When virtue signaling masquerades as body positivity.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you! I fucking hate myself!” Kat, Barbie Ferreira’s character on Euphoria, screamed. Watching on my laptop with my model-esque roommates, I suddenly erupted in tears.
Like Kat on Euphoria, I am fat. It isn’t something I say lightly, to try to elicit the obligatory “you’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” comments. This is simply a fact. I started having monthly weigh-ins at the pediatrician at 11, and my middle school friends bought matching “best friends” shirts without me, since junior clothing stores didn’t sell XXL sizes for preteens.
Growing up Mexican in one of Chicago’s whitest neighborhoods, my stocky, brown frame was often intentionally ignored when anyone commented on my physical appearance. My best friend in fifth grade, who had long blonde hair and an athletic build, told me I had one of the prettiest faces she’d ever seen. I went home and cried that night, wondering why the rest of me wasn’t pretty, too.
My mom — like me — was heavier as a child and was bullied for it by friends and siblings alike, subconsciously leading her down a (very successful) weight loss journey as an adult. My parents tried their best to never comment on my growing size throughout my childhood, but at times their thoughts slipped off their tongues and cut me where it hurt most. I remember my mom holding up an old pair of khakis with a smile on her face, “I can’t believe I used to fit into these things! Look at how huge they are!” Her grin faded as she realized the pants were my size.
In 2015, as a high school freshman who felt like crying every time I changed in the locker room, I discovered a group of plus size teens on Twitter. Larger white, brown, and Black figures filled my feed. I became obsessed with being exactly like them. The girl who took up most of my scrolling time and search history was the first-generation, Brazilian model from Queens, Barbie Ferreira, later known as Kat Hernandez on HBO’s Euphoria. Her social media was a space where young ladies were honest about not always loving themselves, despite the #bodypositivity movement that forcefully shoved “All bodies matter!” mantras down their throats.
While masquerading as some kind of liberation movement, hashtags around body positivity conjured up photos of women body checking and virtue signaling, when in reality, they don’t walk the walk. Time and time again, “body positive” celebrities like Khloe Kardashian blow the facade off of their “body positivity,” in her case calling those who do them wrong (like Jordan Woods, for example), “fat fucking assholes.” What began as a movement promoting self-love has morphed into a toxic form of surveillance, where women judge themselves and others under the guise of positivity.
Constant confidence isn’t realistic, especially when your size is silently ridiculed. Knowing that my body is under the watchful eye of my followers makes me rethink how I’m viewed. I live in fear of one day becoming a “fat bitch” instead of a “thick queen,” having my biggest insecurity suddenly turn against me. A more realistic goal, as many people have realized is body neutrality, where a focus is placed on how you feel versus how you look.
Ferreira’s character, Kat, presents a fresh narrative for young, plus-size females in television that challenge the idea of constant, unrealistic confidence presented by the body positivity movement. During season one, Kat’s underage character dabbled in sex work, underwent a makeover, and fell in love while doing it. Despite being made out to be secure in her looks, her struggle, concealed by her mini skirts and leather harnesses, was apparent to girls like me: Her change in appearance wasn’t a sign of sudden confidence, but a reflection of wanting to be accepted by her peers. I saw myself in that quest.
When I finished high school and moved to London for college, I tried my best to dive into the latest fashion trends, desperately wanting to look as stylish as Kat and her friends looked on TV. I cut my hair, bought some fishnets and invested in a good pair of Spanx. As I sat in a lecture room wearing a bright orange mini dress, a classmate with a petite, slender figure and milky-white skin turned to me and said, “Allegra, you wear outfits even a girl my size would never wear. I wish I could be as confident as you.” Almost four years later, her words still get under my skin.
After binge-watching Euphoria's first season in our dorm rooms, this classmate, along with others, often referred to me as “Kat.” They saw us as mirror images. We were overweight, Latina, wore what we wanted, and somehow, men were attracted to us. Kat and I were modern variations of Latina bombshells like J.Lo and Sofia Vergara — only we weighed over 200 pounds and had to jump our way into jeans. Others decided we must’ve been “confident” because we were fat, stylish, and not in a constant puddle of tears.
What really connected us was our silence. We went along with being the sexy, plus-size friend that didn’t seem to care what society had to say about us. In reality, we cried behind closed doors, too afraid of showing our true feelings — complicated ones that others don’t seem to be okay with. We’re not your curvy monolithic mascots who are proud of our bodies all the time.
Despite her change in appearance in season one of Euphoria, Kat’s insecurities persisted. Changing your fashion sense isn’t always a sign of confidence, after all. It’s sometimes just a sign you’re bored with your old style. She reached an emotional breaking point in season two when she finally admitted the one thing plus-size women aren’t allowed to do: She sometimes hated herself.
Watching Kat break down in a room of image obsessed influencers while shoveling goldfish crackers into her mouth in one scene took me back to being 15. I’d wished everyone would stop telling me to love the skin I was in when I longed to be in a different one. I’ve swam in rage when my friends tell me “At least you have an ass” in response to me complaining about my size. It wasn’t a compliment — it made me feel unheard. My body is approached with such hyper-sensitivity that I feel silenced every time I ridicule it. Not all fat girls feel confident just because their body type is trending. I still cry sometimes when looking in the mirror, and like Kat, I have days where I fucking hate myself. Just because you love my body does not mean I do — and that’s okay. Keep your positivity. I sleep better at night knowing that I am allowed to have a spectrum of feelings about my body.