Uncategorized Feb 24, 2024
When you see me again, feel free to praise how strong and alert I seem (assuming that I do!). But please don’t compliment me on how svelte I have become.
I’ve lost at least 30 pounds due to this illness. I weigh less now than in nearly 30 years. The loss was rapid and destabilizing. Much of it happened while bedridden in the hospital, so when I was finally able to walk, it actually felt like I was moving someone else’s body around. I begin chemotherapy next week, which may mean ongoing vigilance to keep my weight up.
The weight loss is not the most significant alteration that my body (aka my physical instrument) has experienced so far as a consequence of cancer and treatment. I’ve also undergone three abdominal surgeries that impact the way my breathing anatomy responds—once the area is all healed up, it will nevertheless be in very different condition.
I’ll address breath function more in future posts, but today I’d like to talk about the weight loss. While the relationship between significant weight loss and singing is something that I have talked and written about with some frequency over the years, now I get to experience the impact firsthand.
I still can’t breathe to capacity or vocalize very much, so it remains to be seen how my evolving dimensions will impact the way my voice responds. But I can make a couple of observations up front:
  • This version of my body does not and cannot function the way the previous incarnation functioned. I need to find out how the current version produces efficient vocal sound, and build on that. If instead I fixate on making the same sounds I was able to make before this happened, not only would I fail, but I would also tie myself up in knots trying.
  • I’m having a complicated reaction to getting smaller.
It has been my observation that, when a singer experiences dramatic changes to their body composition and/or structure, they generally don’t anticipate it having a dramatic impact on the way their voice functions. When it does, as often happens, their response may very well be to try to keep making the same sounds they had been making before, while hoping that nobody notes any differences.
Given the persistent ableism of the professional music world, singers are justifiably concerned about being stigmatized for health issues. They may feel that their continued success depends on hiding or downplaying an affliction or surgery, then jumping right back in the saddle with all possible haste. While their well-being and artistry depends on taking some time to heal and adjust, a sense of urgency and secrecy can incline them to instead cover for any physical weaknesses or changes in whatever way seems most expedient—i.e., by developing compensations that ultimately turn out to be fatiguing and unsustainable.
Given the persistent and baseless anti-fat bias of our culture, singers often feel tremendous pressure to evoke dramatic changes in their body composition and/or structure. This leads them to pursue strategies to modify their appearances without giving much (or any) thought to the way that the changes they evoke in their physical instruments will cause those instruments to function differently.
I practice fitness training because I am very interested in helping singers condition their physical instruments to function as well as possible. Voice lessons necessarily focus almost entirely on helping singers coordinate their vocal anatomy, but it's so much easier to coordinate anatomy that has been well-conditioned. For example, alleviating chronic tightness and improving flexibility in a singer’s abdomen facilitates taking a deeper, lower breath—much more effectively than just telling them to take a deeper, lower breath.
When I first began writing and lecturing about this more than twenty years ago, singer fitness was a tough sell. My generation of singers and teachers will remember that fitness carried perhaps even greater a stigma than fatness—gifted singers were thought to have been born with extremely special instruments, whose structures must not be tampered with in any way.
While singer fitness now gets a much better rap, I’m afraid the emphasis remains more on thinness and glamour than on conditioning the body to breathe, phonate, and stabilize as well as possible. A fitness regimen that focuses on thinness and glamour may yield some benefits for vocal function, but it may also yield some negative impact for vocal function. The goals cherished by most of the people you’ll find working out at the gym have to do with appearance rather than function, so when there are functional gains, they’re kind of like happy side effects.
Allow me to be very clear: I would never say that one’s aesthetics don’t matter! A performer’s look is, after all, an inextricable component of their artistry. What it comes down to for me is, are you cultivating an appearance that reflects who you are, how you like to express yourself, and how you like to move? Or are you trying to meet a perceived cultural standard, in order to raise the odds that some lookist industry asshole will find you appealing? I personally believe we can’t do both, because anything we do, physically or vocally, in the pursuit of external validation, compromises our artistry, including our own enjoyment of it.
Which brings me to the complicated reaction I am having to getting smaller.
I don’t know how my body wants to be now. I was previously so accustomed to being able to train and manipulate my body in order to achieve whatever I want to accomplish and express, physically and vocally. Meanwhile, my body also became host to a cancerous tumor that developed silently over as much as decade* before I became alerted to its presence. I can’t know how it might have been affecting my physical structure and function along the way.
Now I need to find out how my body wants to be, post-surgeries, adapting to the ways that treatment and recovery will cause it to evolve. I need to allow this experience to continue changing my relationship with my body. I believe it already has, and for the better.
I had thought that I was no longer judging my body for how it looks and what it can do. Now that it looks and functions very differently, I can see that I am not entirely free of the toxic cultural conditioning that we all get blasted with. For example, is smaller good or bad? The culture says skinny is good; my doctors say rapid extreme weight loss is bad. But what does my body itself have to say on the topic?
What I need to do, is listen to the signals I am getting from my body as it heals and adapts: eat when I’m hungry, move more as I feel able to, etc. Yet some of the temptation remains, to second-guess things like how much to eat, and to push myself to move more, go farther and faster, so I can turn my body into what I imagine it is “supposed” to be like, ideally swiftly.
It’s possible to have a complicated reaction to something, and still make healthy, well-informed decisions while processing that reaction. Where my weight, shape, and wellness are concerned, the fewer the compliments on how svelte I have become, the easier that will be for me to manage 🙏
*If you are an adult between the ages of 45 and 75, please get screened for colorectal cancer. I myself did not. Had I gone in for a colonoscopy as recommended, it is quite possible that I would have caught this sooner.

Thank you for reading, and please keep in touch! If you would like to contribute to my medical expenses and support my ongoing recovery, please do so through the GoFundMe campaign that has been created on my behalf.

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