Q&A with Sarah Potenza: Having a Positive Body Image When You Aren't Stick Thin

Q&A with Sarah Potenza: Having a Positive Body Image When You Aren't Stick Thin

The Voice finalist Sarah Potenza knew early on that she was different because of her size. In her new music video "Monster," she talks about the reality of what bigger women go through and how she goes about embracing herself, just as she is.

1. Your song "Monster" is about your acceptance of not only the word itself, but of your body as well. When and how did you reach this place of comfort and acceptance?

I grew up in a town full of beautiful, slender Italian American girls who look like their beautiful slender Italian American moms. I look like my dad, think Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. I used to hate that. I used to look at other women’s slender upper arms and thighs and wonder what it would feel like to be that small, that feminine, that effortlessly attractive. I remember the exact moment I realized I was “big boned.” I was at my friend’s house, we went sledding, and my pants got wet, so I borrowed her pants. But her pants didn’t fit me, her mom’s pants didn’t fit me… her dads pants, I managed to get them on, but they were tight. I was 12. All those years, I suspected something was different about me, but now I know exactly what it was. I was big. Bigger then the other girls in my class, bigger then their moms, almost bigger then their dads. By the time I was in the 6thgrade, my feet were a size 10 and that afternoon, it dawned on me… oh, I’m different. No wonder none of the boys want to hold my hand. I have man hands!! I am a monster!

People ask me all the time about my experience on The Voice. And honestly, the singing was easy, the wardrobe fittings were not. There was a giant room of clothes, racks and racks of the greatest shit you could ever want, and again water, water everywhere… Small, Medium, large. There was a half a rack of XL, and barley anything over a 12 and even that stuff was basically Bee Arthur’s leftovers.

Then one night, one of the other contestants came to my hotel room for advice. She told me that she wished she could be like me. I was surprised because she was a VERY beautiful girl, and in my eyes she had it all. I was jealous of her because she was hot, hotter then I had ever been, a kind of hot that I would never know. Then she said, she wished she had my confidence, and she went on to say, I know I am only here because of what I look like, and she cried. She told me that she didn’t trust her voice and it was causing her terrible stage fright. Deep inside she didn’t believe she was good enough to be here, she thought she was chosen because of what she looked like, not who she was or what she had to offer. And in fact, this was the way she felt about a lot of things in her life. To tell you the truth, she probably had been chosen for a lot of things that way over the years. And after a while, she didn’t believe that her talent alone was enough.

Suddenly, I was no longer jealous of her. I realized that my size was one of the greatest things about me. For all the pain it had caused me, it had set me free, too. I realized that I had never once used my looks to open any door, I had never been offered preferential treatment because I was attractive. Not even once. I had used my talents, my personality to open doors. And that had resulted in a kind of confidence that a skinny girl could envy. I knew I was there because I could sing, and I believed that I was good enough to be there. Sitting next to this tiny beautiful women, I did feel like a monster, but in a whole new way. I was the one who was being envied, I was the one whose advice was worth seeking, I had something that this girl wanted. I felt big and strong, and because of my journey, I was covered in the most beautifully interesting scars, and I had the confidence to show them off, badges of honor. I didn’t ever question my talent, because I was a monster, and I knew it.

2. What can the media and beauty industry do in order to stop perpetuating the stigma that thinness defines beauty? 

They need to stop with this idea that thinner is better. I recently heard this segment on 'This American Life' called 'Tell me I'm Fat' and there was this concept introduced in the piece called 'coming out as fat'. Basically it's the idea of saying I am not going on a diet, and my weight is not something that I think about changing. I think that the media and the beauty industry have this idea that we should all want to be thin, but what if we don't? What if we like ourselves, why is that wrong? The industry is starting to wake up and realize that there's an undeserved market here, and that we have money too. I buy tons of clothes and makeup. I make a living on stage, and I hate wearing the same thing twice. I love glam rock inspired clothing. But there's not a Free People or Top Shop for girls my size. And that bums me out. I think that Torrid has done an amazing job of providing us with a wide selection of beautiful clothing for women sizes 10-30, but I would love to see some really high end, boutique fashions in my size!

3. What piece of advice would you give to young girls and women who have been belittled for and struggled with their weight?

Go out and get the clothes that you want. Treat yourself as if you are a super model, go to Torrid and spend some money on yourself because you are worth it. Get your hair and nails done. Me personally, I love to go to MAC make-up stores, they always treat me like a queen! Look your best and know that the only person you are competing with in this world, is yourself. Be the best YOU that you can be because you will never be the best someone else. Love yourself now, not some future you that is thinner. I am a size 16, and I workout. I like cardio because I am a singer, so it makes me feel good, and it makes my lungs able to do what I ask of them. I don't do it because I have this fantasy that I will be thin and that will make me feel better. I feel great just the way I am.

This piece was also featured on Chicago Woman Magazine's website. You can find it here.

To see Sarah Potenza's video of Monster, click here.

Follow Sarah @sarahpotenza

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  • Thanks for this post. It's an issue I have struggled with nearly all my life.

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    I'm happy you read this, Kathy. I hope Sarah's words go on to help more women love themselves, just the way they are. You're perfect and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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