Sierra Burgess is a Loser (2018) by Ian Samuels
Review / Personal Essay by Courtney Anderson
So . . . I’ve always been fat. Or, at the very least, I’ve always been bigger than most of my classmates.
My weight has been the biggest struggle of my life. It’s constantly fluctuating, so my body is always changing. Growing and shrinking, and growing and shrinking. Sometimes, there is more fat on one arm than the other. Sometimes, my cheeks look more chipmunk than human. Sometimes I have an extra fat roll or two on my back. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that my body has its own mind: it is stubborn and headstrong, and I just have to accept that it will do what it wants when it wants.
All throughout middle school, high school, and college, I felt angry with my body. The extra weight was a burden. It separated me from other girls my age: I looked too different, and I couldn’t physically do what most people my age could. Worse yet, I was treated differently, and I dealt with a lot of bullying because of my appearance. Being bullied for years because of a body I could barely control took a major toll on my self-esteem.
I internalized so many of those negatives messages, ones that tell me that fatness is ugliness, and ugliness is worthlessness, and worthlessness is a permanent state of being.
It was hard not to internalize those messages: not only was I was getting them from other students, but I was getting them from the media as well. Television shows and movies always favor thinness, lighter skin, longer hair. I don’t think I have to list all of the examples: you can flip the channels and see for yourself. You can look on Instagram and see for yourself. You can look at the most famous singers and actors and see for yourself.
If fat people do show up in media, they are mostly stereotypes: lazy, gluttonous, dimwitted. They are often the supportive/sassy friend who have no life of their own. And they never have romantic interests.
Beyond it being damaging to constantly consume anti-fat media, it also gets boring after a while. I’m always waiting for the movie where there’s a fat girl that actually does have a love interest, or at least isn’t spending the entire movie commiserating her weight.
Which is what I thought Sierra Burgess Is A Loser would be. And it wasn’t. At all.
As it turns out, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a story about a high school girl who spends the entire movie manipulating and lying to the boy she likes, having a massive complex about her looks and taking out her internalized bitterness out on people who do not deserve it.
But she gets the boy at the end. So, I guess I got one of my wishes.
Sierra Burgess is a high school senior who is applying to college. She’s got all A’s and a talent for writing, but that’s not what makes her stand out. Sierra is taller and more overweight than the rest of her classmates, which has made her the target of rude remarks by her mean, very popular classmate Veronica. And even though Sierra tries to bolster her self-esteem (“You are a remarkable beast,” she tells herself in the mirror,) and even though she pretends to not care, Sierra is deeply unhappy with her looks.
One day, Sierra gets a text from a super cute boy named Jamey. He’s the rival schools’ quarterback. He’s sweet, a little awkward and very eager to talk. He also thinks that he’s talking to Veronica and not Sierra.
See, Jamey had approached Veronica and her equally mean friends in a diner earlier that day and asked for her number. Veronica pretended to give Jamey her number, but actually gave him Sierra Burgess’s number instead. Veronica’s not into Jamey because he hangs out with “losers,” even though he’s hot. And plus, she already has a boyfriend that’s a freshman in college.
Sierra spends the rest of the night texting Jamey back. And she never once mentions that she’s not who he thinks she is.
Thus begins a nearly-two-hour movie where Sierra continually lies to and manipulates Jamey. Sierra finds new, innovative ways to keep tricking Jamey, dodging the truth at every turn.
Ironically, the best relationship in the movie is born out of the elaborate deception.
One day, Veronica rushes out of their class in tears: she just got dumped by her college boyfriend because he feels like she’s not smart enough for him. Sierra sees an opportunity: she offers to tutor Veronica in exchange for Veronica lending her face and body to Sierra’s ruse. Veronica agrees.
From there, we get to see their friendship blossom. We learn that Veronica has a messed up home life that fuels her animosity towards her classmates. Her mother is a fat woman who emotionally abuses Veronica. She allows Veronica’s little sisters to insult and disrespect her, and implies that Veronica’s value is only determined by whether or not boys like her.
We see Sierra making Veronica feel smarter and more valuable. We see Veronica making Sierra feel more accepted, hanging out with her, encouraging her singing and taking her out to parties. Veronica and Sierra’s relationship is far more engaging than anything Sierra and Jamey get up to.
Right around this time is when this movie really shows how creepy and flat out awful Sierra’s plan is. At one point in this film, Jamey goes to kiss Veronica. Veronica makes him close his eyes. Sierra, who had been following them around, kisses Jamey instead. Sierra literally kisses Jamey without his consent, and it is played as a turning point in Sierra and Jamey’s “romance.”
Weirdly enough, this moment isn’t the worst thing Sierra does. That comes in the film’s third act, when Sierra sees Jamey actually kiss Veronica. She thinks Veronica’s betrayed her. In actuality, Veronica breaks off the kiss and moves away from a confused Jamey.
Instead of asking Veronica about what she’d seen, Sierra decides to get revenge on Veronica. So, she hacks into Veronica’s Instagram (or, this movie’s equivalent of Instagram) and leaks Veronica’s private message from her ex-boyfriend. Everyone sees it, and Veronica is suddenly the isolated one. In retaliation, Veronica reveals the truth to Jamey, who is rightfully pissed off at both of them. Veronica also reminds Sierra that Jamey only kissed Veronica because he thought she was Sierra. Just like Sierra wanted him to.
By this point of the movie, I had stopped trying to root for Sierra. I’d started to believe that Sierra was a protagonist that we weren’t supposed to find likable. I was ready to see Sierra face consequences for her actions. I figured the movie would end with Sierra trying to repair her relationships or maybe even moving on and trying to be a better person in her life.
So imagine my disappointment when Sierra faces no consequences at all. In fact, she barely apologizes to Veronica and Jamey.
Sierra records a song and sends it to Veronica. We see Veronica listening to the song with tears in her eyes. Later on, we see Sierra all dressed up for a school dance, thinking that nobody was going to go with her. And guess who comes to pick her up? Jamey, dressed in his suit. He tells Sierra that while she might not be everyone else’s type, she’s his type. They go to the dance together, where they meet up with Veronica. Veronica and Sierra hug. Everyone’s friends again, and Jamey has decided to date the girl who lied to him for weeks on end and never apologized for it.
And I just sat there, staring at the screen, wondering what the hell I’d just wasted my time watching.
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is an unique experience for me, in that I cannot remember the last time I was so irritated by a movie. I was irritated because Sierra gets an ending she doesn’t deserve. She gets the boy and her friends back after having done nothing at all to get them back. Sierra gets the ending reserved for a good person even though she is not a good person.
Sierra Burgess isn’t just a “loser.” She’s also a liar and a manipulator.
She’s the kind of person who violates someone’s consent and their privacy.
She’s the kind of person who ignores her best friend, even though he’s spent the entire movie trying to convince her to be honest.
She’s the kind of person who lashes out at her mother, whose only crime is telling Sierra how much she loves her and why she should love herself.
She’s the kind of person who pretends to be deaf.
And she’s the kind of person who thinks she is both superior and inferior to everyone around her.
This movie is not positive representation for fat girls. There are only two fat people in this movie, and they are both bitter people who do and say harmful things because they hate themselves. This is a movie where being called trans and a lesbian are considered insults and where being deaf is something to be imitated and mocked.
I left the movie more hurt than I was whenever I started it.
There’s a painful irony in my experience with Sierra Burgess Is A Loser.
The same day I saw the trailer for this movie, I’d seen the trailer for the Netflix show Insatiable. Insatiable is a show about a fat teenage girl who ends up losing 70 pounds after being punched in the face and having her jaw wired shut. After she is thin and beautiful, she starts to embark on a new life full of horrible behavior.
Insatiable posits that the main character’s real life did not start until she lost weight, and that being fat made her a twisted, angry person who wants to harm others. It is a horrible show.
I’d watched the trailer for Insatiable and felt absolutely awful. And then, I saw a trailer for Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. The trailer doesn’t show how awful Sierra turns out to be or how deceptive and creepy her relationship with Jamey is. The trailer simply shows a fat girl dealing with body issues who finds a new friend while forging a new, kind of weird romantic relationship. I watched that trailer and felt better. I thought it would be the antidote to the poison “Insatiable” was putting forth.
I was wrong. I was so fucking wrong. It’s almost a little funny.