Like many of us, plus-size lifestyle blogger Rosey Blair spent a lot of time revisiting her favorite old movies during lockdown.
One thing she was reminded of during all those rewatches? How limited and cliche Hollywood’s portrayal of plus-size people was in the ’90s and early aughts: In TV and film, fat girls were bullied, clueless about sex and big fans of Twinkies.
What’s more, most “fat” characters weren’t even fat. At most, a lot of the actors simply had round faces. (Think: Brittany Murphy in “Clueless” and Ginnifer Goodwin in “Mona Lisa Smile.”)
“I’ve been plus size my entire life, so have an almost photographic memory of every time a plus-size character was featured,” Blair, 32, told HuffPost recently. “As I rewatched these movies, though, I began to notice that actors I remembered as plus-size ― Ashleigh Ashton Moore in ‘Now and Then,’ Melanie Lynskey in ‘Ever After’ ― weren’t plus size.”
Rewatching the movies also reminded Blair of bygone episodes of “Entertainment Tonight,” where actresses like Renee Zellweger detailed the “enormous weight gain” they had to endure for movies like “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
“I started looking up other examples and I was just so fed up that I immediately made a TikTok calling it out because I wanted to see if other people were impacted by this,” the lifestyle blogger said. “Turns out, many of them were.”
So much so that in recent months, Blair’s videos have gone viral. In some of her TikToks she rips all the movies and TV shows that had non-fat actors playing fat people.
Take, for instance, the aforementioned Chrissy from “Now and Then,” an adorable character that Blair wants to remind you was categorically not fat (though she still would have been adorable if she were):
Or going way back in TV history, Ethel from “I Love Lucy,” a character whose weight was often the butt of the joke:
More recently, people are talking about Blair’s videos that address how back in the day, magazines and gossip blogs had us believing certain celebrities were fat when they weren’t fat at all.
Take, for example, Kate Winslet ― a woman who looked gobsmackingly gorgeous in “Titanic” but still got criticized for her weight by the media and the Hollywood powers-that-be:
As Blair says in her TikTok, “there was a time in Hollywood when this woman was laughed at in casting rooms — and referred to as ‘Kate Weighs-A-Lot.’ And compared to the heroin-chic models and actresses at the time, Kate was noticeably larger than what was popular. Joan Rivers even said that they both could have fit on that raft if Kate was five pounds lighter.”
In another video, Blair points out how Jessica Simpson was all-out pitied and called overweight in 2009, when she stepped out at an event wearing a pair of size 25 jeans. (In her memoir, the singer writes that she was “about 120 pounds” when the notorious “chili cookoff” photos were taken.)
In this particular video, Blair implicates the viewer, too.
“I want you to sit back and think about how you really felt when you saw these pictures,” she said. “When I saw that pic of Jessica [as a teen] I thought, ‘Oh, boy, she’s disgusting.’ Because I was manipulated by the media.”
But “how is this disgusting?” Blair asks in the clip. “This is freaking stunning.You want to know how big she was here? She was a size four. Four.”
Blair asks her viewers to get introspective about the body ideals they absorbed from the media, but does so without judgment. After all, these expectations hurt us, too ― many of us are still overly critical when we look at our bodies in the mirror today. In the caption of one of her TikTok videos, Blair joked she’s “helping heal millennials one tik tok at a time.”
“When magazines post salacious photos comparing beach bodies, they’re not ‘punching up’ on a group of privileged celebrities, they’re punching down on everyone reading.”
– Rosey Blair, a lifestyle blogger and TikToker
With the Kate Winslet example, for instance, Blair told HuffPost she distinctly remembers feeling thrilled that the actress playing the romantic interest of the “cutest boy in the world” but wasn’t rail thin.
As a little girl, she finally felt represented on-screen ― even though, as Blair belabors, Winslet wasn’t plus size. When the media started scrutinizing Winslet for her weight, it hurt by proxy. That experience still happens today, when celebrities like Selena Gomez are called out by gossip rags for having the audacity to wear an ill-fitting bathing suits to the beach in private. (That’s another moment Blair has featured on her TikTok account.)
“When magazines post salacious photos comparing beach bodies, they’re not ‘punching up’ on a group of privileged celebrities, they’re punching down on everyone reading,” Blair said.
But it’s not just the media who’s to blame. In one video, Blair points out how quick people on social media were to lambast Lady Gaga when the popstar wore a crop top during her 2017 Super Bowl performance, in spite of not having washboard abs.
2017 wasn’t that long ago. While the media may be increasingly aware that body shaming is bad for the brand, many of us are still more than happy to stand in as gatekeepers of the same rigid beauty standards.
“I think that the reaction to the Gaga Super Bowl performance shows that there’s a culture of explicit misogyny,” Blair said. “Gaga isn’t for cisgendered straight male consumption; sure, she exudes sexual prowess, but she represents the avant garde, the eccentric and LGBTQ visibility. And to have that all brought into an arena of very traditional masculinity like the Super Bowl was disruptive.”
Gaga’s slight deviation from the “expected” pop star body ideal intimidated people, especially men. Men couldn’t admit that they were unsettled, so Blair thinks they defaulted to comments about her body.
“Someone left a comment on one of my videos with this Naomi Wolf quote that I think it says it all,” Blair told us. “‘A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience … Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.’”
Jess Sprengle, a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, thinks that tracks here. Policing famous women’s bodies might as well be considered one of the great American pastimes at this point.
“In the U.S., we’ve been conditioned to believe so many toxic perspectives about bodies,” Sprengle told HuffPost. “We often feel entitled to speak about other people’s adherence to those standards, even when we don’t know them and have no access to their health information or anything about their personal lives.”
As she explained, “Fatphobic conditioning has left many people pursuing unattainable standards and being angry when anyone deviates from that course, even as minutely as Lady Gaga did in 2017.”
Clearly, we’ve internalized some harmful messages thanks to the media’s framing of weight. Here’s how to undo some of it.
The media is getting more tactful ― or maybe just more subliminal ― in the way it talks about women’s bodies, but we have agency here, too. We don’t have to wait for anyone to “do better.” We can look elsewhere.
If you’re a social media user, Sprengle recommends diversifying your feeds. Be mindful of how many people you follow that fit the new, hard-to-attain body ideal: slim, fit and Kardashian-esque. Click unfollow on influencers who are little too keen to celebrate weight loss and those who push diet pills and fit tea.
In their place, follow therapists, dietitians and personal trainers who offer positive outlooks on weight: the accounts The Wellful, Lauren Leavell Fitness and Laura Iu, an anti-diet dietician, are all great places to start.
“Follow folks of all different shapes, sizes, races, genders, orientations, abilities,” Sprengle said. “Follow people like this plus-size lifestyle blogger who are calling out the B.S.!”
Expand your reading list, too; make sure it includes works that address ongoing issues with fatphobia and beauty ideals in our culture. Sprengle recommends “The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women,” by the aforementioned Naomi Wolf, as well as Sabrina Strings’ “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.”
As for Blair, she thinks one of the most powerful things women can do is realize that the negative feelings they have about their bodies probably didn’t originate with them at all.
“The best and most heartening comments I’ve gotten are from people realizing that their feelings about their bodies have been corrupted by irrelevant, outside entities,” Blair said.
She also really enjoys thinking about how her videos give people a chance to celebrate these famous women’s beauty and talent in hindsight.
“I’m sure these celebrities had very few people to turn to who were encouraging them at the time of these takedowns, and in some small way, I think the discourse occurring in the comments is a healing one.”