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Body Politics: Sharon Rooney on not giving power to the word “fat”

In Stylist’s Body Politics series, award-winning body confidence coach and @ScarredNotScared founder Michelle Elman sits down with women we love to discuss their journey to feeling comfortable in their own skin. Here, actress Sharon Rooney talks about the power of the word “fat” and how there’ll always be something people don’t like about you.

There is a certain discomfort in our society around the word “fat”, where even the mention of it leads to shushes and silence, something Sharon Rooney, the star of My Mad Fat Diary, is accustomed to. “If you call yourself fat, people go, ‘Oh no! You are pretty’, but I never said I wasn’t pretty, or I wasn’t intelligent or any of those things,” she tells Stylist. “I am fat as well. I can be all of those things, and I can be fat, plus size and curvy. I can be more than one thing.”

Most children in the playground quickly learn the word “fat” is a negative word. But more recently, the body positive movement has very much reclaimed the word to be used as a neutral term or a descriptor in the same way that you would describe someone as “tall”. Rooney, herself, has never had an issue with it: “To be completely honest, it’s never been a word that bothers me. I’ve never been offended by it or given it power.”

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It’s that strong sense of self that has been a barrier to her not being affected by the industry she works in, and why she has never felt the pressure herself to change what she looks like to get more roles. She says: “Even if I wasn’t fat, and I was smaller, people would then say they don’t like my hair. You will never please everybody. You need to please yourself and as long as you are happy, it doesn’t matter. You will never be perfect or what everyone wants you to be. Someone will always find a fault.”

It is widely known that actresses are often asked to change their body to fit a role. “If someone said I had to gain or lose weight for a role, my question would be ‘why?’ she says. “Those would be jobs I wouldn’t want then because they are looking past any talent that you have.” In fact, she shares that half of the auditions and roles she puts herself up for don’t have a size specification because size shouldn’t matter.

Her character in My Mad Fat Diary, Rae, has been really open with both her mental health and her difficult relationship with her mum. Rooney herself has a wonderful relationship with her own parents but she advises those that might struggle with talking to their parents to speak up. “If something has upset you or affected you, you should be able to say that,” she says. “You have the right to say ‘I don’t like the way you are speaking to me’ even if it’s your mum.”

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Rooney also wants people to realise that moving your body is not always because you want to change what you look like. She recalls a recent memory where she was told she wasn’t being body positive for working out. Her response: “I don’t go to the gym because I am on a diet or I want to lose weight. It is really good for my mental health and I really enjoy doing a class.” She would love to see fitness being seen as worthwhile and valid, even if you don’t want aesthetic results. “Am I not allowed to exercise then if I don’t want to change my body?” she asks.

When it comes to the media, she is firm in her belief that body shaming needs to stop: “We need to stop judging each other. We need to stop having pages in magazines circling bits of people’s bodies and telling everyone how bad it is. It isn’t bad, cellulite isn’t bad. All of us having cellulite, stretch marks and spots. It’s normal. Stop making us feel bad for having bodies and for being human and living our lives.”

For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.

Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:

  1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
  2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
  3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
  4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
  5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.

Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.

Image: Getty

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