Rosey Blair, whom BuzzFeed refers to as a plus-size lifestyle blogger and size-inclusive consultant, confessed something interesting on TikTok in early April: After those photos of Jessica Simpson in high-waisted jeans went viral in 2009, she thought the singer was fat.
“I want you to sit back and really think about how you felt when you saw these pictures,” she told her followers. “I’m about to roast myself. When I saw that picture of Jessica, I thought, ‘Ooh, boy; she’s disgusting’—because I was manipulated by the media.”
If I’m being completely honest, I thought the same thing. And I’m ashamed to admit it—especially as someone who grew up chubby and now identifies as fat. But it’s true: When those photos of Jessica Simpson came out, I also remember feeling a certain kind of way. I bet you did, too.
This is exactly what Blair is highlighting in a recent string of viral TikToks: that in the ‘90s and early-aughts, the media’s coverage of women’s bodies was so toxic and pervasive, we internalized those messages. We believed them—despite our better judgment.
At this point, we all know pre-2015 media was often racist, sexist, and fatphobic. That’s not exactly a novel concept. What is interesting, though, is recalling our own opinions during those pre-enlightened times. They probably weren’t great.
I’m a diehard Britney Spears fan, and even I remember reading the coverage surrounding her 2007 MTV VMAs performance and thinking, “Oof.”
Think back to when these Tyra Banks bathing suit photos were released, or all the coverage surrounding Kate Winslet’s body in Titanic. Were your opinions empathetic? Were they informed? Or were you simply believing what the tabloids—then pervasive and our only access to pop-culture—were telling us? That these women’s bodies were wrong?
Let me make one thing clear. It doesn’t matter if these celebrities were a size 4 or 24, there should’ve never been discourse around their bodies. Point-blank, end of sentence. But the fact all these women were straight-size when they received this backlash just speaks to the warped times we lived in. Jessica Simpson was a size four when she wore those jeans. A size four!
Yet still The Boston Herald allegedly called her “porky.” Fox News reportedly said she had a “noticeably fuller figure.” Those were the only messages we were receiving—and when you hear something enough times, especially when there’s no contrasting opinion, you start to believe it. This explains why an entire generation of women grew up idolizing the “heroin chic” models of the ’90s and the Nicole Richie-and-company socialites of the 2000s. Everything else was ridiculed.
Which is…ridiculous. I don’t have to tell you that. But Blair’s TikToks are a reminder that if you grew up with a distorted self-image (or still have one), it’s not your fault. And remember: It takes years to untangle these messages. I’m just glad we now exist in a world that’s helping us do that—well, at least more than it was in 2007.