This Baywatch Storyline Was Actually Body-Positive

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
This article contains mild spoilers about the plot of Baywatch.
On first glance, Baywatch doesn't exactly scream "body-positivity." The film stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Zac Efron, two extremely fit men with very defined muscles. And Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandra Daddario are conventionally attractive, slim women. But for all the hype — and the original TV show's claim to fame — Baywatch doesn't glorify any body types as better than others.
With all due respect to my colleague Morgan Baila, I don't think that "abs represent strength" in the movie. Yes, Matt's (Efron) physical ability helps him land the lifeguard job as "community service" for an unspecified crime. But early on in the movie, Mitch (Johnson) puts him in his place by besting him in a number of physical contests. The most powerful part, though, is that their testosterone-fueled competition takes a backseat to the other new recruits' lifeguard test.
When I saw that Jon Bass was in the new movie, I was cautiously optimistic about his role. His character, Ronnie, has a body type that's much more typical of the average American than the rest of the lifeguards'. But he was wearing a shirt in most of the promotional stills, unlike Efron. It would have been easy to make Ronnie's character a comedic-effect side note for the rest of the lifeguards, but he wasn't. Physically, Ronnie held his own against the other potential trainees during the test, and he was vital to the group's ultimate success against Victoria (Priyanka Chopra), too.
As the lifeguard wannabes prepare for the physical test, I was concerned. There's a moment where Ronnie touches his stomach, which could have set up a punch line for how funny it is that he'd try to join the lifeguard team. But it doesn't — Ronnie's body powers him through the test as other competitors start dropping off. He's not limited to or defined by his appearance, and unlike Matt, he earns Mitch's praise on recruitment day.
Later, when C.J. (Rohrbach) orders lunch for the guards and trainees, Ronnie timidly tells her that he'll have a salad. When the group sits down to eat, Ronnie's surprised to see that he's the only one eating a pile of leafy greens. He says that he assumed there was a rigid diet to look like the rest of the guards do — a remark that's quickly brushed off and ignored by the others. And that's the last time his appearance is alluded to in the film.
The guards aren't being rude by ignoring him — the moment helps him realize that no one else is thinking about his body. They're eating what they want, he's eating what he wants, and all of their various bodies are perfectly capable of performing their jobs. That first lunch together is Ronnie's moment of realization that it's okay to be who he is. There are a lot of directions the movie could have taken his character, and it took exactly the right one.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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