ON BODY IMAGE She started parodying celebrities on Instagram for laughs, but six million followers later, actor and comedian Celeste Barber knows she’s also playing a role in something bigger: the movement around body positivity.
When I was 16, I was diagnosed with ADD and started taking drugs for that, and as a result dropped a lot of weight. I wasn’t hungry, clothes fitted me better and people responded to it, which felt great. It was around then that I first thought about my body in a conscious way and realised that looking a certain way has currency, which was interesting to me, because the way I look has always been the least exciting thing about me.
I started dancing when I was three and danced up until my teens, and I always just loved it. Body image wasn’t a big part of it. I did notice that the skinny girls would sometimes be put up the front, even if I was a better dancer, but I was too busy having fun to care too much about it. It was more about the community, the feel of it and the pure joy I got from creating and moving.
It was around this time I became obsessed with Friends (the greatest show in the whole wide world forever and always) and seeing three hilarious, talented but also insanely attractive women. I realised that even in comedy, as a woman in that industry, you had to look a certain way to be visible. I didn’t really see myself doing that, because that wasn’t how I looked.
I started posting #celestechallengaccepted on Instagram to make people laugh. I know I’m playing a role in the body positivity movement that’s happening now, and I love that. Mind you, people get furious with me on Instagram if they think I’ve lost weight. They say: “It’s not funny anymore, you look too good.” Fuck off! You can be hot and funny, just watch me. Funny and hot, smart and pretty, are not oil and water for women. We’re complex: we don’t have to be one thing or the other.
People say: “You’ve lost weight” like it’s a badge of honour. I recently finished a world tour of my stand-up show and have had some time to sit still, spend time with my kids, stay at home, watch my husband cook dinner, drink wine and laugh. No-one ever says: “You look like you’ve had a minute off and put on a bit of weight, good on you”, it’s always seen as a negative thing. It’s a good thing that I stopped working like crazy, travelling to a new city every day, relaxed and ate some food.
Body shaming and healthy living are not the same thing. I say in my stand-up show that body shaming needs to stop dressing itself in healthy living’s clothing. I get approached by lots of detox tea companies for sponsored posts on my Instagram and I always respond the same way: I don’t promote any products that make women feel we need to look a certain way to feel a certain way. They are different things. Those two worlds are very convoluted and when they are sold as the same thing they can be very dangerous.
I make a conscious choice to ‘buy what I’m selling’. I’m on my third photo shoot in three days and that can be confronting for a person who has built a career based not on how I look. It gets me down if I start thinking the clothes don’t fit, my stomach looks massive in this or fearing that they are going to have to cut these pants so I can fit into them, so I put myself into a bubble and choose not to buy into that kind of thinking.