Fat Girls Dance founder Cathleen Meredith served up a serious dose of fearlessness earlier this year as the premiere face of Dove and Shonda Rhimes’ Real Beauty film series. And, for good reason, too. She is as powerful and honest and inspiring as they come. Refusing to be fat-shamed, the playwright and author created a movement via a one-take, 52-week dance challenge that is part body positivity, part kick-ass dance moves and all love.
Cathleen first started Fat Girls Dance in August 2016 as a study on plus size women dancing. It has since grown into a collective of women from around the world who are not only changing public perceptions about what “big” girls can do, but also changing how women, in general, view themselves. The commitment has been real. They haven’t missed a single performance challenge over the past 52 weeks. Now, they are gearing up for an epic two-day finale celebration featuring dance classes, panels, giveaways and, of course, a dance performance.
Here, we chat with Cathleen on how her definition of beauty has evolved since first starting the group and what she hopes everyone takes away from this groundbreaking experience.
Hype Hair: You have called Fat Girls Dance a “radical act of fearlessness.”. How has that evolved from day one to now?
Cathleen Meredith: The idea of fearlessness has evolved and changed for me since I started Fat Girls Dance because I don’t believe I really conceptualized that in the tangible, touchable way. I’ve always had a fearless mentality and if anything really scared me I was going to do it. But, I feel Fat Girls Dance forced me to encounter that daily and I had never done that before. Encountering acts of fearlessness on the regular basis is habit-forming. Fearlessness is now in my lungs, in the air I breathe. It’s in my sore feet. It’s in my muscles. It’s in my sweaty hair. Fearlessness is vibrating off of me as opposed to before it was just something I believed in and occasionally delved into. Now it’s who I am completely. Fat Girls Dance gave me that. I’m not really afraid of anything anymore (short of spiders and what not! (Laughs)/ Everything else, things that come against me I can say ‘Please, I dance, every week do you know how hard that is?
HH: How hard has that been?
CM: Because we made the commitment to do one take every time — and do the dance no matter what and with the choreography, I have to rehearse almost every single day. I have to learn the dances and then give them to the girls. So, daily you encounter something you think you can’t do and then you prove yourself wrong, again and again and again. That builds excellence as a habit instead of being an idea or a theory. Even if the dance isn’t excellent, the ability to keep going is. It’s power creating.
HH: How has that affected the collective?
CM: I think the fearlessness that Fat Girls Dance breeds has created some really amazing, powerful strong women. I’ve been watching the videos. I look at us holistically, as a group, we are getting better, our dances look better. We look more energized — people who used to look down now look up. We have become more cohesive and we understand each other better. Now, we are a tribe. We really are a sisterhood.