but that fat women can be elegant — and sexy."

It seems outrageous to assert that "fat" women are inelegant and sexy, just as it would be absurd to say that "skinny" women are unable to enjoy food.

Why in terms of weight is it considered okay, and even the norm, to judge people and comment on their expected talents and capabilities?

While there are plenty of other competitors in this year's series of Strictly (Fearne Britton, Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen), Lisa is the only contestant whose weight has been focused on and embarrassingly given a general estimation.

The Daily Mail commended the soap star for being "free of inhibitions” despite being the series’ "token fatty".

It’s this kind of condescending, generalising language which frankly makes me sad to be a woman and a writer.
When will people stop this detrimental knee-jerk reaction of pigeon-holing each other? It doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever.

As the Mail so rightly says, "it was the moves that mattered, not her dress size," but
then why is column inch after column inch being dedicated to how this 'larger than the average actress' managed to be light on her feet?

For the record I will be rooting for Lisa Riley to walk away with the Strictly Come Dancing 2012 Mirror Ball trophy, but it certainly won’t be because she is a fat woman overcoming the perceived ‘difficulties’ of her size.

It will be for the fact that she is a lovely person, a talented dancer and a generally hard grafter.

So can everyone give the size thing a rest? Please?

Has it annoyed you how Lisa Riley has been treated in the press?
Yes - just leave her alone. She's more than just a dress size.
No - it's to be expected.


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