It’s quite frustrating that in today’s overabundant television landscape in which we have an endless number of shows on an evergrowing list of streaming services, there still aren’t many programs that celebrate - or even feature - plus-sized women. According to a study from the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education, the average American woman wears a size 16 or 18 (Christel & Dunn, 2017). Yet even on programs like Netflix’s Love Is Blind, a dating show that aims to take superficiality out of romance by not allowing contestants to see each other, the female contestants featured are predominantly thinner than the average American woman. Thankfully, Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, a new dance competition show hosted by the Grammy-award-winning singer, rebels against fatphobic stereotypes by showing plus-sized women in a triumphant light.
In the first minutes of the Amazon Prime series, Lizzo addresses some of the prejudice she experiences as an entertainer in a bigger body. She recalls, for example, how people will approach her after seeing her perform on stage and say, “I don’t know how you did that; I’m tired just looking at you.” While it might seem like a well-intentioned compliment, Lizzo is quick to point out that the same person likely wouldn’t make that same comment to Beyoncé, whose figure is widely accepted by today’s beauty standards. It’s clear that these people are underestimating Lizzo’s talent, energy and stamina simply because of her physicality. In order to combat the assumption that big girls can’t dance, the 33-year-old goes on a search to find plus-size backup dancers for her upcoming performance at Bonnaroo Musc Festival and her 2022 tour.
Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls is powerful because it treats each contestant as a three-dimensional human, with struggles, victories, and qualities that have nothing to do with weight.
There’s Crystal, a confident 24-year-old from Houston, Texas, who faced homelessness as a child and eventually found success as a dancer, performing in a music video for Megan Thee Stallion and on the MTV show Wild N’ Out. Jayla, a 23-year-old trans woman from Portland, Oregon, is tearfully vulnerable about her struggles with gender identity in one scene and assuredly shows off her impressive gymnastics skills in the next. Thanks to this thoughtful nuance, the contestants are no longer reduced to the anti-fat tropes often perpetuated in pop culture.
Research shows that the way that fat people are presented in media has an effect on how people feel about overweight beings in the real world. A recent article published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that “celebrity fat-shaming [in the media] can increase women’s implicit anti-fat attitudes,” (Ravary, Baldwin & Bartz, 2019). Another study published by the American Psychological Association concluded that “positive media portrayals of obese individuals may help reduce weight stigma,” and could help combat anti-fat attitudes (Pearl, Puhl, & Brownell 2012). It’s encouraging to know that shows like Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls have the power to make society more accepting of people regardless of what size they wear.
Christel, D. A., & Dunn, S. C. (2016). Average American women’s clothing size: Comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size Clothing. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 10(2), 129–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/17543266.2016.1214291.
Pearl, R. L., Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2012). Positive media portrayals of obese persons: Impact on attitudes and image preferences. Health Psychology, 31(6), 821–829. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027189.
Ravary, Baldwin, M. W., & Bartz, J. A. (2019). Shaping the Body Politic: Mass Media Fat-Shaming Affects Implicit Anti-Fat Attitudes. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(11), 1580–1589. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219838550.
Lauren C. Zupkus is a senior social media manager who has worked for several online publications in entertainment media, including TV Guide, Metacritic, Complex, and HuffPost. She graduated from Fordham University in 2013 with a B.A. in Communications and French and is currently a graduate student in Brooklyn College’s M.S. in Media Studies program. Lauren serves as a volunteer instructor for Road to Hire, a nonprofit organization that helps provide career paths to under-resourced and underrepresented students. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys spending time at the beach on the Jersey shore, going to concerts with friends, and cuddling up with her two golden retrievers.