Worth Your Weight

May 30, 2008

Profile in Beauty: Melissa Herndon, the Dragon Lady

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 11:06 pm

I’ve mentioned a bit here and there that I’m a pool fan — both playing and spectating. I usually only watch the Women’s Professional Billiard Association (WPBA) matches.

I have a love/hate relationship with the “sexy woman pool player” stereotype. It’s sometimes fun to use that image against a male opponent. He’s expecting me to care more about my image than my game, and I try to make him pay for that assumption. On the other hand, I hate that top female pool players are expected not only to be great at the game but also eye candy. When the male players are at the top of their sport (and I do mean pretty much every sport), that’s more than enough to catapult them to the greatest heights of celebrity and adulation. Their looks don’t often, if ever, play into it.

So while I first learned to play pool 14 years ago, my interest only resurfaced about seven months ago. That’s also when I started watching a lot of matches and getting familiar with the women on the pro tour. This reemergence of my passion for pool happened a few months after my introduction to the fat acceptance movement.

Naturally, depiction of varied body types was on my mind a lot at the time — and still is actually. So I would often analyze what I was watching or reading to see just who was represented. I wondered if the paucity of larger pro (female) pool players — the men have a few — had to do with the reluctance of fat people to “put themselves out there,” especially after having learned well and early the 100 percent wrong lesson that we should hide out of sight, or if it involved the “sexy lady pool shark” image.

In any case, the first female pool player I saw to have a body type even somewhat similar to mine was Melissa Herndon. Her nickname is the Dragon Lady.


After the first match I saw Melissa play, I couldn’t wait to get online and learn more about her. Granted, I do this with most of the players, but still … Anyway, I don’t know if I’m looking in the wrong places or what, but there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of info on many of the women pool players. What I can find is often a teense outdated by like two or three years.

The most exhaustive article I’ve found so far on Melissa is from Billiards Digest December 2004 issue. Here’s how it opens:

We not only ruined Melissa Herndon’s day but her month, if not her year. We made her hurt. We made her cry. We made her angry. In fact, to this day, the thought of what we did to her last Christmas still eats at her. We made her so sick that she even fleetingly considered quitting the professional tour.

All because we didn’t ask her to pose for our special “Twelve Days of Christmas” spread.

“Here I am working my butt off, trying to get better, move up in the rankings, and for what?'” says the fiery 31-year-old Californian known as The Dragon Lady. “Why am I wasting my time? Why should I work harder to get anywhere on this tour when I’m always going to be ignored? I mean, you guys asked everybody in the Top 16 to be in that issue but me. And I know why – because I’m a big girl. Because I don’t fit the stereotype for beautiful in this society. So I get passed over for girls who, quote unquote, look better, who are thinner.”

“I’m so tired of it,” she adds with a huge sigh. “God, it’s so frustrating. We’re so body conscious it’s brutal. But that’s the way the world works, I guess.”

After I read that, I was all, “Ooh, I like! She’s got spunk.” Could she be a budding size activist? A bit further down:

Herndon is a Botticelli girl stuck in an Anna Kournikova world: a thick, big-boned, exceedingly busty 5-foot-6. “You know,” she says, “there was a time when the skinny girls were considered ugly.” Though she won’t divulge her weight or dress size*, she concedes, “I do carry some extra weight.” It’s in her genes, she says, explaining that her mom is on the large size and the women on her father’s side tend to grow big with age.

It’s looking like I may have a new heroine in my two biggest interests right now: pool and fat acceptance.

And now she’s dropping the poundage and reshaping her body, working out three times a week for an hour-and-a-half each day and altering her starchy diet. “I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost, because I don’t weigh myself, but I can definitely see that my body is changing,” she says. “But the best thing is, I think it’s helping me mentally, developing a stronger focus.” She says she doesn’t have any goals for weight loss. “I just want to be in better shape and healthier. I don’t want to have a heart attack when I’m 50.”

OK, so there are some kinks to work out. The “extra weight” idea, the skinny can be ugly talk, the fallacy that extra weight leads to heart attacks, especially at a young age. But otherwise, sounds like HAES to me.

The above pic is from the first match I ever saw Melissa play. IIRC, she’s willing the cue ball to stop where it is so she’ll have good position on the next object ball.

It’s nice seeing myself in some way represented in the sport I love. I’m looking forward to watching more of Melissa on the WPBA tour. I’d also enjoy more up-to-date information about her and the other players. One thing I’m always researching about them is the origins of their nicknames. From the same Billiards Digest article as above:

She became The Dragon Lady long before she joined the professional tour, when she was just a local hotshot in Southern California. She got the tag partly because of her Asian heritage (she’s half-Japanese), partly because of her hellish temperament in those days. “I’d get so mad when playing at times that people would say it looked like I was breathing fire,” she says. What made the nickname stick was a friend painting a ferocious-looking green-and-yellow dragon taking a bite out of a 9 ball on her light gray cue case. The image fit her perfectly.

If you landed here searching for Jennifer Barretta, I’m glad you stuck around to read about Melissa. Here’s a pic of the two with Tiffany Nelson:

Personally, I’d like to see a photo spread of Melissa in a bikini or at a pool table — just not simultaneously**. Are you listening, FHM?

*[I can totally relate to this, btw. It’s one of the thorns in my fat-positive side. I was raised not to reveal my weight practically on pain of death. In fact, until relatively recently I never openly acknowledged or talked about being fat and/or dieting (if I happened to be on one). It was like a secret to me. Ironic, huh? Being fat is a fairly open secret. “Love, and a cough, are not concealed.” Add fat to the list.]

**[Because that makes nosensewhatsofrickingever.]



  1. Rock ON!! I learned how to play in High School and, pretty much, used it as a way to maintain sanity during college. Since then it’s been a game here and there on a bar room table with friends but that’s about it. I don’t think I even have my cue anymore (Now I’m gonna have to check storage ; ). And I so RARELY catch it on the Sports networks. It’s not Extreme MotoCross-Crochet where the riders either finish with a nice afghan or end up in traction so I’m sure that’s why it don’t get a whole lot of coverage. But it’s great to see a larger lady, not only placing amongst the top rank but challenging the attitudes in a sport that’s still got it’s head stuck in a 1950’esque malecentric mode. Gonna have to see of I can track down a tournament on TV while I’m looking for that Cue. Hopefully I’ll catch the Dragon Lady in action.

    Comment by Bilt4Cmfrt — May 31, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  2. ESPN Classic plays pool at least once a day pretty much. Until recently, they actually had the women’s matches on every day. Now they’re showing men’s matches from 1993. Yawn ;)

    I think regular ESPN is going to have a women’s tournament on June 28th. I hope Melissa is in the semi-finals/finals. Then she’ll be on TV.

    Comment by worthyourweight — May 31, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

  3. Just one question I had…did they ever talk about pool in that interview? I cannot imagine them going on and on about a male player’s appearance in that way. Is the size of his package up for discussion as much as her bustiness? Would a male pool player feel compelled to explain the reasons for his body type?

    I guess that’s 3 questions. :)

    Comment by Kristie — May 31, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  4. Excellent questions!

    Comment by worthyourweight — May 31, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

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