The Whitney Museum chooses silence in an effort to displace, downplay, and negate valid public outrage regarding their policies, ethics and leadership. By Jamara Wakefield May 17th marked the start of the 79th Whitney Biennial. The Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition, featuring typically young and lesser-known artists, at the Whitney Museum of American Art […]
Ask Ashleigh: How Do You Handle the Backlash You Get for Being Fat and Visible?
Honestly, I normally avoid these questions because I don’t always know what to say. In so many ways, my survival has always been normalized into my daily routine and existence. I’ve never known a life where I had time to think about a strategy for survival in a world that constantly reminds me how unworthy I am. Sometimes I’m so focused on making it to the next minute, the next street corner, the next safe space, the next blunt, the next escape from reality that I don’t even think about how I made it to my destination.
In so many ways, I’ve been raised to speak up and defend myself in all spaces because no one else will do it for me. My mom taught me how to be smart (hood academics, survival, white performativity), how to be humble, how to be the orchestrator of my protection and success. My dad taught me that if someone fucks you over or does something you don’t like, let them know right then and there or they will do it again and say you liked it. My dad also taught me how to defend myself, physically and tactically.
Essentially, my parents prepared me for a world that hates black fat femmes like me. So when you play me, you play yourself because all I know is survival. All I know is resilience. And I make it look so easy because I’m so adapted to the reality that every day is a fight that I have to win or else.
When people tell me to kill myself because I’m fat and Black and femme, my own navigation of suicidal thoughts are affirmed and I feel more alone. When people tell me I look disgusting, it affirms all the insecurities projected onto me by a world that barely carries my size in stores. When people tell me I’m not worthy of existing, it hurts, of course. But my clapback game is how I survive. It’s how I try to gain control of a world constantly silencing me and telling me how to feel about my existence. So I respond to comments, drags, memes and people who laugh at me in public by reminding everyone: I really am that bitch.
When I say ‘I’m that bitch,’ I specifically mean that I am amazing, I am powerful, I am worthy and I’m HERE, BITCH. I’m saying that I’m willing to fight — physically and verbally — anyone who denies my humanity, because FUCK YOU. When I say I’m that bitch, I’m saying — TRY ME AND FIND OUT. When I say I’m that bitch, and I’m that nigga — I mean that I’ve been surviving all my fucking life and there is nothing anyone can do to destroy my personal and political power.
Even if I was assassinated today, the legacy of my existence and work (also see: waking up every day as political work) would continue to live on. Someone would notice I’m gone, someone would remember an outfit I slayed, someone would read my writing, someone would remember the sound of my cries, someone would remember my presence somewhere. My body — Black, fat, femme, trans, queer, other — is literal resistance to a world that says I’m not even human.
Dragging everyone who talks shit about me is a healing mechanism for me. It reminds people who are evil, politically and spiritually ill, and problematic that I am here, I will not be quiet and I will not let you get away with harming me and others like me.
I’ve been Black, fat and femme my entire life. The fight began long before I knew I was fighting. And the fight doesn’t end now that I know it exists. It just becomes about balancing what survival looks like based on the day, situation, circumstance and mental health state I’m in.
It becomes about navigating the conscious violence I’m experiencing while trying not to drown. And if the question becomes, “Well, how do you swim?” I can’t answer that yet. And I might not ever be able to. But I’m above water today.