Black women’s bodies are hyper-sexualized and we need to make sure the language around body positivity doesn’t reinforce racist and sexist fetishization.
Demetria Obilor, traffic reporter at a Texas news station, recently responded to body-shaming comments made about her style of dress. The comments focused on her body size and her choice to wear clothing that does not hide her figure.
This situation is reminiscent of Patrice Brown, more commonly and affectionately known as Teacher Bae, who suddenly found herself under a microscope and under review by her employer when a photo of her went viral and garnered comments about how her wardrobe was inappropriate for the classroom.
Both of these women, and many more, are fighting a constant battle against unwarranted and unwelcome commentary about their bodies and how they choose to dress them. Not necessarily because of their size, but because of their shape.
“Has anyone seen Channel 8’s new morning traffic reporter? Her name is Demetria Obilor & she’s a size 16/18 woman in a size 6 dress and she looks ridiculous,” wrote Jan Shedd in a now-deleted Facebook post. “I understand that when I watch Channel 8 I’m going to get biased reporting and political correctness, but clearly they have taken complete leave of their senses. I’m not going to watch Channel 8 anymore.”
The post went viral after Chance the Rapper retweeted a screenshot of it with the simple caption “BIIIIIIG MAD.”
Jan is big mad. Don’t be like Jan. pic.twitter.com/ytAKJHMXBy
— Thicki Vallencourt (@fabfreshandfly) November 3, 2017
BIIIIIIG MAD https://t.co/E9yzWbU9m8
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) November 3, 2017
Obilor’s response was astute, matter of fact, and refreshing: “A quick word to those people: this is the way that I’m built, this is the way I was born, I’m not going anywhere, so if you don’t like it you have your options.”
While I support Demetria and her response to the racism and body shaming she continues to experience, I feel like there’s something else to be found beneath its many layers. Something else about this situation bothers me.
Both Obilor and Brown are “pear” shaped, light-skinned Black women. Their very existence in the bodies they were born into is readily fetishized, and not just by the color struck purveyors of colorism. With their light skin, small waistlines, and prominent hips and butts, they inhabit the seemingly most desired, coveted, and worshipped body type, for Black women especially.
But there is something at play here besides the fact that people of all races, genders, and sexualities constantly attempt to police Black women’s bodies. It’s beyond the fact that Black women, regardless of appearance, are always-already sexualized. It’s beyond the fact that curvy body types are always deemed inappropriate no matter what we wear.
I see these things converging into a point: the issue is the hypersexualization of a specific body type, which becomes even further hypersexualized on Black women who look like Demetria Obilor and Patrice Brown. Because it is not their clothing choices that are perceived as inappropriate and unprofessional — rather, the bodies that they exist in are seen as inappropriate and unprofessional because of the way that this specific body type has been so sexualized and fetishized.
Even the comments in support of Demetria Obilor and Patrice Brown sexualize them. “Jan is JEALOUS! I WISH I was as SEXXY as Demetria,” tweeted one supporter of Obilor. Reporting on the injustice of Brown’s situation, an Essence writer took time to describe her as “stacked like what my father’s generation would call ‘a brick house:’ ample bosom and bottom, wide hips and thighs and a snatched waist.” Whether people are speaking up in dissent or in support of these women, they can’t seem to keep from using a specific kind of language that does the same kind of work.
Consider the celebrations of “Thickanna” and “Thickoncé” across social media this year after the two mega stars gained weight in “all the right places.” The obsession with the “thick” body type is really about acceptable fatness. “Pear” and “hourglass” shaped women are permitted to exist in fat or fat-adjacent bodies in a way that women with other body types simply are not. Some people may pretend that “thick” is synonymous with plus-sized, but it really refers to women with acceptable amounts of fat in specific areas of their bodies—the areas that we sexualize the most.
Related: STOP POLICING RIHANNA’S BODY
I’m sure there is some evolutionary or sociological explanation for why a prominent hip to waist ratio has become the most desired women’s body type in our lifetime, but that is irrelevant to my point. Because regardless of the feelings that these bodies illicit when observed and consumed by voyeurs or paramours, to punish those who exist in those bodies simply for existing in them cannot be excused by evolution, sociology, or any phenomenon.
There is a bizarre, simultaneous coveting of and fear of this body type. People become offended by the sight of it in certain spaces when they have, at the same time, relentlessly sexualized it in others. The reality is that if we didn’t hypersexualize this specific body type, and then further sexualize it on Black women, Demetria Obilor and Patrice Brown’s completely sensible and appropriate dresses wouldn’t be seen as so offensive.