As someone who also lost a dramatic amount of weight over a fairly short period of time, I find Gabby’s words almost revolutionary.
Like many, I first became aware of Gabourey Sidibe when she played the title character in Lee Daniels’ 2009 film Precious, an adaptation of the urban novel “Push” by Sapphire. I was stunned to learn it was her debut acting role, and was moved by the compassion and humanity she brought to a character who would likely experience neither in the real world. I remember being impressed with her talent, but doubtful that she would be offered many other mainstream roles.
Hollywood is all about profit, and the industry is only just beginning to admit that Black women bring value to the industry. The Black women who are given screen time must be seen as palatable to broad audiences, meaning that fat, dark-skinned Black girls are often excluded.
Gabby defied these odds though. After Precious, she took on a variety of roles ranging from comedy to horror. In fact, I struggle to think of another role where her weight was central or even tangential to the character’s development. Despite our society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies, Gabby remained as confident as ever, reminding us that such criticisms often reflect our own insecurities.
In her “This is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare” memoir, Gabby opened up about her decision to get bariatric surgery last year. After struggling to lose weight for over a decade, she admitted it was her recent Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis that pushed her to get the procedure done. In the book, she clarifies that the surgery was not motivated by poor self-esteem. She writes, “I did not get this surgery to be beautiful. I did it so I can walk around comfortably in heels. I want to do a cartwheel. I want not to be in pain every time I walk up a flight of stairs.”
A year after secretly going under the knife, many people feel entitled to comment on her weight loss, but Gabby recently got real in a Refinery29 interview and told them why such commentary is misguided:
“What had been happening is, since I’ve been losing weight over the past year, people have been saying, ‘Congratulations on your weight loss!’ It doesn’t rock me. It just annoys me because I’m just like, don’t congratulate me on that. If you’re going to congratulate me on my weight loss, also congratulate me every time I pee. Congratulate me every time I’m burping. Because my body actually has nothing to do with you, and I don’t really need your support for it. It seems ill-placed. I don’t need your support. That’s weird to me because my body will always be my body and always had been, and you have nothing to do with it and you’re kind of a stranger. But the way it works is that this is just my body. In the same way that this is just my face, this is just mine.”
Not everyone agrees with Gabby’s assertions, many using the same defense that catcallers employ, claiming that she is misinterpreting compliments. They insist that she is being too sensitive and push the tired trope that, “No one is allowed to say anything anymore.”
As someone who also lost a dramatic amount of weight over a fairly short period of time, I find Gabby’s words almost revolutionary. I remember how disarming it was to be suddenly put on the spot and asked questions I would normally only expect from my primary physician. I wish I had the courage then to tell every person who gushed, “Oh my God, you’re so pretty now!” that I had been pretty all along and my beauty does not require their approval.
There is an assumption that all weight loss is positive, and that those of us who are actively changing our bodies are doing so in an effort to fall more in line with beauty norms. In reality, there are many reasons why someone might choose to lose weight, and their relationship with their body is none of our business.
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To me, Gabby’s perspective represents an opportunity to change the ways we uplift one another. After all, isn’t that the true purpose of a compliment? It isn’t supposed to be charity, given to someone because they lack something you possess. It’s a recognition of their worthiness, and that does not fluctuate based on appearance.
Gabby’s success is proof that the tides are slowly changing. Instead of molding herself to fit the industry, she forced the industry to accept her as is. We should take her inspiring attitude and soaring career as signs that we all have the ability to break free from the boxes that society tries to categorize us in.
Featured Image: Reuters