On Nicola Coughlan, Fat Identity, and the Shame of Having to Beg for Respect

This week, Derry Girls and Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan went to Instagram with a simple plea: “if you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me.” Sounds simple, right? Wrong, unfortunately; Coughlan went on to explain that she’s been inundated with messages about her weight, writing, “I am just one real life human being and it’s really hard to take the weight of thousands of opinions on how you look being sent directly to you every day.”

Coughlan’s post was instantly familiar to me, as a fat person who’s had to ask countless loved ones to stop centering my weight in conversations. But what really hit a nerve was the sweetness of her tone; Coughlan wasn’t raging against the system, or scrawling FUCK YOU across her belly, riot-grrrl style (though she’d be justified in doing either); she was simply asking the world to stop giving her unsolicited feedback on the specifics of her appearance, and it broke my heart in a thousand tiny ways.

I’ve written before about our culture’s toxic obsession with celebrity weight loss, but to be honest, I haven’t thought much about what it’s like in the public eye for a person who’s still—to use the cultural parlance—in the “before” stage of the much-lionized slim-down. Obviously, celebrities have resources and opportunities that the average fat person could scarcely dream of, but they’re also being scrutinized simply for existing as they are. Coughlan is a tremendous actress, funny and sharp and imminently capable of giving an A+ line reading, and frankly, it makes me sad to be writing about her body instead of her talent. Still, I choose to do so because, until we acknowledge the outsize pressure we put on fat people (and fat femmes in particular) to radiate self-acceptance while also working 24/7 on whittling themselves down into a sample size, we have no hope of lessening it.

You might think that anyone sliding into Coughlan’s DMs to comment on her body is an unredeemable monster, but unfortunately, that’s far from the case. When it comes to fatphobia, the call is so often coming from inside the house; it’s our moms, our mentors, our older brothers, our friends from camp, our long-ago acquaintances, as well as our very best friends who are so sadly and imminently capable of making us doubt whether or not we fat people deserve even a modicum of respect. I wish we could shove all fatphobic trolls into a box labeled “Do Not Open,” but fat people are more than capable of enacting fatphobia against one another, and plenty of thin people live with a looming fear of fat that governs how they interact with us on a daily basis.

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