Alden Boon

Eight Questions with Star of Big Brown Girl Ross Nasir: Being a Plus-sized Woman and Her Self-love Journey


Ross Nasir is the star in the one-woman show ‘Big Brown Girl’. The musical comedy follows Ruby as she dates several men from Singapore, Malaysia, Washington D.C. and Paris. The story draws on Ross’s personal experiences as well as shared experiences of other plus-sized women. We speak to Ross about growing up as a plus-sized kid in Singapore as well as self-worth.

Ross, what was growing up as a plus-sized kid like?

When I was a kid, the word ‘fat’ was such a humiliating term. It had a negative connotation. Kids, being kids, would of course tease me, but I wasn’t pressed by that. I guess that has something to do with my assertiveness as a person. I was, however, affected whenever I was asked to go to the back row during a photoshoot because the teachers didn’t want me to block my smaller-sized classmates. And as a performer from primary school all through college, I would get very upset whenever I couldn’t fit into a costume. As you know, dancers should be wearing the same set of costumes for a performance. But because of my size, it was difficult to find matching costumes. While my friends were accommodating and were willing to settle for a simple black ensemble with ties, I just felt very bad. So many times I would run to my parents in tears, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to perform. I didn’t want to be separated from my friends. But thankfully, things always worked out in the end.

For us plus-sized people, even going for a fitting can be very daunting.

Exactly. Something as simple as trying on costumes can make plus-sized children can take pause, because it’s a point of embarrassment for them. It simply doesn’t feel good to have to squeeze yourself into something that doesn’t fit you. As a drama teacher, I’m very aware of this. That’s why when I’m preparing costumes, I always make sure that everyone feels he or she is included. I don’t want anyone to feel that he or she is different. If I can take away one obstacle for them, why not?

Were you a part of the very traumatising Trim and Fit (TAF) Club?

Oh, of course! I didn’t understand why I had to go and run during recess time. Why couldn’t I enjoy my mee soto? It’s counterproductive as it only made me hungrier — after school I’d devour even more junk food! I get that it comes from a good place of wanting to get us to a healthy weight, but as a kid it was such a humiliating experience. Imagine having to run (poorly) in front of the whole school, and as an overweight girl, in front of older boys! I always tried to get out of it: once, when I was in primary five, I hid in a dark corner behind the dentist’s office and ate my burger. I always harboured that fear of the teacher calling my name during assembly because I was an absentee. But I honestly wouldn’t say TAF Club as traumatising.

Ross Nasir as Ruby in 'Big Brown Girl'.

Was there any pressure from your family to lose weight?

My father has a very lean physique while my mother is a curvy but not a big woman. We think I inherited my grandmother’s genes: she’s plus-sized as well. Growing up, my mother was very protective of me, and she never once made me go on a diet. It was always more of diluting my soda or cutting down my access to snacks.

The pressure came when I was much older. When I was seventeen, I tried the Atkins diet. I initially thought it wasn’t that bad as I could eat anything but carbs. And then I realised I couldn’t live without carbs. Then came the wanting to have a life partner, to want to know what love feels like. I didn’t have a boyfriend when I was in secondary school, so I’d spent a lot of time thinking: ‘What is wrong with me?’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I’ve wondered if everything that the world has taught us about inner beauty is untrue. Do we really get picked because of our looks? They say ‘love yourself first’, but I feel that it’s so difficult for me to love myself because I don’t know how anyone can love me.

You’re a multihyphenate: actress, writer, singer. To be able to perform on stage to a live audience tells me you’re confident and obviously talented. Why do you say you struggle with self-love?

My stage work has more to do with my career and interests. I can be the funniest person in the world (my friends repeatedly tell me I’m not) but it doesn’t mean I don’t have debilitating thoughts about myself. The audience may clap for me, but I don’t feel loved. I feel appreciated that the audience finds the script and jokes enjoyable. But the applause doesn’t help me to become confident, not in areas such as my love life or relationships. Self-love is a personal journey, and it is a lifelong struggle for me. For me, I yearn to see myself through the eyes of someone who loves me, so that I can finally see what I’m worth. People have told me that I really shouldn’t be depending on others to determine my self-worth. But it’s easy for them to say that. For them, when someone pays them a compliment such as ‘you’re beautiful’, they don’t immediately think: ‘He’s lying. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, here that he sees that is beautiful.’

Have you come to accept your body or is that still a struggle?

I’ve come to accept that even if I were to eat less, I would always be plus-sized. I’ve also come to take ownership of the word ‘fat’ and think of it as a positive term. While I’m fat, I’m a healthy girl and I don’t have any illnesses. But especially after the past two years of COVID-19, I’ve reflected on things like longevity. I want to make sure that I can continue doing what I love for a long time. My goal now is to be big and active. Production rehearsals have been a good catalyst towards this goal: we’ve been doing Zumba and other activities to build stamina. One thing though that I have had to learn is that being fat is not my identity. My personality isn’t made up of my weight. Being fat is a part of me, and I have to live with it.

From pain comes beautiful art. Tell us about your show Big Brown Girl.

Melissa Sim, my co-writer for the show, and I used to talk about our dating experiences. I shared mine, not just as a big girl but also as a girl of a minority race. And then she shared her friends’ experiences, and we both saw that there was a common thread here. The story of Ruby, my character, is one that needs to be told. The story follows her experiences as a plus-sized woman, as she travels the world and finds her self-worth.

The production is by How Drama. We have another production entitled ‘Fat Kids Are Harder to Kidnap’, where we would stage thirty-one plays in an hour. There’s an interactive portion where the audience would shout the number of the play and we would perform it. We wanted to bring this interactivity to Big Brown Girl: it gives the audience a sense of agency as they can vote for the men that Ruby would go on dates with.

Many people have asked: ‘Oh, so does Ruby’s story represent all fat girls’ stories?’ It doesn’t; it’s not a one-size-fits-all story. This has to do with the fact there is so little plus-size representation in Singapore. I’m therefore so grateful to Esplanade for giving us the opportunity to stage our play. It’s quite bold of them to do so. I’m hoping that this will open up more platforms for other plus-sized girls and boys to share their stories, which are multifaceted and beautiful.

Indeed, there is a scarcity of plus-size representation in Singapore’s media scene. And if there is, it’s caricatures. One last question: aren’t you afraid of putting so much of yourself out there?

Oh yes, I do feel that fear. While conceptualising the show, there were many moments when we thought: ‘Is this too much?’ But what I’ve learnt is that I have to present honesty to the audience, so that people will learn and know that these are the very struggles that plus-sized people encounter. This is where I think Melissa is brilliant, as she was able to take the stories I offered up and adapt them to suit Ruby the character. The story became more character centric and less autobiographical. It’s a story that belongs to everyone, even men.

There were many plus-sized women who came to watch the show during our first leg in December 2021. After the show, they would come to me, crying and thanking me. I was so humbled by it. Hearing their compliments has helped me work through my own set of insecurities. Thank goodness I wasn’t the only one who went through incidents like being asked to sit on a bar stool — those things are invented for fat-shaming! Why would you put me at the end of a chopstick? I’m now very excited for the upcoming shows and to hear feedback from more people.

Ross Nasir’s Big Brown Girl returns from 10 to 12 June 2022. Get your tickets now at Keep your eyes peeled for an in-depth story with Ross as she shares more on body positivity and self-worth.

Photo credit: Esplanade


Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.