'This is for all the fat girls!': How Camryn Manheim's Emmy win inspired Joy Nash to follow her acting dreams

Joy Nash may be a beacon of body confidence now, but it wasn’t always this way. The curvy actress can recall a few defining moments in her life that “flipped a switch.”

First was her family. “I kind of had a contentious relationship with some family members when I was growing up,” the Dietland star reveals to Yahoo Lifestyle at theCURVYcon in New York City on Friday. “They’re really conservative and they just had an image of what they were hoping for me. It wasn’t like, ‘what will you become?’ It was like, ‘this is what you will be.’ It took a long time for me to even ask myself that question, it wasn’t an option.”

And while a lack of family support can be detrimental to a young woman’s development, it actually set her on the path to self-love. “That saved me in a sense from taking on any negative self-hate because it really got their goats when I didn’t hate myself. So the best revenge was to like myself and love myself. Whenever I think a negative thought about myself, I stick it to the man,” she says. “That’s the way to get back. If you need a flip to be switched, that’s the way to do it.”

Later on, the early days of the internet proved to her that life as a curvy lady didn’t have to be limited. “In college, I was 18 maybe when I got internet for the first time, I was shocked,” the 38-year-old remembers. “I came across people’s GeoCities homepages and there would be these fat women putting pictures of themselves up there and they had guestbooks, which was kind of like a Facebook wall, filled with positive comments from men.” Nash never thought that curvy women could be seen as desirable: “I was shocked and really angry that I’d been alive for 18 years and no one had ever suggested to me that someone might like me not in spite of but because of my body. It was huge.”

College was also when she was introduced to Camryn Manheim, a superhero in the plus-size community. “I was in the room when Camryn Manheim won her Emmy,” she shares excitedly. “I was going to USC across the street and an usher came over and was like, ‘we need seat fillers, if you want to go to the Emmys, meet me in 20 minutes.’” The aspiring actress didn’t give up the opportunity to be in the room where it happens. “So I put on the most expensive thing I owned, which was a suit from Ross. I went with two friends, one of them was wearing shorts. And we sat in the nosebleed-iest seats.”

It didn’t matter, because something huge was about to happen. It was 1998, The Practice was in its prime, and Manheim won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. “I’d never seen The Practice. I didn’t know anything about her, but I just remember seeing this beautiful fat woman barreling up the aisle and she raised up the Emmy, and she said, ‘this is for all the fat girls!’” This was a major moment for Nash. “I erupted out of my seat. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen for a fat woman.”

Joy Nash talks about how she gained her body confidence at theCURVYcon Powered By Dia&Co on September 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

Twenty years later, Nash is making waves for her starring role as Plum Kettle in the first season of Marti Noxon’s Dietland. But for a while she wasn’t getting any offers, she revealed in a panel at theCURVYcon. Luckily, that’s changing, for her and other curvy women. “Every time I see a fat person on TV it’s like a reconfirmation, we belong here,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I deserve to be here as much as anybody else and I’m not going anywhere.”

There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with starring on this AMC series, and not just because it’s one of the only shows with a plus-size woman as the lead. It also tackles rape culture. More specifically, women seeking revenge on men who have been accused of sexual assault but have not faced legal charges. Sound familiar?

“It was a lot easier to shoot it than it was to watch it afterward because when you’re making it, you’re working hard. And not reliving it. But when you’re sitting there watching it, I’m reminded of my own life, or friends, it’s hard.” She felt a connection to this storyline because it’s common. “I feel like I’ve had more experiences like that than some romantic fairytale. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a romantic fairytale,” she added. “And I think that’s true for lots of women. Ugh I’m gonna cry. I get some emails that will just break your heart,” she said through tears about fan letters detailing experiences with sexual assault.

Those same fans are wondering if the show will continue. “I don’t know!” Nash admitted. “I hope it goes on forever! I am not done with Plum just yet.”

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