Check out this article making the rounds from Jennifer Rivera on the Huffington Post:
Shouldn’t You Be Fatter? (And Other Opera Singer Myths)
If I’m in a good mood, I’m one of those people who chats with strangers. Shop clerks, waiters, baristas, shoe salesmen, you name it — if I’m feeling friendly, I’ll start a conversation with any of them about the weather or what I’m buying or my favorite foods. And if the conversation lasts longer than five seconds, the question, “and what to you do for a living?” inevitably gets asked of me. And nine times out of 10, the person I’m chatting with, when learning that I’m an opera singer replies with confusion, “Aren’t you too skinny/small/thin to be an opera singer? Shouldn’t you be fatter?”
The question troubles me for a couple of reasons. I don’t blame them for thinking it, mind you — when opera singers are parodied in cartoons or commercials, they are generally large and wearing horns, and Pavarotti, the most famous opera singer from the past century, was not exactly a size 0. What bothers me about the question is the implication, that because everybody assumes that opera singers are fat, and because it’s still okay to openly mock and disregard overweight people in our society, there is really no reason to even imagine what it means to actually be an opera singer. If somebody tells you they are a violinist, you can probably imagine what they do, sitting there in an orchestra playing away, even if you’ve never been to a symphony concert. You know what it means to be a painter even if you don’t “get” modern abstract art, and when you meet a ballet dancer, you can certainly picture them onstage with their bun and their toe shoes. You don’t say to a chef when you meet them, “shouldn’t you be fatter?” — even though they spend all day cooking and tasting food, and frankly, they have every reason to be fat (and there are plenty of examples of non-size-0 chefs such as Mario Batali and Ina Garten). But I think most Americans don’t really get a picture in their head when someone says they are an opera singer of what that means, exactly, so they equate the profession with the extremes they have seen parodied, or they’re just talking about one particular singer — the only one they’ve ever happened to see.
First of all, as a rule, opera singers are not fat. They come in all shapes and sizes, although lately, as the entertainment industry continues to whittle down the sizes of actors and models so much that drawing them as stick figures is actually quite representational, most famous opera singers are in fact quite thin and fit. Hot, even. Performing onstage can be a work out, and it helps if you’re in decent shape. But the fact that most people’s only association with opera singing is obesity suggests that we have a long way to go in educating people about what opera is, exactly, how it’s made, why it’s important, and why they should care.