Grading on a curve: Mama Cass and the politics of shape


Recently I was watching one of those PBS nostalgia specials featuring performances by hit makers during the 1960s. I’ve never been a big fan of the Mamas and the Papas, but I’ll listen when a song comes on the radio. (Yes, I listen to oldies in my car.)

I remember being a kid when “Mama” Cass Elliot died and the news media mistakenly reported  that she choked on a ham sandwich. Unfortunately the public’s fixation on her weight overshadowed a much bigger phenomenon: her enormous pipes.  Even worse was how much attention her svelte and listless bandmate Michelle Phillips received, her tepid style often eclipsing Elliot’s superior vocals.

As I watched the old footage of the group performing, I was struck not only by Elliot’s technical prowess as a singer but also by her mojo. The woman had moves. Big, sexy moves. She basically blew away the waif like Phillips in every way.

But we live in a superficial world. And it was much worse back then. For all our pining (boomers, I’m talking to you) for that era, the truth is it was an unkind one in so many ways. I can’t help but wonder how different it might have been were Cass a young performer today.  Not only are curvy women more accepted than ever (BBW is the most searched porn term and no, it’s not considered a fetish) the talented ones are finding success without prejudice. Adele and Brittany Howard are great examples, but there are many others.

And had she been born into a more forgiving era, she wouldn’t have been forced to hide her body under those hideous muumuus. I like to think of Ms. Cass rockin’ an A-line dress with a thin, shiny belt and a pair of heels. I like to think of her belting it out, shaking her stuff and spreading all that delicious soul like butter on toast.


2 Comments to “Grading on a curve: Mama Cass and the politics of shape”

  1. Sad, but true. I grew up a chubby kid in the seventies and only became a “normal” weight in my teens (normal, meaning a regular sized person, not super skinny or overly large) and I remember being teased terribly and judged because of my weight. I can only slightly imagine what it was like for Cass Elliot.

    Loved the video, she DOES rock it out!

    • I’ve been in every category of body shape. Right now I’m fat. Whatever. I’m also “old.” Who cares? I’m over all of it. Yes, she does rock it in that video! 🙂

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