Lauren Ash says she experienced body shaming during the 'sickest years of my life’
"The real conversation about my body has not started until I've lost weight," the actress says.
It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Lauren Ash has been both celebrated and shamed for her body throughout her acting career. Yet, the most vitriol she's received, which she found surprising, has in response to her appearance in a smaller body.
"The real conversation about my body has not started until I've lost weight. And that has been wild and people have been so angry at me for losing weight, which was not even something that was intentional," she tells Yahoo Life.
The Superstore alum, 40, never spoke directly about the appearance of her body or weight prior to July 2018, when she encountered what she said was a fatphobic tweet that suggested that being overweight is a choice. In a passionate thread in response to what she'd read, she revealed her struggle with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The hormonal disorder causes cysts to develop around a person's ovaries and is known to impact menstrual regularity. For Ash, the diagnosis and treatment of PCOS also impacted her weight.
"My experience with PCOS was exercising, eating an extremely restricted diet and continuing to gain weight," she explains. "That was my personal experience. And people find that hard to believe."
The public has also challenged her experience with speculation over what the fluctuation in her weight over the years might be attributed to. She says that one of the most upsetting came after Superstore's finale.
"That episode came out and there was this huge dialogue that started asking if I was pregnant in the final scene on that show, and I was not. I was just a woman who was out of a typical outfit we had seen me in for six years," she says.
She also was having a good time with her co-star Colton Dunn and simply not caring how her figure appeared on-screen. "I was laughing and in the take that they were using, I was genuinely laughing. When I watched it at first I was like, 'Oh, what a beautiful moment of these actors in real life laughing but these characters, also.' ... When I realized upon everybody making these comments asking if I was pregnant, I looked back and I was like, 'Oh, I just had disengaged my abs,' because in the moment, that's what people do in real life, believe it or not. We’re not all confidently engaging our core muscles to make sure that we look good on camera."
Ash said witnessing the conversation taking place online was "devastating," because of the nuances of PCOS which impacted both her weight and her fertility. She also felt unfairly judged in a body that didn't even feel like her own.
"I was unwell," she says of the six years spent filming the show. "I went through two surgeries, where I had no breaks. I was working at one point shooting five days after a surgery where I was told to take six weeks off. They had to make me new clothes because I couldn't fit into anything because I'd have a laparoscopic surgery to remove giant twisted cysts on one of my ovaries. And my clothes didn't fit because I was still filled with the gas from the laparoscopic surgery. I was an unwell woman and I didn't even realize it as it was happening."
Since the show's end in 2021, Ash has felt more aligned with her body than ever before as she takes on new roles in ABC's Not Dead Yet and Disney's new animated series KIFF, which premieres Friday. The change in her appearance, however, has sparked criticism.
"It was something that my body went through," she explains. "My body changed. I was able to become healthier in terms of my mental health, in terms of my PCOS and my body shifted. And the vitriol that I got on the internet from that was wild. It was far worse than anything I ever got in a larger body, which is nuts."
Ash has responded to claims that she's "no longer a role model" as a result of how her body has changed. Despite that and other negativity, she remains compassionate for the people who have expressed disappointment.
"There's a large part of me that has a lot of compassion, right? Because I know what those feelings are. There's someone that you're seeing on television that you feel represents you in some way, and you feel seen in a way that you haven't before. And then on paper, it may appear that that person then did whatever they had to do to become the standard, or more of the standard. And that can feel like a betrayal," she says.
What those people are missing even still is context.
"In retrospect, prior to me being on Superstore, I was in a body that was much closer to what I am now. It just so happened that the six sickest years of my life I happened to be starring on a television show that got quite popular. And so that's the one that people associate you with," she explains.
Nevertheless, Ash is grateful for the newfound connection she has with her community through sharing her journey with PCOS and its impact on her body.
"I had so many women and people with ovaries from all over the world, responding to me saying, 'You're the first person that I know from television or film that's actually spoken about this publicly. I feel so seen right now,'" she recalls just after sharing her PCOS diagnosis. "And in all of them seeing me, I felt so seen for the first time in this chronic illness, that it really kind of shined a light for me on how important it is to use my platform for things like that."
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