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body shaming

@_gracieling/X

Coughlan laments her struggles as a memmber of the "perfect breast community"


The fight against body-shaming starts with language.

So much of our hidden biases and internalized struggles with body image can be found lurking within the words used to describe ourselves and others—even the well-intentioned ones. It’s one of the reasons why the “body positivity” movement has been reevaluated over the years, since it tends to still place an emphasis on how our body’s physical appearance vs. how it simply helps with daily life.

It’s also why the phrase “you’re so brave” has come under scrutiny. Many celebrities, like Lena Dunham and Lizzo, have called out publications for routinely attributing the word “brave” to larger women who might show their skin. The compliment might come from a sincere place, but since you likely wouldn’t call a thin, able bodied person “brave” for doing the same thing.

Recently during a Q&A in Dublin, “Bridgerton” star Nicola Coughlan (who is no stranger to shielding herself from comments about her body) was met with this not-so-complimentary compliment, and her hilarious response was just so delightful in every way.

In case you’ve been living on a deserted island for the past few years, “Bridgerton” is a steamy show, many of which Coughlan’s character, Penelope Featherington, take part in. So, perhaps when a journalist commended Coughlan for being “brave,” he was noting the sheer level of intimacy involved, and might have said that to any of the cast members. But considering how often that word is specifically used for plus sized women who dare to be seen as sexual beings, it feels fairly safe to assume that wasn’t the case.

Regardless, Coughlan didn’t miss a beat as she quipped:

“You know, it is hard because I think women with my body type—women with perfect breasts—we don’t get to see ourselves onscreen enough.”

As the crowd erupted in laughter, she continued. “And I’m very proud as a member of the perfect breasts community. I hope you enjoy seeing them.”

So unbothered. So witty. So perfect.

Watch a clip of this iconic moment, which has already racked up thousands of views on X (formerly Twitter), along with the overwhelming amount of positive response from viewers, below:

Coughlan has on more than one occasion used her “Bridgerton” fame to shift the way pop culture portrays plus-sized women. In an interview with Stylist, she shared how she “specifically asked for certain lines and moments to be included” in subsequent seasons of the show, particularly one scene where she was “very naked on camera.”

“It just felt like the biggest ‘fuck you’ to all the conversation surrounding my body; it was amazingly empowering,” she told the outlet.

Honestly, it’s no wonder she’s a fan favorite, both on and offscreen.

Not Your Body, Not Your Choice.

Sometimes things are said unintentionally that can hurt feelings or cause harm but sometimes things are intended to do just that.

At the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida, congressman Matt Gaetz made comments that essentially body shamed an entire demographic of people. His comments didn't go unnoticed as they made the rounds of social media. Olivia Julianna, 19, decided to make a witty response to his remarks on Twitter before Gaetz took her profile picture and shared it in what appears to be an effort to shame the teen's appearance.


Now, no one can fully say whether Gaetz intended to cause harm with his speech or his tweet until he decides to clarify his reasoning. But it sure seems Julianna's sassy response ruffled his feathers a bit. The teen made it clear that she would not tolerate body shaming by writing, "Its come to my attention that Matt Gaetz — alleged pedophile — has said that it’s always the ‘odious... 5’2 350 pound’ women that ‘nobody wants to impregnate’ who rally for abortion,” the tweet read. “I’m actually 5’11. 6’4 in heels. I wear them so the small men like you are reminded of your place.”

Gaetz is currently being federally investigated for sex trafficking. The congressman denies these claims and has currently not been charged with a crime.

Julianna let the world know in no uncertain terms that type of behavior wasn't OK. Given Gaetz's original comments about abortion rights activists looking "like a thumb" and saying, "they're like 5'2", 350 pounds," it's no surprise he came right back at the teen by sharing her profile picture to his 1.6 million followers. He captioned the picture with, "Dander raised," which according to Merriam-Webster means "to become angry."

The exchange didn't end there. Instead of backing down after the politician publicly exposed her photo to more than a million people, Julianna saw an opportunity. After the quick tiff, the teen used the increased attention to fundraise for the Gen-Z for Choice Fund, which distributes money to 50 different abortion funds across America. Julianna told Today that tweeting about the fund, which included a link, has since raised $168,000. She told Today, "I wanted to highlight the positive work that I'm doing from this very negative sphere that I've been placed in."

Congressman Gaetz seems to be going out of his way to make others upset. Even Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, came out swinging, metaphorically of course in an unexpectedly strong statement on CNN. In the clip he implies that Gaetz will be unable to vote in the election due to him being incarcerated by the time November rolls around.

Julianna is the one coming out on top in this situation by using it to fundraise for a cause that is important to millions of people. I'm not sure what the future holds for this teen but something tells me she's someone we should be on the look out for in the future. She's a force.

Bridgerton actor Nicola Coughlan in 2021.

The internet, for all its many wondrous things, can also be a cesspool of body-shaming, both outright and insidious. We see this most persistently perhaps with celebrities, who take on the role of dissection subjects regarding their weight. Whether being deemed “too thin” or “too fat,” comments about a public figure’s weight seems acceptable to some, simply because they signed up to be in the spotlight. But our better judgment knows this is not the case.

Nicola Coughlan, who plays the plot pivotal role of Penelope Featherington on the hit Netflix show “Bridgerton,” is no stranger to being inundated with this type of harmful, completely unnecessary feedback from fans.

So much so, that she recently posted her own truly heartfelt plea to her Instagram, asking for people to stop commenting on her body. Though we've seen multiple celebrities justifiably speak out against this, it’s hard not to be moved by her words in a whole new way.

Coughlan began her post with both civility and directness. “Hello! So just a thing- if you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me.”

This was apparently after receiving messages every single day following her breakout role.

She continued:

“Most people are being nice and not trying to be offensive but 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.”

Her approach reminds us of the very real people we are often damaging through projections of outdated beauty standards and downright unfounded opinions.

Yellowjackets” star Melanie Lynskey had also recently been invaded by an influx of supposedly well-intentioned spectators since the hugely successful Showtime series premiered.


“Most egregious are the ‘I care about her health!!’ people,” Lynskey tweeted. “You don’t see me on my Peleton! You don’t see me running through the park with my child. Skinny does not always equal healthy.”

And of course, she’s not wrong. Despite our general assumptions, being thin is no real indication of a person’s health. And in some cases, it can reveal a risk for certain diseases. Even the formerly gold standard of measuring a healthy weight, the BMI, aka body mass index, is considered flawed today by experts.

Clearly, the only weight needing to be shed is our truly unhealthy relationship with outdated body expectations.

Coughlan knows that being a public figure often invites a public examination. “If you have an opinion about me that’s ok, I understand I’m on TV and that people will have things to think and say,” she wrote, with the caveat, “but I beg you not to send it to me directly.”

Certainly, Coughlan shouldn’t have to resort to begging. But here we are. And maybe this is how the message needs to be heard. When it’s so easy to leave thoughtless or downright toxic messages on social media, we need to be reminded how it affects the hearts of real people on the receiving end. Empathy online is just as important as it is IRL.

That’s what makes her plea a masterclass in grace. She speaks out without anger or accusation, though she could. Instead she comes from a place of compassion.

Coughlan ended her post by saying, “anyways here’s a pic of me in my hotel in NY about to go to SNL, it’s unrelated to this post but delighted with my hair in it.”


Even in a battle for boundaries, Coughlan’s never one to refrain from having a sense of humor (she did also star in the hilarious “Derry Girls”, after all). And, she wasn’t wrong about the hair.

Reading Coughlan’s post, I can’t help but wonder, if she was able to treat perfect strangers with so much respect and kindness, can we not return the favor?

When you picture a ballerina, you may not picture someone who looks like Lizzy Howell. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Howell is busting stereotypes and challenging people's ideas of what a dancer should look like just by being herself and doing her thing in her own body. The now-19-year-old from Delaware has been dancing since she was five and has performed in venues around the world, including Eurovision 2019. She has won scholarships and trains up to four hours a day to perfect her skills in various styles of dance.

Jordan Matter Photography shared a documentary video about Howell on Facebook—part of his "Unstoppable" series—that has inspired thousands. In it, we get to see Howell's impressive moves and clear love of the art form. Howell shares parts of her life story, including the loss of her mother in a car accident when she was little and how she was raised by a supportive aunt who helped her pursue her dance ambitions. She also explained how she's had to deal with hate comments and bullying from people who judge her based on her appearance.

"I don't think it's right for people to judge off of one thing," Howell says in the video. And she's right—her size is just one thing.


Howell shares that she's been bullied in dance since she was six, and how it still happens when she goes to dance conventions. She sees people staring at her and whispering about her, but she says the successes she's had in dance and reassurances from other people keep her going.

"Most dancers are skinny, and I'm not," Howell says. "I think a lot of people can relate to me in that sort of way. They see me as an inspiration because I've been told I've been told to quit dance multiple times and I haven't."

"Dance is what I love and it's everything to me," she says. "So I think that just keeps me going."

Howell also has a message for people who might be tempted to say unkind things: "Whatever you say on social media is going to be seen by somebody and it could hurt their feelings. You know, you can't just say something that you think is funny but it might affect somebody else's feelings. I'm a very sensitive person, so I take everything to heart. There's a bunch of people that are like me that take it the same way."

Howell says dance is like therapy for her, which makes it all the worse for people to use her body size as a dancer as an excuse to be jerks. It might be surprising to see someone with Howell's body type doing the kind of dance she does, but anyone who comments negatively on a person's body—especially a young person has worked hard to train their body to create art—is a first-rate a-hole.

A few years have passed since Howell was interviewed for the "Unstoppable" video, and she's still showing that she truly is unstoppable. She now has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram and regularly posts videos of her dancing in the studio.

Thank you for showing us what bucking the status quo looks like, Lizzy. Keep being bold, dancing beautifully, and showing the haters you won't let them stop you.