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Photo courtesy Jessica Belbin // Calgary Fringe Festival

Calgary Fringe Festival 2021: Final Sale. No Exchanges, No Refunds

By Rachneet Randhawa, August 25 2021—

Final Sale. No Exchanges, No refunds is a one-woman show and the real-life story of Jessica Belbin, starring herself. It tells the tale of her everyday struggles with weight and chronic illness. She discusses her personal issues with her body and engages in an intimate dialogue of what it’s like to be in a world where her body is constantly in the limelight of being judged and shamed — thanks to our mainstream media and superficial standards of beauty.

She utilizes both comedy and tragedy as she endeavours to find peace and solace with her body, especially her struggles with the temptress of junk food that we all face. This is a staunch tale with lighthearted lessons about our bodies and how we treat them day in and day out and what they have to tell us.

Jessica Belbin is a born and raised Calgarian with comedy and storytelling in her soul. She had performed long-form improv with the Kinkonauts for 14 years. She graduated from Mount Royal College and is currently a Corporate Improv Facilitator using improv games to build people’s human skills. Final Sale. No Exchanges, No Refunds is Belbin’s first official one-woman show and explores how if we accepted our bodies, we could more readily accept each other.  

The performance adopts the form of a monologue in which Belbin speaks of her woes and struggles with her body image while using comedic relief. She begins her spiel ranting about how ludicrous the majority mindset is towards our understanding and acceptance of beauty — that we’re all just attracted to eye candy and unrealistic expectations of body shapes and sizes. For instance, Belbin considers how a woman’s ideal body is one with no curves and is thin, size 0 and white. Anything else is just considered unattractive. 

She begins to shed light on her personal experience with a handsome doctor she felt intimidated by after having to go for multiple medical examinations. Belbin’s real-life job is as a stand-in patient for medical doctors and students looking to try out different techniques and tactics for her body. So she was almost exasperated in expressing how frustrating it is for so-called professionals to graze your body without truly understanding how some people are in constant struggle with themselves.

Belbin then becomes nostalgic and shares her experiences with obesity growing up as a kid. When she was about 13-years-old, her parents divorced and she had to relocate with her mother which sent her into a spiral of depression and anxiety. Her only solace was her after-school binge eating sessions where she would snack on potato chips, chocolate bars and Coca-Cola, whilst plopping herself in front of the TV. In the throes of her isolation is where she began to develop the early signs of what would eventually become an eating disorder. 

Belbin sheepishly admitted that it’s not only a dirty habit like any other but also an addiction most of us that struggle with are too embarrassed to admit. That is, we become our own worst enemies when we binge eat. Belbin continues to speak of being a misfit as a teenager in grade school and because of her weight and body size she was shamed as looking older than she actually was.

She then shared one of her vulnerable and personal experiences wherein late junior high during her convocation she was groped by an older man, which further led her to feel shameful about her body at that age. A lot of her trauma as a youth funnelled into what later became a full-fledged eating disorder.

She spoke of the stale advice from loved ones, dieting fads like Keto or vegan and weight loss clinics galore. Although with good intentions, her family and friends did not truly understand her and the difficulties she encountered constantly being so-called “fat.” This was all layered in-between her journey of self-discovery — Belbin started to read self-help books that were helping to change her perspective of accepting herself for who she was. 

Later in her adult years and during college around 2007-2008, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She recalls having pain in her anus, in playful humour of course, and brushing the problem off for so long that it became an absolute ruckus. Although she has a history of Chrone’s disease in her family, it turns out that the disease didn’t work to her advantage of causing her to lose pounds at a rapid rate which you would typically expect with Crohn’s.

She hilariously joked about the absurdity of it all but also gave the audience the real talk of how the disease eats away at your body and how one can never truly enjoy a meal to full satisfaction because of the lack of digestion and absorption of nutrients. Belbin also goes back and forth on the addictive allure of junk food — especially the chips aisle in supermarkets — and how it’s actually emotionally distraught for her to travel there, always having to give herself pep talks. 

Then comes the dramatically fun part of the play as the theatre lights dim to a sharp ruby red where Belbin does an almost sexy lap dance with chips, soda and chocolate that somehow sensually ties it back to a lustful experience with the body. As the climax of the play is approached we round off with one last aside of self-love and self-care.

Belbin shares that to truly live in the present moment, we have to become mindful and let go and become detached — the only way we can express unconditional love towards us and those around us is to be grateful for the birds chirping, notice the sunlight shining down on us, the wind in our hair or a child’s laughter.  

Belbin may not find a permanent solution to some of her body image issues, but she can allow herself the privilege to focus on the profoundness of simply being alive and human. After her final dialogue, there’s a quick turnaround in a random dance party where the audience — both in-person and live stream — are encouraged to get up and boogie. 

The sad reality is that we don’t take body consciousness and eating disorders as seriously as other addictions. But from my perspective, the norms are changing with big-name brands being called out for their unreal model standards, with plus-size models like Ashley Graham and amazing workshops like The Body Project being offered by campuses including by our very own Women’s Resource Centre at the University of Calgary. I would definitely recommend checking this play out whether you struggle with body image or not. You may know somebody that does.

Virtual live streams and on-demand are available until Aug 28 on the Calgary Fringe website. With a fun variety of selections on themes from body image to puppetry, magic shows and even spoken word poetry, you are bound to find a show or two you’ll enjoy.

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