What Seirra Burgess is a Loser Can (and can't) Teach Us About Body Positivity

Since her first major role as the legendary Barb Holland in Stranger Things, I have been a fan of Shannon Purser. Why wouldn’t I? As a young, overweight, redhead, I see a lot of myself in Purser. Her constant messages of self love have always resonated with me, and she’s been a personal hero of mine since her Stranger Things success. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that she’d be getting her own movie on Netflix that would focus on what it’s really like to be overweight in high school today. And, in a world where Insatiable is a show, I felt like it was time to get an honest and loving look at what it means to be different in 2018.

Before I get into how I felt about the movie here is a quick, honest, synopsis. Sierra is overweight, smart, and plays the flute. Because of these qualities, people at school don’t like her. After the mean blonde at school, Veronica, gives Sierra’s phone number to strangers, she ends up catfishing the 2018 equivalent of Zac Efron, Jamey. Somewhere in between, she pretends to be deaf for laughs, befriends the Veronica, and doesn’t learn anything about why catfishing is wrong.

I had a lot of issues with this movie. One of my main issues being that Sierra does a lot of horrible stuff, and doesn’t learn a single valuable lesson from any of it. She catfished a guy, pretended to be deaf to him, and also showed a photo of Veronica’s private messages on the jumbotron in front of the whole school. After all of this, no one is mad at her for more than five minutes. I even timed it! But, Sierra's lack of consequences isn’t my main issue with her titular movie.

When Sierra is bullied in the beginning of the movie, the unbelievability of it made me immediately turned off from the film and less receptive of what the film wanted me to take away. Now bare with me, I’m not saying she should’ve been bullied, I’m just saying how she was bullied is not common to the kinds of fat shaming you see in high schools nowadays. As someone who is overweight, and even looks a bit like Shannon Purser, I’ve never been called “Quasimodo” in a public bathroom. I’ve never had anyone blatantly call me fat. A lot of the shaming I’ve encountered has been a series of microaggressions, and this experience isn’t specific to me, but for the purpose of this review I’m only going to share mine. A few that particularly stand out to me are in elementary school, when a kid asked me if I was pregnant because I “had a big belly”, my junior year of high school when I was shopping for a prom dress and was escorted to the back corner of the store where only two dissolved racks had my size, and when I went to the doctors for back pain this past year, I was told to meet with a dietitian.

While the intent of all three of these experiences were innocent, they have impact on how a person views themselves. I feel like if Sierra’s story included less name calling and more microaggressions or smaller physiological attacks, it would’ve been more believable and hit closer to home with more women in similar positions. Microaggressions don’t only impact oversized women like Sierra and I, but they impact women of all body sizes who have been told to “eat more,” or that they “look like a twig,” and anything in between.

I feel like if the conflicts were more subtle, the lesson would’ve been more meaningful for the audience to sit on. So many public schools already tackle bullying by shaming “name-calling” and obvious afflictions. By the time we are in high school, we know not to call someone fat or ugly, instead we find ways to do that subtly. Teen girls form cliques, talk behind someone’s back, hell, we even subtweet people nowadays. If Sierra Burgess is a Loser showed the subtler bullying I previously mentioned, and how impactful that could be on one’s view of themselves, it would be a more effective conversation starter. I think it’s time for movies to quit being so obvious and start being more subtle in its high school conflicts, because we’ve seen that before (go watch any 80s movie with an underdog) and teens have developed past that point and evolved bullying into a new monster altogether.

Rant aside, the movie had heart. You could tell everyone in that project was proud of what they made. It was well acted (I’m talking to you Noah Centineo), and the style and composition of the film wasn’t that bad either. I recommend at least giving it a chance. Sierra Burgess is a Loser had poor morals, but the best of intentions. And, even if the interactions between the characters weren’t realistic, it was timely and had at least a sliver of lesson at the end. If Noah Centineo’s character Jamey can love “curvy girls”, I think it’s time us curvy girls start loving ourselves too.