It's time to focus on the people who built movements, not just the ones who conveniently profit from them.
Édouard Manet’s “Olympia” depicts a nude white woman laying in bed upon a pile of pillows while a Black maid serves her. Olympia is, of course, the focus of the painting. She's white and stands out against the darker backdrop that the nameless maid blends into. When I read stories of non-Black women taking from Black women's labor while centering themselves, taking up space in movements that other, far more oppressed people have fought for, I think of this painting.
When I read about Jameela Jamil's intellectual thievery from a fat Black woman, taking the words of Stephanie Yeboah and presenting them as her own in order to make herself visible in the body positivity movement, I think of this painting.
Olympia's world cannot exist without the work and labor of her nameless Black maid, but it is Olympia who gets all of the focus. This is exactly what happens to the work of Black women time and time again. The labor that we do is co-opted and used by people who are more conventionally appealing to the public, garnering all of the credit. Fat Black women are especially erased, even from movements they've founded. For a salient example, see Tarana Burke and the white feminist co-opted #MeToo movement.
Now, what Jamil said, that the movement has been “taken over by slender white women”, is true and not a new discussion in the body positivity sphere. Many activists have been having this conversation for some time now. I've made similar comments in my own writing. It is not a new idea, and that is totally fine because that is not the issue here. We can all talk about the same concepts, and we should because the more we discuss them, the more they are noticed. The issue here is that Jamil was educated on the matter by Yeboah and her words were almost verbatim to what Yeboah had told her. This is ironic because the discussion is about the co-option of the body positive movement in marketing and here's Jamil, doing the exact same thing.
As a woman of color herself, you would think that Jamil would be more conscious of this issue and support Yeboah better, but it is also true that the labor of fat people, emotional and physical, is seen as something that is up for the consumption of the masses, to be used or tossed aside as they see fit, especially when they are fat, Black women. So it's really no wonder that Jamil would take Yeboah's words and use them as her own.
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