” People don’t want to see a fat girl up there jigglin and dancing” – Sharde
Ask any woman that’s ever tried to eek out a living in the music industry and she’ll tell you. When you walk into a meeting, the first thing anyone pays attention to is your “look” – not your voice, not your performance, just your look. Most importantly, they’re looking at your body. And in particular, they want to know if it’s marketable. Hollywood starlets of the studio system faced the same scrutiny during film’s golden era. In the 1990’s, Kate Moss reached the pinnacle of skinny glamour with her representation of “heroin chic”. While the film, television, and fashion industries seem to have embraced a more realistic portrayal of the female form in recent years, the music industry still has some catching up to do. I sit down with some of music’s most promising independent artists to get their take, and try to get to the bottom of what – and especially whom – is being left out of the mainstream.
” I suffered a lot from my body image.” – Sharde
Enter Shardé – a true diva in every sense of the mononym. Hailing from mid-city Los Angeles, she’s no stranger to hustle. After leaving her career as a math and science instructor two years ago to pursue music full-time, she’s toured with Kelly Price, released a full-length album, a music video, competed on NBC’s “The Winner Is”, Tru TV’s “Killer Karaoke”, and is about to drop yet another music video for her song “Can I Get a Witness”. She’s got a lot going on, but I wanted to know what kept her from hitting music so hard in the past.
Mid eyebrow tint, she welcomes me into her home, glowing. In her cozy apartment, we settle in to her oversized couches and she shared her experiences. “I suffered a lot from body image, up until about 28. I was very self-conscious. I struggled with it hard – always dieting, always trying to find a new way to lose weight, and that is kind of what held me back from doing music. People don’t want to see a fat girl up there jiggling and dancing and loving herself .There have been times where I’ve gone up on stage with my crop top on and people laughed .I spent years hiding.”
Instantly, I know her story all too well – the common tale of a burgeoning songstress with everything to offer the industry, silenced by the one thing that female artists avoid more than auto-tune: fat. Recalling one of her first ever auditions for a music producer, she tells me about Mike. “He pulls up in this powder blue Rolls Royce I think, with the top down … He was a paraplegic. He didn’t have use of his legs, but he was driving. I didn’t find that out until years later that he had some kind of special thing to help him drive. His bodyguard put him on his back and carried him in the house, and he sat him on the couch, then got up and went outside. I remember [Mike] said, ‘The first thing we need to do is tackle this weight’. And he also said, ‘You need to really stop eating breads and cheeses’.” She was 14. “When I got home I cried. I remember crying because I’m like, ‘I’m never going to pursue music because I’m always going to be fat’. I don’t even think I sang for him.”
Shardé swings her long, bedazzled braids back and forth as she speaks – exuding a confidence that many solo artists only wish they had. So where did it all come from? What changed? And how? “Instagram changed my whole life. It changed how I looked at myself. When I started following all these big, beautiful girls, and then I would hashtag ‘BigBeautifulGirls’ under my pictures and people would repost me . What had I been doing with my life for the past 15 years?. Let me be fat and fabulous then!” And it didn’t take long for that kind of empowerment to show up in her work. In her music video for “Adjust My Crown” she bares it all for the camera – wearing the tiniest little body suit, and covered head to toe in gold body paint. “When I told my director I wanted that scene she was like ‘Why?’ I said, because [I’ve] never seen a fat girl painted in body paint before.”
I look at Shardé for a moment, taking in the gravity of what she’d just said. It dawns on both of us that the problem, partially, is exposure. To normalize anything, to get people to accept it, you have to put it in their face. The problem in the music world is that there just aren’t enough big women being seen. For the most part we’re still in the shadows – singing the backgrounds and even working the soundboards. There’s still so few of us in the spotlight, and it’s up to us to keep putting ourselves out there, showing other women how bigger bodies hold no less talent, and are no less marketable than thinner ones. “It changed my voice. My entire vocal range changed when I stopped [caring] about how I looked on stage. I can hit notes now and sing strongly like I’ve never sung before. You have to practice confidence . You don’t just wake up one day and become confidant. It’s a daily practice.” I’d say, at least in her case, that practice is certainly paying off.
“Adjust My Crown” Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA5_zr-i-E0
“Can I Get a Witness” on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/sharde_sangz/can-i-get-a-witness
Shardé on Instagram: @shardesangz
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