Why Sierra Burgess Matters

Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a new teen comedy on Netflix, made my 25 year old ass swoon over Noah Centineo AGAIN. And while Jamey can hardly measure up to Peter Kavinsky, it isn’t because he’s not a worthy opponent, but because some topics surpass even perfectly fictional teen boys.    

Before we begin, there’s one thing that needs to be said – what Sierra Burgess did is wrong, and Barb would never approve. While it does make for an entertaining storyline, it isn’t cute, it’s harmful. While Sierra’s actions may be somewhat understandable, they aren’t justifiable. Don’t try this at home, kiddos, you might end up being socially shunned, lose all your friends and even have someone pull a restraining order against you.

And while this makes this movie far from perfect, it doesn’t reduce its importance. Because Sierra Burgess is a Loser does matter, and it matters quite a lot.

Sierra Burgess is a teen, an amazing pupil, a good friend, a kid wonder by her parents standards and a loser by high school standards. And she’s big. Heavy. Chubby. Fat. However, she doesn’t obsess over her size – we don’t see her jelaously staring at popular girls or eating her lunch in the bathroom stall or some other overused teen cliche – nor is she mocked for her size. Because, in the end, we all have eyes, we all notice her size, so why additionally emphasize it? Unlike many other material which deals with the same or similar issues, the movie doesn’t reach for labels – Sierra is rarely described in connection to her size, and Jamey rejects his jock title. Raised by extremely supportive and successful parents, Sierra doesn’t really consider her looks to be either a flaw or a virtue and searches for her identity in other aspects of her being – her intellect, talent and skills.

However, Sierra’s well and deeply hidden self-doubts are revealed when our HBIC Veronica gives Jamey Sierra’s number. Jamey texts Sierra, thinking he’s texting Veronica, and Sierra continues stringing Jamey along for the entire length of the movie. She even asks Veronica for help and offers her to tutor her so she can impress her college boyfriend who had broken up with her because she wasn’t smart enough for him. Veronica, unlike Sierra, is bullied by her mother into believing her looks will serve her better than her brains ever will.

Sierra Burgess matters because this movie paints a good picture of how it feels like to be a teen girl whose appearance doesn’t fit into normalised beauty standards. While the movie deals with self acceptance, it isn’t really entirely about self acceptance – Sierra accepts herself for who she is. In the beginning, Sierra tells her mother she’s stuck with the only teen in the world who doesn’t care for her appearance. Look, if she really wanted to, Sierra could try harder – she relies on her usual hairstyle, avoids make-up and wears reliable clothes which don’t really fit her body type. Instead, Sierra concentrates on those aspects of life she finds more important.

While hanging out with Dan, Sierra picks up a photo of a model from a magazine and asks, “Is this really what guys want?”. Dan answers something along the lines, “Yeah, are you figuring this only now?” and Sierra retorts how she never had to think about it before.

However, Sierra’s insecurities appear once she’s pitted against the archetypal beauty standard we find in Veronica. She likes Jamey, however, even before she discovers he thinks he’s talking to Veronica, she knows she could never actually compete with the girl he thinks he’s talking to, whoever she may be. The situation only deteriorates when she realises the girl she’s competing with actually is Veronica who’s, in Sierra’s eyes, the ultimate beauty standard.

For me, an especially painful scene to watch was during Sierra’s and Jamey’s phone call when he says that being a fat baby is his only flaw, suggesting that he thinks that being fat is a flaw. Sierra becomes serious, her face adapts a somewhat pained expression, and the only way for you to know what’s happening in her mind in that moment is if you’ve been in a same or similar situation yourself. When a person you like decipits your biggest insecurity as faulty. There are several similar moments throughout the movie, like when he refers to Sierra’s deep voice as fat, and Veronica’s feminine voice as skinny, or when he tells Veronica over FaceTime that she’s more beautiful than he remembers. Those comments were only a painful reminder that Sierra is not who he would like her to be, no matter how strong their connection is.

And, as someone who was very similar to Sierra during my teen years, I can say that this is one of the most honest portrayals of a teen girl whose looks don’t exactly correspond to teen beauty standards. Because, unlike many other portrayals would like you to believe, fat teen girls don’t spend their high school years enviously staring at the popular girls and burning their voodoo dolls. Fat teen girls don’t sneak off into bathroom stalls to eat their chocolate bars and they don’t cry themselves to sleep every night. Fat teen girls have lives and friends and goals and are perfectly fine with who they are until they’re reminded they’re not who they’re supposed to be. Until they’re directly compared to the Veronica’s of the world. Until they’re reminded that only skinny girls are allowed to love food. Until they’re told that they’re pretty, you know, for a fat girl. And until they remember they have to work ten times harder to catch a guy’s attention, when girls like Veronica do is just by sitting down and sipping milkshakes – and then they throw it away.

And that’s why Sierra Burgess matters – because she represents fat teen girls, not what people think they know about fat teen girls.

Jamey tells Sierra that she’s not exactly everybody’s type and that if they met under different circumstances, he probably wouldn’t have noticed her – which is hurtful and unfair, but it’s also true.

Along the obvious catfishing, the movie has several other flaws which make it less than ideal rom-com, however, I believe they were on a good track in this department at least.

We were finally given a fat character who didn’t have to go through an extensive makeover to be liked by a guy. Maybe next time we could have a guy fall for a fat girl without falling for the hot cheerleader first or without being tricked into liking the fat girl? K, thanks.

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