Despite progress in body positivity movement, celebrities struggle against body-shaming

April 29, 2019 — by Kaitlyn Tsai

Over the past decade, the body positivity movement has become increasingly prevalent. Myriads of posts on Instagram and Facebook document people’s journeys to accepting their bodies. In 2014, fashion magazine Seventeen stopped photoshopping its models after 14-year-old Julia Bluhm organized a petition that demanded at least one unaltered photo spread per issue.

Despite this progress, many celebrities still face issues with body-shaming, both in the workplace and online. Grammy-nominated artist Bebe Rexha posted a video on her Instagram in which she described how several designers refused to dress her for the Grammy’s because they thought her size, U.S. 6-8, was too large.

“If a size 6-8 is too big, then I don't know what to tell you," Rexha said in the video. “I don't want to wear your dresses ‘cause that's crazy.”

In an even more extreme case, a recent Facebook post from the group Superficial Doll, which advocates for women being skinny, sparked controversy by congratulating model Barbara Palvin on becoming a “plus-size” Victoria’s Secret angel. Palvin, however, is a U.S. size 2-4, far from even the modeling industry’s stricter definition of plus-size.

Naturally, many Facebook users grew concerned with the messages the group sent by labeling Palvin as  plus-sized. “If she is plus-size, I’m truck size,” one user commented, while another added, “Please don’t advertise this as plus size because it’s an awful example to young girls.”

Not only does Palvin’s case highlight the increasingly unreasonable expectations women face in the entertainment industry, but it also emphasizes the deep-rooted bias against curvier women.

Actress and comedian Aidy Bryant faced this issue when she was repeatedly cast in Hollywood roles for fat women. Bryant released her series “Shrill,” on March 15, modeling the show after writer Lindy West’s memoir. The series stars Bryant as a reporter who learns to face criticisms about her oversize body and holds connections to Bryant’s personal experiences.

Bryant spent much of her adolescence and early 20s fearing judgment and struggling to accept her body, she told NPR “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross in an interview. When she was selected prom queen in high school, all she could focus on was the way her arms looked in her strapless dress.

Although she faced little harassment from her coworkers on “Saturday Night Live,” Bryant still battled with a plethora of snide remarks and subtle forms of discrimination from strangers and designers alike. On one occasion, a stranger grabbed her wrist and remarked that Bryant was “actually very small underneath.” On another, she watched as her slimmer castmates on “S.N.L.” tried various dress options for a photoshoot while Bryant stared at the two offered for her, both of which “looked like something that the mother of the bride would wear.”

“I just felt like this isn't fair, and it's not my fault,” Bryant told Gross. “I came here, I did my job, I'm funny. I wrote my way to this position, and now a stylist or a magazine or whoever is responsible — it's their job to dress me, and dress me appropriately for my age.”

Adding onto these frustrations, despite her acclaimed “Saturday Night Live” impersonations of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Bryant often battled with waves of both intentionally and unintentionally snide comments online.

“Fifty percent of them were liberal people being like, ‘You are too gorgeous to play that fat, ugly pig,’” Bryant said in a New York Times interview. “The rest were conservative people saying, ‘You are a fat, ugly pig who should not be playing that strong, independent woman.’”

After reading West’s memoir “Shrill,” which recounted West’s own experiences as an overweight woman, Bryant said that she finally felt like someone understood her struggles. In co-writing the series with West, Bryant hoped to provide an almost autobiographical look into the injustices overweight women face in the workplace. Ultimately, both writers aimed to use “Shrill” to inspire other women like them to learn to accept their bodies.

“This is not a show about someone struggling to lose weight,” West said in the same New York Times article. “At no point in the course of this series will the protagonist step on a scale and look down and sigh. It’s about her shrugging off those expectations.”

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