‘The Circle’ On How We Treat Black Women and Fat People Online
It’s an EmoBlackThot-sized lesson that ‘The Circle’ ends up showing to the masses. The lesson could have been more useful if it was intentional.
Just under a month ago, I started watching The Circle with a dear friend and roommate. We were both bored out of our fucking minds after clocking out of our respective jobs. So, we sat on the couch, scrolled through Netflix, and came across this weird-ass show called The Circle. A couple of hours passed and we were sucked in. The show billed itself as basically the social media game show of the new decade, where a group of people either play as themselves or assume completely new identities to build the ultimate social media profile and win a bunch of money at the end of it. But to me, it was like watching Survivor, Catfish, and Big Brother all in one go. It was morbidly fascinating and entertaining, like watching a case study play out in real-time or watching a trainwreck happen right in front of you.
Of course, the “entertaining” aspect of it dissipated once I, a fat Black girl, zeroed in on how Blackness and fatness were regarded the entire game. So let’s get started, shall we?
An Inherent Distrust of Black Girls Is Built Into Social Media.
When The Circle starts, there are two* Black girls who are part of the inaugural cast. One is named Mercedes (played by 37-year-old Karyn Blanco, a Black lesbian) and the other is named Rebecca (played by 26-year-old Seaburn Williams, a cishet Black man). Ironically enough, both of them are catfish (I will elaborate on this momentarily), but the point of the matter is that very early on in the game, no one knows that they are catfish. And even still… I found the treatment of these two very… interesting.
From the beginning of the game, both “Mercedeze” and “Rebecca” have entirely different approaches to how they play the game. “Mercedeze” opts to keep it real. She says what she’s feeling at the time when she’s feeling it. She isn’t hateful, but she is as straightforward as she can be as a catfish. On the flip side, “Rebecca” opts for the “girl-next-door” strategy and attempts to put out the kindest, most saccharine vibes (after Shubam) in order to create an image of a sweet person.
And yet… they are nearly and instantly regarded with the same amount of distrust.
To the audience, it becomes clear right away that Karyn, the real Mercedeze, is more preoccupied with winning the cash prize than making friends—as she should be. But this ambition gets written off as her being “mean” or “having an attitude” because she doesn’t perform niceness or “friendship” as the other players are expecting of her. This is a typical thing that Black girls have to deal with, particularly if we just so happen to actually be anti-social or have some sort of anxiety. But having this happen in tandem with “Rebecca” being present made the whole thing way more interesting. With people dismissing “Mercedeze” as the typical “mean” Black girl, you would think that “Rebecca” would have a much easier time navigating the game as the overly “nice” Black girl. And for the hottest of minutes, she does, considering where she places at the end of the game. But eventually, particularly with complaints from “Ed” (a half-catfish who is a white man playing the game with his mom) and Joey (a white man), she is scrutinized for being “too nice” or “too kind” or “too naive”. And the entire time, I was just thinking… in comparison to what? In comparison to who?
The answer? In comparison to how the players (and the larger world) are expecting a “typical” Black girl to act. But the funny thing is that this is how they regarded “Mercedeze”. So the conclusion here is that there was no way a Black girl (catfish or not) was going to win this game—not just because of how it’s designed, but because the inherent distrust that people hold for Black women in the larger world was very much built into this game too.
But Black Women Are Good Enough For Clout Though.
But this odd relationship that The Circle and social media-at large has with Black women certainly does not stop there. And the most striking example of this is “Rebecca”.
Honestly, I found it oddly hilarious that this show was taking place in a post-EmoBlackThot world (I.e a very high profile example of a [Black] man catfishing as a Black girl on social media) and it made Seaburn’s decision to do so that much more intense. Right away, Seaburn assumes that because he is not as “hot”. Or rather, he is not as hot as what the other players (a la social media) would perceive as “hot” on a Black man—as the fellow player Antonio DePina (a 24-year-old Black man who is cute, but rather vacuous). So, he opts to catfish as a Black girl—figuring combinations of playing as a hot girl and playing as someone who is also Black will work to his favor. Of course, the former he mentions out loud and the latter goes unsaid). The results are equally riveting, if not disturbing. While he is eventually called out by Joey and “Ed” for being too nice, Seaburn’s Rebecca gets pretty far (as he ends up finishing in fifth place), amassing much favor with people like Sammie Cimarelli, Chris Sapphire, Sean Taylor (whom I will elaborate on), “Adam”, and especially Shubham Goel—who I am pretty sure was deeply in love with “her”.
But to maintain this facade, Seaburn commits to the whole “being a Black girl” thing almost too hard. From fake-acting like he got periods to referring to himself and his alter-catfish-ego as “we”, there are times that Seaburn’s own sense of self gets blurred by the Black girl he is playing the game as. While incredibly creepy, it was a poignant reminder that if you say and do all the right things on social media while pretending to be a Black girl (being an actual Black girl will get you varying results to be honest), you can amass nearly all the clout that you want—mainly because of the hypervisibility Black girls (and Black people really) have to deal with in life and online. Of course, this will also subject you to all the pitfalls of being a Black girl online, but if you’re committed to the fraudulence, it won’t matter. On the other hand, it is also a disturbing case study on how far people will go (I.e playing mind games with themselves) on social media to acquire the clout that they so desperately want—the ethics of it be damned.
It’s an [accidental] EmoBlackThot-sized lesson that The Circle ends up showing to the masses.
The Circle Exposes My Problem With “Body Positivity”
Still. Black women and how others view (and scrutinize) our presence on social media is not the only ongoing case study throughout the series. Indeed, The Circle ends up exposing our greater relationship to fat people on social media as well… and also why whitewashed mainstream body positivity doesn’t really mean shit. Why do I say this? Well, it’s not complicated.
All of the fat people who were contestants on The Circle played as catfish.
I am referring to Karyn, “Adam” (played by Alex Lake, a 32-year-old fat white man), and Sean (a 25-year-old fat white woman who was playing a “skinnier version of herself”). Think about that for a second. Meditate on it. Let your brain soak it up. Do you know how perturbing it was as a fat person to see every single fat person step into that game as a catfish? Like none of them, not a single fat person, decided to play as themselves from the jump. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Sure, it’s easy to blame the players and many people who were watching probably presumed these players entered the game as skinnier people because they weren’t “comfortable” in their own bodies (like mainstream body positivity wants us to be, I guess). But contestants like Karyn and Sean clear that up really quick.
Karyn herself calls out Antonio (who she was fake-flirting with the entire game as Mercedeze) when he is eliminated from the game and asks him if he would have even talked to her if she had played as herself (a fat Black lesbian). To be clear, she has no problems with herself or her image and even adds that she has experienced no issues dating. But she is well-aware of how people have written her off as overly-masculine (and therefore “aggressive”) in real-life due to combinations of her gender presentation, her Blackness, and her fatness, and she rightfully assumed that the same thing would happen online. And to my surprise, Antonio cosigns this truthfully, saying that he probably would not have spoken to her.
This by itself would have been a good lesson on the precarious line that fat people have to toe (in life and online) in order to not only minimize harassment but also court acceptance, but The Circle really digs its heels into this with the introduction of Sean. While Sean comes into the game as a skinny person as well, to my utmost surprise, she reveals that she works in plus–sized fashion… and still felt the need to catfish as a thin person. This is probably the contestant that threw me for a loop the most, mainly because her very job is to play up good, “positive vibes” about fat people and our bodies and the clothes we wear. The whole belief that all fat people have to do is love ourselves out of the systematic harassment and oppression that society subjects us too because of a number on a scale is part of her livelihood. And she still could not bring herself to play the game as herself (initially). Now, while she eventually reveals her actual body and the “why” behind why she chose not to (I.e harassment), the point has already been cemented.
The world does not fuck with fat people. And we are expected to accept that (and the degradation that comes with it) or become someone else.
It’s a fucked up consensus to come to. But the world is pretty fucked up for Black girls and fat people. This is perhaps the interesting thing about The Circle as a show that is continuing the tradition of “reality shows”. Modern reality shows are written off as scripted and just a mere fraction of the “reality” they are choosing to spotlight. But The Circle distinguishes itself by holding a mirror up to our actual reality and the heavy and harsh hand in which we treat the fat and Black people in it. It’s funny. I didn’t expect much from The Circle except perhaps a glorified mess and yet? It is probably the realest reality show since the height of The Real World.
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