By: Megan Roche
Actress, advocate, and podcaster Jen Ponton has done many things in her career. She’s played roles in Orange is the New Black, Dietland, and voiced a character on Sesame Workshop’s Helpsters on Apple TV among many other projects. She’s busy with her podcast. She’s advocating for the causes that drive her, but she can now tick off another bucket list item. Ponton recently gave her very first TED Talk.
Ponton’s TED Talk was a dream come true. In fact, it’s something she’s wanted to do for a very long time.
“I was really excited to give myself something challenging to do. There was no question in my mind that this panel was full of all female speakers and all of them were speaking on something in the medical realm. Because of my fat acceptance activism, it falls under the medical umbrella quite a bit. I decided that I wanted to address not only fat phobia in the world and it’s negative effects through society, but also how entertainment plays a significant part in that,” Ponton said.
Ponton spoke at the TEDx Princeton Women event in mid-November. While most of the speakers focused on medicine related topics, Ponton, who is a proud fat acceptance activist, focused her talk on acceptance and inclusion of plus size people.
“Fat acceptance has been my unofficial life’s work for the last 13 years. I’ve been researching principles of fat liberation and the principles that I’ve learned from all that research were focused mainly on the fact that bodies naturally come in all sizes and because of that, we’re all not supposed to be slender or skinny. It is entirely normal for a body to be fat. Being fat does not inherently make a body unhealthy, it’s just what some bodies do,” Ponton said.
Due to COVID-19, Ponton’s TEDx Talk was done a bit differently.
“We didn’t have an audience. We spoke in front of cameras and the audience showed up at a live virtual event. When I was delivering my speech, I had my mask off, but I felt relatively safe,” Ponton said.
TEDx Talks usually take about 8 months to plan. For Ponton’s talk, she had roughly 2 months to prepare.
“The producers will start getting things rolling about 8 months out. You pretty much have the better part of a year to plan for your event. At the six-month mark, the producers select their speakers. The speakers usually have about six months to prepare and work on their speech. The TEDx Princeton Women were given this opportunity with a 2-month window. At the one-month mark was when they locked in their speakers, I had to turn it around quick. I had a week to turn in my proposal, a week after that was my outline and first draft, and the week after that was my final draft. It was really quick and that was so daunting,” Ponton said.
When Ponton was growing up, she knew she wanted to get into the entertainment industry. Many discouraged her, simply because she was fat. Teased all of her life for her weight, Ponton hopes by giving her TED Talk that she inspires anyone who might be plus size to go after their dreams.
“The world needs to see everybody’s stories. If you watch stories or shows and you don’t feel yourself seen, I don’t want you to think it’s a failing of you. It’s a failing of the industry to not reflect the kinds of stories that people like you get to live. Your involvement means something and can make entertainment more reflective of you and people who look up to you. Most of all, don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do. You get to decide that for yourself,” Ponton said.
Ponton’s TEDx Talk will be posted on TED’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Until then, for more information on Ponton, visit www.jenponton.com.