I love Shannon Purser. And I love her for one very specific, very egotistic reason – she looks like me.
As someone not blessed with facial symmetry or a toned physique, I hardly ever see someone in the media who looks like me. I can seldom identify with the female protagonists in TV. They are so beautiful it is near incomprehensible to think we belong to the same species.
And I’m not saying this to disparage Shannon Purser – I think she’s very beautiful.
Part of the reason she is so beautiful is because she is ‘unconventional’, as the critics love to say. As overdone and eye-rollingly patronising as this phrase is, there is some truth in it. Purser does not fit the archetype of a Hollywood actress. She is plus-size, slightly dorky-looking (I am allowed to say this, I am basically her) and, quite honestly, normal.
That’s why I – like many others – have celebrated her rise in Hollywood. It shows the influence of the body positivity movement; people who do not fit conventional beauty standards are widely and unquestionably appearing in shows.
It’s a point for diversity. It’s a step towards representation and away from homogeneous casts.
Shannon Purser represents change in Hollywood, spearheaded by the increasingly-‘woke’ Netflix.
Hollywood is opening up, starting to include and represent wider society. Normal people – like me – are starting to see themselves in TV.
The only problem is this representation is limited. Shannon Purser has appeared on three Netflix shows – Stranger Things, Riverdale, and as the title role in ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’.
But all these shows have something in common – Purser is, in one way or another, playing the same character. She is playing a loser.
Of course, these roles are slightly nuanced.
In Stranger Things, sure she’s a nerd but she gets a heart-breaking death! In Riverdale, she’s a nerd but she’s also a bitch! And Sierra Burgess, you guessed it – she’s a nerd! But she gets love … but only by catfishing and hiding her appearance.
Once is inconsequential. Twice is suspicious. Thrice and it’s getting really tired, and quite fucking annoying.
See, as someone who resonates with Purser, it’s nice to see yourself in shows. It says that you belong, that you’re worth watching. But only if you’re a nerd.
Her inclusion isn’t as transgressive as its been celebrated as. Purser may be appearing in shows, but she’s only ever allowed to be the same character. And people like me – people who look like Purser – learn this lesson.
That we exist as a nerd, an undesirable stereotype. Or we do not exist at all.
We get ridiculed, we get shunned, and we get the same character.
Great lessons to learn, huh?
Purser is not the cause of this – she is proving that you don’t need to be conventionally attractive to be talented. She is championing body positivity and proving that people who look like her are important and worthy of respect.
We can’t celebrate this as a step towards representation because it is not. It is a false, half-arsed attempt of inclusion. One that comes with restrictive conditions.
It is inclusion, but only as a stereotype.
And that’s not really inclusion at all, is it?