Yvette Nicole Brown Tells Us The Simple Thing That Made Her Tackle Her Weight — And Hollywood's View Of It

Yvette Nicole Brown wants to change how Hollywood & the rest of us think about obesity.

Yvette Nicole Brown Courtesy Of 'It's Bigger Than Me' via CanvaPro

Weight and obesity are hot-button issues nowadays, and the discourse around them has never been more fraught.

On one side are those who point out that roughly 40% of America is classified as obese, and we have high rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease to show for it.

On the other are activists attempting to tackle fatphobia and toxic beauty standards by advocating for fat acceptance, body positivity and the notion that fat doesn’t necessarily equal unhealthy—a movement called “healthy at any size.”


Regardless of what side we fall on, we are all being bombarded by often unattainable standards of what constitutes “health,” from outdated metrics like BMI to images of suddenly svelte Hollywood stars rumored to be turning drugs like Ozempic into the weight loss trend du jour.

Actress Yvette Nicole Brown, best known for her six-season stint as Shirley Bennett on NBC’s “Community,” knows this fraught situation all too well. And after more than 20 years in Hollywood, she has lived nearly every side of it.

That includes a recent battle with obesity and Type 2 diabetes, an experience that has left her wanting to change how everyone, from Hollywood to the medical industry to just regular old you and me, thinks about weight.


And with a new initiative she’s joined, Brown thinks she just might know how to change it once and for all.

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Yvette Nicole Brown has joined obesity-advocacy initiative 'It’s Bigger Than Me' following her own battles with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

When I sat down one-on-one with Brown, she spoke of her diabetes diagnosis as a turning point—both personally and in her understanding of what obesity actually is.

It's what motivated her to host a series of video discussions with 'It's Bigger Than Me' launching March 8th, which she hopes will help destigmatize obesity and empower those living with it.


Brown and 'It’s Bigger Than Me' want people to know that obesity is a medical condition, not a character flaw or a body type.

“My body got sick, and then I found out further that obesity is a disease,” Brown said, a concept she thinks “might be new to a lot of people” and indeed was new even to Brown herself. 

This of course differs from how we—societally, culturally and oftentimes even medically—tend to think and talk about obesity as a moral failing resulting from laziness or a lack of accountability.

You need only dip a toe into diet culture or some of the content from social media fitness influencers to see the messaging that people are overweight because they “don’t want to work hard” or “don’t love themselves enough.”

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Brown says understanding obesity as a serious but treatable medical condition changed everything for her. 

“That initial diagnosis was enough for me to go, ‘I need to go to my doctor and figure out how I can be healthier.’”

Brown wants Hollywood to change the way it depicts fat people and treat obesity as a treatable medical condition—instead of a punchline.

Brown told me that as a character actress working primarily in comedy—”popping in and cracking wise,” as she put it—she has been “blessed” to have mostly been spared the harsher aspects of being a public figure whose body doesn’t always conform to Hollywood’s ideals.

“I never really worried about it,” she said. “My work never came from how I looked. My work came from my sense of humor and my intellect and my love for others.”


But she has had a front-row seat to the impact of Hollywood’s unrealistic body standards, especially when it comes to women, both within the industry itself and in our culture in general.

“It’s sadly not just Hollywood,” she said. “Society at large has decided what women should be.”

“I think what Hollywood could do to make it better is we can show better images of people that are living with this disease."

“You wouldn't make fun of someone with diabetes. You wouldn't make them the butt of a joke on a television show or in a movie,” she adds.

“But because people don't see obesity as a disease, we see that all the time.”

Brown thinks this distinction could be as empowering for others as it was for her.


“Once you accept that it's a disease…it kind of softens the way you deal with people, how you talk about people—and how you talk about the actual disease.”

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Brown also hopes to tackle fatphobia, racism and misogyny within the healthcare industry with her work with 'It’s Bigger Than Me.'

“I'm a Black woman, I'm a woman living with obesity, I'm a woman living with diabetes, I'm of a certain age, I have natural hair,” Brown told me. “There's so many different things that I am that society says is ‘not enough’.” 

And like so many other women, Brown says this marginalization often intensifies once inside a doctor’s office.


“Women in general, but especially women of color, we're not listened to,” she said. “When we go to the doctor a lot of times it takes us two or three times going, no, no, this is hurting me, or no this is a problem, to be heard.”

Brown has also experienced firsthand what so many overweight people, especially women, often report—fatphobia often makes being heard by doctors even harder.

“I would go to the doctor,” she said, “their first thing was, well, you should just lose some of that weight. It's like, oh, is that all I should do? Sure. Let me just get right to that.”

Brown went on to point out that doctors don’t take this approach to any other condition. 


“You wouldn't tell someone with diabetes, well, you just need to produce more insulin. Just get out there and get that pancreas going. Oh your heart's bad? Make your heart tick a little harder.” 

Brown hopes 'It’s Bigger Than Me’s' aim of redefining obesity as an actual disease will help change these perceptions from the inside out, and also allow people to better advocate for themselves. 

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Yvette Nicole Brown sees 'It’s Bigger Than Me' and its approach toward obesity working in tandem with fat acceptance and body positivity rather than against them.

An initiative to cast weight as a disease is sure to be controversial amongst those aligned with movements like fat acceptance, body positivity and “Healthy At Any Size.”


But Brown says one of the most important things she and It’s Bigger Than Me want people to understand about obesity is that health and body size are two different things—a philosophy it shares with the fat acceptance movement.

“Health is not a size,” she told me. “We know that there are health risks to [obesity], but that doesn't mean that everyone that is carrying excess weight is unhealthy.”

Which is why, Brown says, 'It’s Bigger Than Me' advocates an individual approach when it comes to determining whether their weight is just weight, or obesity—that is, a disease. 

“We say, go to your doctor and find out if you are okay, and if you're okay, way to go! And if you do have some underlying health concerns that obesity exacerbates, then start working on that.”


In this way, Brown sees 'It’s Bigger Than Me' working alongside, not in opposition to, fat acceptance and body positivity movements.

“You can be all about being positive about your body no matter what the size is, and also be a hundred percent for being healthy no matter what size you are. The two are the same.”

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'It’s Bigger Than Me' and fat acceptance movements share a common enemy in diet culture and a common goal in self-acceptance.

I asked Brown what advice she has for anyone who feels demoralized by the often impossible standards our culture, society, and even many doctors hold when it comes to weight and obesity.


“We have to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and cut ourselves a little bit of slack,” she said. “The world is already hard enough on us, right?” 

She urged those struggling with health problems related to weight to “decide I'm gonna do it different this time, and I'm gonna believe that it's gonna get better.”

“Different” in this case means treating obesity for what it is—a disease that is treatable with the help of a doctor and resources like 'It’s Bigger Than Me.'

“All life is, is every day trying again until you get it right. So we just gotta keep getting up and trying again,” Brown says. “Everyone deserves that.”


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.