I got heckled onstage for being fat. And it sucked.

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Brave New Workshop performer Lauren Anderson is used to rolling with whatever an audience member throws out.

Are you angry? Good. That makes me feel better. Not that I want you upset, but if that headline left you feeling the slightest outrage, at least I know you’re on my side. And that means a lot.

Allow me to fill in some blanks. I am a professional actor/improviser. Sometimes in my job we do corporate shows for various companies. This is how a lot of theaters are able to fund themselves. These gigs “keep the lights on.” Usually it’s pretty fun.

Needless to say, what the client wants, the client usually gets. And at this point in my career, I am pretty good at delivering.

So when we pulled two audience members from the crowd to help us in a scene, we thought it would be business as usual. They would say something silly (“olive loaf!”), or use corporate jargon (“Let’s put a pin in that!”), or be inside jokey (“Daryl couldn’t find the copier if he tried!”), and we then have to justify whatever they said and keep the scene going.

It’s a crowd-pleaser. I’ve done this type of thing literally thousands of times with no incident. Until this week.

The guy we pulled up decided to make a joke. About me. “Your ex-husband left you because you were too big.”

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Lauren Anderson says her new workout routine probably saved her from a breakdown after she was insulted.

The audience laughed and laughed. I stood there stunned. Over 150 people in a room laughing at me. And I just had to stand there and wait for them to stop.

The worst part was the trajectory of the laugh. It started off as shock and pity. Then the laugh moved to full-on guffawing, then decayed into a real, “Oooooo, you GOT HER!” Finally, I put my hands up to calm them down.

So what did I do? I continued the scene, because I’m a pro. I used the sentence and flipped it on its head. Masterful deflecting, if I do say so myself. And I got things back on track. I got the audience to get over it and laugh with me, instead of at me.

I am happy to report my bosses had my back. They told me no amount of money is worth treatment like that, and they would be talking with the client. They complimented me for staying professional, and said they would’ve been behind me if I’d decided to obliterate the guy instead.

Had it been another show in different circumstances, I might’ve. But I decided in the moment to play it safe. I stand by my decision. (I’ve daydreamed a few alternate scenarios since then.) Regardless, I was grateful to have the support.

But boy was I furious. Furious that some guy I’ve never met thought it was okay to comment on my body. That my body was something to be ridiculed. That this body is not worthy of love.

Not to mention that he himself was carrying extra weight. Like it’s okay for him, but not for me? And the audience wasn’t booing the guy either. Their oohing and ahhing meant making fun of someone for being “fat” still seems like an okay thing to do. What-in-the-actual — ?!

Joke’s on them though. Because they don’t know how much mental (let alone physical) work I’ve done. If this would’ve happened to me before I started working out, taking nutrition classes, and lifting weights at Solcana CrossFit and Wellness Center, I bet I would’ve been pretty hurt. I bet this would’ve knocked me out.

As the week went on, the incident started to gnaw at me like a sliver in my paw.

How dare he?! This slightly drunk guy trying to make his work buddies laugh, at my expense, probably didn’t give his comment another thought. And yet it was ruining my week.

I started to feel helpless. No matter how hard I work, there is always going to be some douche-canoe out there ready to thwart me and my efforts at every turn.

Not only do I live my life in a body that society can’t accept, it never lets me forget it. And the only time I can get reprieve is if I apologize for being this way, and act like I hate myself, or promise I’m working to change it.

I’m so sick of having to defend myself, and then prove that body love is possible, real, and not just lip-service. I have to fiercely protect it, and never waver. It’s friggin’ exhausting.

Later that week, I left my apartment and drove three blocks to the nearest Taco Bell, and ordered two full meals. You know when you order so much food they give you two sets of silverware? Yeah. That’s right.

I was going to self-destruct. Death by chalupa, and no one could stop me. If this is what America thinks of me, might as well give 'em what they want, right? What’s the point trying to be anything else? I gorged myself right there in the parking lot. I ate angrily. I ate without enjoyment. And I ate it all.

When I was done, I didn’t cry. I didn’t have some catharsis. I just sat there. Numb. What the hell just happened? After months and months of mindful eating, I thought this was behind me. My relationship to food had changed so much. But here we were again: eating to escape, to punish, to mollify.

When I finally came to my senses, I was even more angry that this one small incident could tip me over the edge.

The next morning I woke up, and despite a few more trips to the bathroom than usual, I felt okay. I knew what I had done. I had eaten to escape. I used that food like a drug. I knew it as it was happening, but it was even clearer in the daylight.

And I realized it’s not really me anymore.

I made my usual breakfast of a delicious egg scramble, and ate it intentionally. I was thankful for the real food. And as I ate I thought about the previous night. Yes, it was intense. But there was a time when that kind of ruinous behavior would’ve lasted for weeks, months even.

But it no longer gave me the relief I needed. Kinda like smoking a cigarette 10 years after quitting. You no longer crave the nicotine, so it just tastes gross.

That guy that heckled me will never know me: The one that falls down, but gets back up again. That keeps fighting. He’ll never see the glory of all this body can do. It’s hard to admit, but his words did hurt me. I think I got so mad because I didn’t want them to. But even though they hurt, I’m too damn strong for that.

And with that realization, I did a few baller bicep flexes in my full-length mirror. And I giggled.

Unlike that guy or the crowd, I wasn’t laughing at myself out of ridicule or cruelty. I was laughing because I felt happy.

For the first time in forever, I looked at myself and liked what I saw, flaws and all.

“Not bad Anderson,” I said out loud. “Who’s laughing now, sucka?”

 Lauren Anderson is a cast member with the Brave New Workshop theater in Minneapolis. This story originally appeared on a fitness diary blog she writes for Solcana Crossfit.


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