Stop excluding Black women from fat acceptance movements

I think it’s time for me to start publicly talking more about what it means to be a fat Black girl in today’s cultural climate. Many people have probably heard about Nicole Arbour’s fat-shaming rant on YouTube, and more notably, how quickly fat positive activists like Whitney Way Thore and Lindy West responded, calling out its cruelty, lack of actual comedic quality, unoriginality, and outdatedness. The latter critique, the one that suggest we’ve moved beyond fat shaming in such blatant and overt ways, is mentioned and supported by West, who nods to a body-positivity movement that has been increasingly acknowledged by the mainstream.  And I would have to agree, the fat/body-positive movement is bustling… with white women.

The legacy of fat/body-positivity is turning out to be not much different than the history of the feminist movement that it relies on to support its stances: one that prioritizes and privileges white women. Representations of fat white women have become commercially accessible and visible – for example reality shows to reveal  the complexities of their lives and magazine covers intended to convince women that they can indeed be fat and confident. Meanwhile, fat Black women’s representation in mass media is relegated to comedy (where our bodies become part of the act itself); and we all hold our breaths, waiting for the latest Precious joke to pass while simultaneously praying that Gabby Sidibe‘s current major role won’t be her last. And while trendy fashion bloggers like Gabi Fresh and Essie Golden are certainly beginning to push the boundaries on fat Black girl visibility in a way that isn’t strictly satirical/degrading, they are limited to the beauty subgenre (because for us the presentation must always be on point). Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson graced the cover of ELLE.

When Tess Holliday–considered by some to be the first plus-sized supermodel, and arguably one of the most visible figures in the movement to promote body acceptance–proudly touted that Black men “love” her, she indirectly supported an assumption that most fat Black girls know not to be true: that Black communities treat fat women better than other communities do. We are in a body-positivity era that is ignoring women of color and Black women and doing so by resting on the false notion that for Black girls and women, being fat is somehow easier. In what feels like an asinine case of “reverse” psychology, body-positive white woman are subtly suggesting that not having to deal with fat shaming is a privilege that only Black women are afforded. Per usual, people are reaching  for their piece of the oppression pie (pun intended).

It is oft cited and mentioned that studies show that Black women have higher self-esteem and body image. However, high self esteem does not equal less fat-shaming, fatphobia, or other violence against fat Black women. For one, even if it were true that Black communities were more accepting of their fat women (which it isn’t), Black women don’t live in a cultural vacuum where they only engage and are affected by other Black people! Remember when that fat, Black woman went to yoga to mind her own damn business and then became the porous object to absorb all of Jen Carson’s white guilt? That’s a perfect example of how Blackness can’t save us from fatphobia (and certainly not white tears). And even within our communities fatphobia can wreck havoc on the lives of fat Black women. Just this past weekend I was at a music festival where I met one of my favorite cast members (a Black woman) from reality show “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.” All was going well and I was thrilled at how kind and down to earth she was until she told me that I was too cute to be too fat. A few years ago, when word got out that I was sexually assaulted (by a Black man), people in the neighborhood where it occurred doubted that it could have happened because I’m so big that there’s no way I couldn’t/shouldn’t have fought back to avoid the attack.

So please, let’s stop go ahead and set the record straight that Blackness is not the neutralizer of fatness. We need to get comfortable with and accept that Black women are also facing fat discrimination, are also participating in body acceptance movements, and also deserve to be represented.


Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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