Ashleigh Shackelford

Real talk: I’m exhausted with the idea that fat Black bitches have to take care of everybody. Like, full stop.

I’m tired of everyone expecting something from me. Whether it’s using me as inspiration porn, using me as dissuasion porn (read: someone to never look like or love/like/fuck), to people eating off my flesh for their own resilience, support or power: fuck you, pay me.

Let me be clear, though: when I say, “Fuck you, pay me,” I mean, “FUCK YOU. PAY ME.” Pay me a check, pay me consistently, provide me safe housing, offer me a job with benefits, run me those Beyonce tickets, finance my clothes and wigs and aesthetics, cultivate accessibility to spaces and provide seats that fit me, see and validate my humanity. 

I know this may come as a shock, but my exposing of trauma and sharing of vulnerability as a Black fat femme is not for anyone but me. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to inspire other Black fat femmes with my visibility and publicizing my truth about living in an anti-Black, fatphobic, ableist world. But I want people who are unlike me, who do not hurt like me, who do not have to fight to exist every second of the day, to realize that my fat black femme visibility, unfiltered truth-telling and vulnerability costs me more than it has ever benefited me.

Fat Black Bitches like me are trained to make it so that everyone around us is comfortable — except ourselves. We’re trained to give until the well is dry and then some. We are taken from, stolen from, exploited, robbed, scammed, shamed, raped, assaulted, denied love, denied safety and expected to support everyone else through service, inspiration and mammification.

Related: Why Can’t Black Women Be Cute?

Thin and acceptable-body-type women and femmes constantly expect me to carry their pain or defend their honor in moments of violence. I’m not the muscle of the group just because you think having a bigger body means I can scare predators off. I’m literally preyed upon by the entire world. And this concept — that my Black fat femme-ness provides me or anyone else protection — speaks volumes to the erasure, silencing and gaslighting of the sexual and physical violence I experience daily. No one believes I need protection because no one sees me as a victim, or a potential victim.

I’m steadily taken from by everyone who comes into contact with me. People snatch my joy because being happy while fat destroys the notion that happiness is inherently linked to thinness, whiteness and able bodied-ness. Men and masculine folks regularly snatch my safety away by commenting on my appearance and using me as the punchline to their misogynistic jokes. Adults and children (often, whole families) gawk at my body and existence, affecting my mental capacity to enter certain spaces (such as the fucking mall); they interrogate my body, my gender, my worthiness, my humanity like I’m an animal in a zoo.

People constantly look to me to be the advice giver or the fixer/handler of all bad situations. And while I am that nigga (read: a boss-ass bitch that gets shit taken care of), I had to be violated a million times over to learn how to figure shit out for myself. I had to be harmed without provocation a thousand times before I knew how to fight proactively and protect myself. I had to be my own superhero. I have been forced into an adaptation of the violence constantly happening to me so that I can be aware and defensive against it. I don’t have time to throw other people life rafts when I’m already drowning. And I refuse to set myself on fire to keep you warm. 

I’m not your shoulder to cry on. I’m not rocking you to sleep when shit falls apart for you. When the world literally expects and mocks the trauma, pain and heartbreak that happens to fat black bitches like me, I’m too tired to care about giving sympathy to people who are already afforded sympathy in structural and interpersonal capacities. I always see softness and vulnerability, even brattiness and spoiled caretaking offered to thinner people. I see thinner people be believed when they say they are harmed, or sad or angry. I see thin femmes and women (of all races, actually) who are offered protection and care in ways fat black bitches are never granted. Our dehumanization is used to humanize everyone else in the entire world, but no one wants to protect, save or celebrate us. Everyone just wants to eat off our flesh until we can’t satisfy or provide for them anymore.

Related: The Body Positivity Movement Still Looks Too Much Like White Feminism

Cue Drake’s infamous line, “I like my girls BBW, the type that wanna suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you.” If y’all don’t get the fuck out my face … The world frames Black fat women, femmes and girls as oversexual beings who are longing for affection so badly that we’ll give it to anyone. Because the world deprives us of humanity, love, healthy sexuality and agency, we are then seen as targets for easy, devoted and mindless sexual accessories to predatory, exploitative-ass men. We are seen as dehumanized masturbation vessels (read: a warm body to sexually exploit that only pleases the dominant party/person with sexual capital) and then discarded like trash. And through this same context, there is a clear disregard for sexual agency for fat Black bitches like me.

Even in dating, I’m not your caretaking ass mammy, nigga. Fuck out my face. I’m not cooking for you, being on my feet for hours after working my damn self … I’m not pleasing you first. And I don’t have please you in exchange either. In a world that claims fat Black bitches don’t deserve humanity, softness, caressing or care — you can eat me out, feed me grapes and praise me with enthusiasm. I’m not gonna rub your back and your feet when the world expects me to prove my ability and agility by existing like a good fat bitch (read: someone who performs fatness in a way that defies their ableist, fatphobic ideas of our body strength, movement and speed — and also speaks to beauty standard performance; makeup, dressing “well,” etc.). I have to perform every day and every minute I exist.

Whether it be to perform ability to the thin and ableist standards set for us, or to perform like I don’t give a fuck walking past groups of adults and kids laughing at me for daring to exist — I have to be “on” all the time. I remember one particular example of a thin, white girl who followed me around the club to record me dancing. She literally chased me around the club until I grabbed her phone and smashed it on the ground. And I wish a nigga would tell me I didn’t do the right thing, or say I took it too far. THIS IS MY LIFE EVERY DAY. I’M BULLIED EVERY DAY. I’M READY TO FIGHT EVERY DAY. Like I said, FUCK YOU, PAY ME.

I can’t just walk out of the house and live my life. I have to prepare for allllll the different potential levels and aspects of violence I know I’ll face. From gender violence in which my body is sexualized and I’m threatened with rape or harm for ignoring them (primarily by masculine folks, especially presumably cisgender straight men), to random strangers taking videos of me walking with a limp due to my disability, or strangers taking pictures of me eating or existing as a fat Black femme. If I don’t wear a face full of makeup and a lace front wig growing out my scalp, plus a clean outfit to match, people can’t wait to tell me how all fat people are disgusting and sloppy. But if I slay too hard, people can’t wait to tell me I’m a pig pretending in bad bitch aesthetics.

Related: Bittersweet Like Me: When the Lemonade Ain’t Made For Fat Black Women & Femmes

If I breathe in public for five seconds, it’s also common that someone will feel the need to tell me, “YASSSSS!” in an attempt to cheer on my fat Black femme existence like I’m a damn animal learning how to be housebroken. People love to be voyeurs of fat Blackness, and inadvertently become more problematic by trying to “yasssss” us through anything we do. Our mere survival is read as motivational to all those witnessing our existence, and it inspires everyone who’s not us because they’re actually partaking in the subordination of our humanity. Our humanity and beauty are seen as less than thin able bodied-ness, maintaining a hierarchy even when we receive these empty-ass compliments or praises. It only reaffirms that our dehumanization validates your safety.

This is why I can’t fuck with people who hear my story, my everyday experiences with violence, and think somehow I should theorize and write it all down for people to take from me for free. The intellectual, emotional and actual physical labor fat Black bitches provide is actually invaluable to the entire world. Yet here we are and I’m still owed, still taken from, still waiting. Fuck you. I literally stay ready to fight every fucking body. I never wake up feeling relaxed, well rested, or open to joy. I wake up tired. And I live on the defense. I’m not well. I’m not okay. I don’t even know what okay looks like because I’m always dealing with violence AND preparing for it.

In conclusion, the case for reparations for fat Black bitches is: fuck you, pay us.

Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, agender Black fat femme writer, artist, and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. They are a community organizer at Black Future and the creator of a body positivity organization Free Figure Revolution. She is a run-on sentence repeat offender and a Ratchet Black Feminist dedicated to dismantling anti-Black misogyny. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford. Support my emotional and intellectual labor by donating to: PayPal.me/AshleightheLion.

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