Nikki Blonsky Recalls Body Shaming From ‘Hairspray’ Era

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Nikki Blonsky reflects on body shaming as the star of the movie Hairspray. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

He figures is Yahoo Life’s body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring people as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Nikki BlonskiThe first memory of being called fat dates back to when a neighborhood kid taunted her on the school bus.

“I got off the bus crying and my grandmother said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘Well, he called me fat.’ And she looked at me and she said, “I’m sorry. And I feel sorry for him.” She said, “Nikki, you must feel sorry for him because there must be something so bad, he must be so sad. Something is happening in his life to make him act that way. So you have to feel for people like that and don’t take what they have to say to heart,” Blonsky recalled. “And when she told me that way, it completely let go of me.”

For the actress who got her big break when she was cast as Tracy Turnblad in the movie hair spray, who celebrated her 15th birthday in July, it wouldn’t be the last time she dealt with body-shaming. In fact, just when she got the role at the age of 17, she was quickly exposed to the harsh reality of how she would be received by audiences.

John Travolta and Blonsky as Edna and Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 film. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.)

John Travolta and Blonsky as Edna and Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 film. (Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.)

“We hadn’t even started production yet, I was still at home in New York with my family, and I remember being so excited to have an IMDB. I was like, ‘Mom, I’m a real actress, I have an IMDB,” she told Yahoo Life, explaining that the website allowed comments, which her mother continued to read as she gazed at the page in awe. “I went to the other room and she came in crying. I said, ‘Mom, why are you crying?’ And I looked at the comments section and it says, ‘Why can the fat chick kiss Zac Efron?’ And it was the first time I was called big on a public platform.”

Blonsky and Efron were the film’s co-stars — their characters Tracy and Link Larkin even end up together at the end. But throughout their friendship, Blonsky says she often experienced “nastiness” from jealous onlookers.

“When I was traveling with the guys, the fans or other girls wouldn’t understand why I was hanging out with them and they didn’t. And I was like, you know what? ‘Cause I’m a few extra pounds on me, am I less of a person to you?” she remembers thinking. “That says nothing about me. And it says everything about you.”

Although he has a good understanding of this, Blonsky says such comments “always sting.” While body image is more common conversation today, she also wonders how different her career and experience in the spotlight might have been as a plus-size actress in 2022.

“I can’t tell you how many times that thought crossed my mind,” she said. “I had a show called Huge on ABC Family about kids at weight loss camp. And I thought the writing was so brilliant and witty and fun. But instead, the network didn’t give us a second season. They went with another show that I won’t name, but it was with a lot of much thinner people. And I always say to myself, I feel like if Huge released a few years later it would have really achieved. It was as if, unfortunately, the world was not ready yet.”

Even though Tracy’s character was embraced and loved for all that she was, Blonsky says, “I wasn’t necessarily celebrated for my plus size.” She even felt that people expected her to lose weight after the role in order to be cast in other projects. “I, on the other hand, didn’t understand why there couldn’t be more films with tall protagonists,” she says. “Why can’t a plus girl play the girl next door or the pretty attractive sex symbol? You know, why not?”

Blonsky credits her “willing” personality for not giving in to demands to lose weight. She also explains that, despite what many believed at the time, the appearance of her body is not entirely within her control. Specifically, as she gets older and suffers from endometriosis and thyroid issues.

“My body changed and I gained weight while I was going through these things and I felt like people were kind of judging me like I shouldn’t take care of my body, I shouldn’t eat properly or exercise,” she explains. “It wasn’t at all. There’s so much more that goes into your body makeup and why it is the way it is.”

And while she says she’s more “in tune” with her body today and has learned to take better care of herself as she’s evolved, she’s mostly proud not to give up throughout the process.

“When I was a kid I didn’t have a ton of younger role models to look up to and I’m just honored that hair spray gave me the opportunity to hopefully inspire other kids to dream and dream big,” she says. “I’m so proud of myself that I kept going. And I’m still going there and I’ll never stop because it’s in my blood. It’s who I am. I love playing. I love playing characters that mean something, not just to me, but to other people.”

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