16 Body-Positive TV Shows and Movies for When You’re Done With Shaming

16 Body-Positive TV Shows and Movies for When You’re Done With Shaming

Mainstream entertainment, never the friendliest of places, has lately been carving out a space for people who exist outside of contemporary beauty standards. Odds are still good actors will find it more difficult to get certain types of roles if they don’t fit the mould — there’s a lot of overlap in the circles of “funny best friend” and “fat best friend” for a reason, and usually these characters become the target of “jokes” meant to accentuate the character’s size or eating habits — but there are shows and movies that are entertaining while also showing promise of change.

In the ‘90s, movies and TV shows like Shallow Hal, Friends, The Nutty Professor, and others used “fat suits” to make overweight people the butt of the joke even when they pretended to be promoting messages that size didn’t matter. Nowadays, narratives are changing — at least to a degree — and we’re seeing more films and television shows exposing us to a wider range of body sizes and telling different kinds of stories about how they exist in the world. Here are 16 television shows and movies to stream if you’re looking for some that promote the shift towards body positivity.

Pose

Pose takes you inside the world of ball culture; if you’ve ever watched Paris is Burning, this is a fictional analogue. The show focuses on the often untold stories of trans individuals in the queer community in 1980s New York City, when the culture was at its height.

It goes deep into the stories of those who can “pass” in society and the pressures of trying to look a certain way, while also touching on the exotification and discrimination of trans bodies. Shows like Pose that tell the world stories about bodies outside of societal constructs promote body positivity, because it tells watchers that your body is yours to command — it does not exist solely for others to judge.

Where to watch: Binge

Shrill

SNL star Aidy Bryant plays Annie Easton, a journalist who is overweight and struggles with the perception of of people who judge her personality based on her appearance. She must put up with trolls, sly comments at work, and bad boyfriends, and the reality of being a thick girl is not sugar-coated a bit, as people around Annie find it acceptable to openly make fun of her weight. This show is a slow burn, but that feels intentional. We witness Annie’s struggles, and her journey to overcome them takes commitment from her and from the audience. A third season and final season of Shrill is on its way May 7.

Where to watch: SBS On Demand

Little Miss Sunshine

Olive (Abigail Breslin) wants to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California, so the Hoover family packs up the VW bug and goes on a road trip success. The film plays with the idea of plastic pageant beauty and breaking the mould in a retrograde industry. It also questions the ideas of beauty outside of physical appearance — and what it means to be beautiful inside and out. Olive’s entire family is quirky and oddball, making the movie endearing to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite fit in.

Where to watch: Disney+

Tall Girl

Jodi Kreyman (Ava Michelle) is a teenage girl who happens to be 6’1” and wear a size 13 shoe. The show explores the type of bullying and insecurities that come with being taller than everyone else at a young age. We see both sides of bullying: Jodi is picked on for her height by popular girl Kimmy Stitcher (Clara Wilsey), whose real problem seems to be that she is insecure herself. The quality of the writing might leave you longing for more depth to the characters and their relationships, but the show’s efforts at representation are worth noting.

Where to watch: Netflix

Dietland

Dietland follows Plum Kettle (Joy Nash), a journalist who has struggled with her weight her whole life. After a long history of terrible diets, she is considering all of the pros and cons of weight loss surgery. An old diet fad she loved as a kid is being criticised, and men who have been accused of sexual assault are being mysteriously murdered. All of this is linked to Plum’s process of understanding how her body is viewed and treated by the world. The story feels a bit disjointed at times, but following Plum on her path to better self-worth and positive self-acknowledgment is worthwhile.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Hairspray

Hairspray — the 1988 John Waters original — is one of my favourite movies. Tracy Turnblad (Ricky Lake) is a full-figured girl who dreams of being on The Corny Collins Show, a dance show for hip teens. Not only does Hairspray highlight the racism of Jim Crow, it was also one of the first movies I saw with a fuller figured actor in the lead role. Tracee, her mum Edna Turnblad (Divine), and the magnanimous Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown) were all characters that said “screw you” to the social norm — my skills and beauty deserve to be on TV, too.

Where to watch: Hairspray (2007) is available on Stan. and Binge. The 1988 movie is available to rent digitally.

Orange Is the New Black

When Orange Is the New Black first came out, it suffered from the old “main character is not as interesting as the side characters” affliction. Said protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), is an average white woman sent to jail on drug charges after living a fairly privileged and crime-free life. Once in prison, we’re introduced to a range of characters representing all body types, backgrounds, and orientations.

Characters like Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) and Tasha ‘Taystee’ Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) come from complicated backgrounds whose storylines illustrate the larger systems that brought them to prison in the first place. The show let me know there is room out there for nuanced stories about people like me, who are curvy and brown-skinned.

Where to watch: Netflix

Dumplin’

Former pageant queen and mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston) is a pageant coach who firmly believes in beauty standards. And although she doesn’t impose these on her own child directly, she does know her daughter would not be accepted in the pageant world. Despite this fact, her daughter Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald) dreams of breaking into the industry and proving everyone wrong. The movie delivers an empowering message about the boundaries of beauty and how they can be broken down.

Where to watch: Netflix

I Feel Pretty

Amy Schumer is well known for her commentary on the rigidity of gender norms and body image, and in I Feel Pretty she brings her ideals to the forefront, portraying average woman Renee Bennett who envies those she calls “undeniably pretty.” When an injury causes her to believe she is drop-dead gorgeous — although her appearance has not changed — her confidence and the way she moves in the world changes everything for her.

While Renee’s ideas about beauty were skewed in the first place, it’s a great commentary on the power of self-love. It is also interesting to see “beautiful” model-type girls expressing their insecurities, showing that everyone struggles with feeling “unpretty.”

Where to watch: Binge

GLOW

GLOW is based on the real-life 1980s wrestling program The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling following an unlikely band of ladies who set the trend in women’s wrestling, aiming to make space for women in the entertainment fighting ring. GLOW is a perfect example that the power of women comes in many forms. Women who are tall, slim, curvy, short, or not even physically trained to fight can still wrestle, and hold the attention of hundreds or thousands of people.

Where to watch: Netflix

Insecure

Writer, actor, and producer Issa Rae’s Insecure shows Black and Brown women in a light Hollywood does not usually portray. Main characters Issa and Molly are allowed to be imperfect, and the the ups and downs of their flawed but formidable friendship are the heart of the show.

Issa’s physical comedy defies the ways society is meant to perceive women: She is awkward, makes “unattractive” faces, and does not “fit in” with average beauty standards. In addition, casting of thick women like Natasha Rothwell, who plays best friend Kellie Prenny, breaks away from other tropes of the common “curvy character” narrative by not focusing on her body image, but simply allowing her to be herself — a dynamic and hilarious character. Especially in comedy, fuller-figured characters are usually there for comic relief, but it’s never the case for Kellie.

Where to watch: Binge

RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competition to see which drag queen has the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to be America’s next drag superstar, and the competition takes manipulation of image and the physical form to creative new heights. Unlike other programs, the trials and tribulations of the queens are addressed and spoken about openly on the show. Whether a queen struggles with body image or being accepted, you get an honest story from each of them, and cheer along with them as they take control of and thrive in their bodies.

Where to watch: Stan.

This Is Us

The emotional family drama This Is Us touches on issues of race, class, chosen families, body image, and more. It’s a touching look at how we relate to ourselves and each other in what can be a cruel world, and we see overweight characters like Toby Damon (Chris Sullivan) and Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) dealing with stress and how it manifests in their lives and their bodies.

Their separate experiences with weight gain and weight loss paint a varied picture of the subject. Kate has struggled her whole life and we see this in her journey; for example, she often binge eats when she is feeling low, which is so common for many people. For anyone who struggles with these issues, it’s refreshing to see them represented with compassion on television.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

My Mad Fat Diary

Rachel ‘Rae’ Earl (Sharon Rooney) has been released from a mental health facility and ready to find a boy and satiate her sexual urges, but she’s worried her body image and mental health history will keep her from fitting in. The voiceover-heavy diary format makes for an endearing and honest look into Rachel’s personal experience as she strives for feeling a sense of acceptance and self-love in her own skin.

Where to watch: Stan.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

After being kidnapped, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) has spent the better part of her life living in captivity in a bunker in rural America. After emerging, she moves to New York City and begins to learn what the modern world has become.

Kimmy doesn’t live by modern societal rules and attracts friends with the same attitudes. Her roommate and later best friend Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) is an outspoken and quirky character whose personality outshines any negativity that comes his way. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect him, but he has an uncanny ability to thrive despite other circumstances. His body image has never kept him from daring to jump for his dreams, wants, and needs. The way Titus lives and exists unapologetically is an inspiration in and of itself.

Where to watch: Netflix

Real Women Have Curves

America Ferrara stars as Ana Garcia, a young woman who wants more for her life than working in a sewing factory. The story shows her struggle with her heritage and the body she inherited from the long lineage of women in her family. At the same time, she’s learning about her heritage and the strength and importance of her family. Along the way, she begins to understand the power in her ancestry and the beauty in her curves.

Where to watch: N/A in Australia.

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