Editor| Cassandra Lau
Recent Netflix originals have either starred actresses – like Jameela Jamil from The Good Place, and Lili Reinhart from Riverdale – who have publically advocated for body positivity, or characters who represent diverse ages, ethnicities and body types. Series like GLOWbreakdown stereotypes with multi-dimensional and bold female characters, for instance, Carmen (Britney Young) “challenges stereotypes of fat bodies as inherently unfit or unhealthy” writes Mariana Viera from Teen Vogue as she becomes an acknowledged member of the GLOW crew for her physical agility and knowledge of wrestling. In a TV Insider interview with Scott Fishman, Young says, “it’s so interesting to see how each girl reacts to [becoming little micro-celebrities in Season 2]. Melrose wants to be signing autographs and taking pictures. Then you have Sheila who is like, ‘No, I’m just here to wrestle. Don’t come talk to me.’ It’s really interesting to see how different these characters are, yet how relatable they actually are.” Body and self-positivity conscious films like Dumplin and Isn’t It Romantic have placed plus-size females under the spotlight – quite literally as the two main characters, Dumplin’ (Danielle Macdonald) and Natalie (Rebel Wilson) respectively, are pushed to face their stage fright. Both films are incredibly powerful in terms of cultivating body positivity and female empowerment: they set an important precedent for feminism and diversity within the film industry by breaking down long wonted stereotypes.
However, upon second glance, is the rise of on-screen #selflove another marketing tactic? In FGRLS CLUB – a site on ‘feminism, free speech, freedom, & feel-good’ – Katie Muxworthy notes how “there’s something problematic” about the “YassKweens and clapping emojis” and “fuck-it attitude towards one’s appearance [which] is applaudable, commendable and a long time coming.” She argues, “underneath the surface of a new wave of positivity – it’s being used as a capitalist trend.” Whilst Muxworthy picks up on “the movement […] being used to sell us s**t we don’t need, under the pretence of being positive” by retail giants like Missguided, ASOS, Prettylittlething and so forth, it is also worth noting how the rise in such streaming services as Amazon Prime, NOW TV, and Netflix have similarly been met with a surge of “YassKween” worthy productions. The pressure placed on media industries to star a more diverse range of talent does call for a round of applause but at the end of the day, “we’re still being sold to”. There’s a huge difference between accessibility and reliability: there’s a difference between being able to purchase plus-sized, petite or tall clothes and being told this is where you should buy clothes; there’s a difference between feeling good when seeing someone relatable on TV and feeling good because a relatable character on TV says you should feel good. Diverse representation is so crucial in the media, but often for the wrong reasons. Diverse representation in the media is not a ‘green light’ for individuals to start valuing themselves, individuals are and should always be responsible for their own happiness, and look within ourselves rather than on our screens for value.