Before she was sent the script for HBO's Euphoria, model turned actress Barbie Ferreira never saw characters like Kat Hernandez. "A lot of the auditions I get are very stereotypical plus-size roles where either she's very insecure or one-dimensional," the 22-year-old tells Glamour. "So when I read the sides for [Kat], I had to really take a moment. I called my agent and said, 'It's like they're in my head.' It was a fully developed character. I related to her so much."
Watch one episode of Euphoria, and you'll understand why. The provocative series, which ends its season one Sunday, has received rave reviews for its unwavering portrayals of adolescent drug abuse, sexuality, and body image. That third point is where Ferreira's character comes in. When we meet Kat, she's a lot of the things Ferreira just described: shy, insecure, a "wallflower" of sorts to her thinner, self-centered friends.
But after she loses her virginity at a party and footage of it ends up online, something changes in Kat. Hurt and traumatized by this incident, not to mention the years of body-shaming she experienced, she reclaims her sexuality. She becomes a cam girl whose clients pay to be degraded by her. She has sex with the high school's former golden boy. She buys revealing clothes. As a byproduct of this reinvention, Kat also becomes more jaded and, some fans say, "mean." But Ferreira has a different interpretation.
"There's a lack of complexity to plus-size characters a lot of times," Ferreira says. "People are hating on Kat right now, which I totally understand, because I don't think anyone in the show is one-dimensional, flat, or un-flawed. That's kind of the point."
The fact there's a conversation at all surrounding Kat is progress. It's rare for a plus-size character to receive full dimension on screen. But Kat has a nuanced, interesting, polarizing storyline—and most of it has nothing to do with weight.
"Yes, of course Kat's body-shaming has happened and influences her, but it doesn't take up the entire narrative," Ferreira explains. "Having a character that isn't perfect and is making mistakes and has her own storyline in a show—we need to have more of that, where people aren't caricatures of themselves. They are full human beings and their identities aren't necessarily at the forefront of all their problems."
This doesn't mean Ferreira wants to brush off Kat's body image. On the contrary, she's appreciates how Euphoria is creating visibility. "I don't really see a lot of fat girls who are hot and secure in themselves on film and TV," she says. "I think it's always, 'Here's a best friend who's funny' or you're just the joke. As an aspiring actress at, like, 10, 11, 12, I would look at movies and TV shows and just not see that I could be a character who is dynamic and has layers."
Had Kat come along sooner, Ferreira thinks it might have saved her from years of thinking she wasn't thin enough to become an actor. "As a kid, it was really horrible, but I had this toxic mindset of, 'I have to lose weight to be an actor, to be taken seriously,'" she says. "Euphoria gave me confidence that it's possible there are people who see it that way, like I do."
But seeing a character like Kat on screen is only half the battle. Ferreira wants more types of body diversity present in the pop-culture we consume. "I think there needs to be a reflection in people of color who are bigger and trans women who are bigger," she says. "I'm this white girl. My body is proportioned in whatever way society thinks is redeemable. I'm not the end-all of all representation, but hopefully [Euphoria] will start the conversation. Fat people are everywhere. It's not just models who have skinny faces and have thick bodies. It's different body shapes, different body sizes. I hope to see more of that."
“I don't really see a lot of fat girls who are hot and secure in themselves on film and TV."
She hopes to see more of this in the fashion industry, too. Ferreira's been an in-demand model ever since she splashed onto the scene in early 2016 with an American Apparel campaign. (She scored the deal after the brand messaged her on Tumblr.) The Internet really took notice of her, though, when Aerie tapped the model for an un-retouched bikini campaign. Ferreira went from relatively unknown to a face of plus-size modeling overnight. She's seen up close how the machine works—and she has some critiques.
"With plus-size modeling, it's these girls who have very thin faces, who are, like, 6-foot-2 and have these beautiful, proportioned bodies. Very to the standard of the media," Ferreira says. "Plus-size doesn't stop at a size 16 or start at a size 8. A size 8 is not plus-size. You're selling clothes to women who are plus-size, and you're a size 8. It's what I did, and no excuse for that, but it always rubbed me the wrong way."
The beauty industry isn't doing much better: "It's the same models," Ferreira says. "I always thought it was funny that despite not having to actually wear the clothes—you don't have to actually have the figures in a sample—plus-size girls aren't doing eyeglass campaigns or beauty campaigns or fragrance campaigns more often. There's actually no physical reason. It's not like they don't have the sample. You don't have to have my size in your sizes 1-4 for me to sell a perfume."
Another modeling gripe Ferreira has: People asking how she stays so confident. "I wouldn't see you asking that to a Victoria's Secret model," she says. "So why are you asking me? It makes sense, because there's such a hopelessness when you're trapped in that spiral of thinking being fat is the worst thing in the entire world. So seeing someone wearing something and not thinking those things is very new."
For a while, Ferreira admits she herself was trapped in a shame spiral. It was achieving success as a model that pulled her out of it. "Before I modeled, I was very strategic with what I wore," she says. "Everything was to make me look skinnier. Once [my American Apparel shoot] came out, people were really mean at first—like really, really mean. I was young. I couldn't process it."
She continues, "My biggest insecurity was my body. But instead of not modeling anymore, I was wearing crop-tops and things I would never do and showing more of my body in a way to be like, 'Yeah, this is what I look like, and I'm gonna bounce around looking like this and jiggle everywhere.' I'm just going to have to deal with it because I want to wear this. I want to be this girl."
That epiphany is similar to the one Kat has on Euphoria. The circumstances are different, but the takeaway is the same: At specific, critical moments in their lives, both Barbie Ferreira and Kat Hernandez stopped letting other people determine their actions and started living for themselves. Hopefully seeing their "body-positivity journeys," as Ferreira so nicely puts it, inspires other women to do the same.
"There's so many obstacles in your way, but at least you're starting that journey of taking up space and seeing yourself as a whole human being without [worrying about] the thing that you think is gonna be your downfall, which is your weight, and you realize it's not true at all," she says. "It's not true."
Christopher Rosa is the staff entertainment writer at Glamour. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrosa92.
Originally Appeared on Glamour