“People are so enamored with white mediocrity they think I should be grateful to sit at a table I’m probably overqualified to be at.” – JerVae
By Hess Love
Everything that we know about “obesity” is an indictment on white supremacy, and everything about who we listen to regarding it is bullshit. The centering of whiteness, especially white women, in the “Body Positivity Movement” recently led Rebel Wilson to tell an egregious lie about being the first fat woman to star in a romantic comedy and then block every Black person who tried to tell her the truth, that plus-sized Black women have starred in romantic comedies before. Women like Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique. But Rebel doubled down.
Fat White Women like Rebel Wilson don’t see Fat Black Women as forces of body positivity or plus-size representation because they view Blackness in itself as “large”. Blackness is already big, vast, and something they want to confine, so they make it both a boogie man and a invisibility cloak. They see Blackness as being beastlike, so to be large and Black isn’t defying expectations. In an odd way, it makes our fatness nonconsequential to them, because for them, their bodies defy the dainty expectations of a white, Western femininity. To them, that is braver than being fat and Black. Welcome to the politics of “taking up space.”
That’s why they call the cops on small Black children and clutch their purses when they see even small framed Black men. That’s why they won’t acknowledge when large Black women already did something they’re calling themselves brave and pioneering for just now doing. They take space from us to make room for themselves. Our bravery doesn’t count. It can’t count when even the smallest parts of us are a threat.
There’s a “historical view of Black Women as bodies without minds that underlies their invisibility” (Thompson, A Hunger So Wide and Deep, 15). Black women are painted as simultaneously enormous and non existent, our vastness is an enigma that is demonized through purposeful misperception that aims to project the thought that we lack a certain level of conscious deliberacy to understand and liberate the space our existence takes up. Black as big, as beast, as fat, is seen as a default experience for us. In the minds eye of white women like Rebel Wilson, that “default” lacks validity on the rubric of bravery.
Fat Black women are tired of our bodies and experiences paving roads and painting it with blood just for white women like Rebel Wilson to trapeze down the pathway and ask if the stories she walks over “really” count. They do. Fat Black Women are the original recipients of “fat bitch” retorts when we dare exercise our right to choose and our right to exist. Whether it was fighting off slave owning forefathers, white men that would later be called medical pioneers for infringing on our largeness and reproductive organs, white women that gawked at our physiques while their accompanying men dreamed of other ways to violate us.
Fatphobia is indelibly tied to anti-Blackness. Fat Black women are assigned roles where other people bring “purpose” to us to determine our usefulness, never an autonomous validity. The mammy archetype which bleeds over to freudian sexual fetishism around fat Black femme bodies is another agent that makes our presence on a socio-political front more amenable for erasure and labor. Perhaps this image of impressionability is a result of how fat Black women have had to attempt to diminish themselves in order to navigate certain social and systemic scenes.
“The one thing that I do recognize in myself is the need to soften myself for white comfort. I am a fat dark black woman and to some white people that in itself is threatening. So I make sure I’m friendly as to not make them uncomfortable, because when white people are uneasy we pay for it in blood. On the flip side of that I’m seen as a mammy to some white people. Someone they can cast their cares on and be overly comfortable with because I only exist to pacify their fragile feelings and labor them on my back all the way to the promise land.” Brandi Wharton, founder of Magical Fat Black Femmes.
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In all of its ironies, Fat Black Women work overtime to account for our demonization and devaluation only to continue to be pushed aside even within narratives that not only involve us, but have us as their catalytic origin. Marginalizing and dehumanizing largeness is unequivocally connected with Blackness, as often times indigenous Africans, whether on the continent or internationally trafficked to be enslaved, are seen as larger, more brutish, more primitive, more able to carry profitable workloads within the intimate and overarching manifestations of capitalism.
In the western world, the attitudes on largeness have always been reactive to Blackness. The more we assimilated, the more we took upon these attitudes that fatness was something separate from ourselves, from our society, and our understanding of our bodies. Now that we are seeing more fat white people, the same way that we are seeing more white drug addicts, we are calling to reform the social treatment of, and change the ways that we approach these fat people, without spending as much necessary time to dissect the root: imperialism and capitalism as they collude with and for whiteness. Dismissal of the root cause is what propels fat white women of shallow understanding (like Rebel Wilson and Tess Holliday) to the limelight of a body positivity movement that has turned to ultimately uphold white ideals. Their whiteness softens the public’s apprehension to praising fat bodies.
Fatness is seen as a character flaw, same as addiction; something that needs reform. It is likened to drug abuse, but the abhorred substance is assumed to be food. There are, of course, parallels between the way that people use food and how they use drugs, as methods of self-medicating. There are also parallels in who we believe are qualified to speak upon these experiences, and it is rarely ever people that experienced the brunt of this phenomenon. Or if they have experienced it, they aim to get a spokesperson that seems to have transcended such oppression(s), like formerly fat people.
There were times, and in lesser known ways still existing in certain areas, where fatness was not seen as a reason for ostracism, but a reason for celebration and symbolizing the best that humans have to offer: wealth. In absurd opposition to the way Western forms of capitalism views fatness as a failure (despite the characteristic gluttony of the 1%), in pre imperialist economies, wealth was still prized and (women especially) being of large size was seen as a harbinger aesthetic of comfortable and enviable financial ability.
Pre-Abrahamic/colonial times in Africa, and even in Pagan European beliefs, fatness was seen as a symbol of fertility and beauty as well as wealth. Signifying abundance, happiness of life, the ability of progression and survival. The Crusades of Christianity as a tool of the insidious construct of whiteness worked to replace global indigenous beliefs and the body acceptances within them, instead linking our bodies, their abilities and avatars, with sin.
“The oldest known images and figures of deity in the mother-loving world, were of fat, black, knotty haired femme figures. We know this. And I ain’t talking a lil’ fat. I’m talking big titties, on belly, on thighs! Everything just-a touchin’ and hugging up on itself…IN ADDITION TO the ASS (which is ever so objectified and isolated in the current culturally agreed upon concept of beauty. Big ass is sexy, but let the back or thighs that support the Ass be big TOO, and the whole sex factor goes out the window? Bish, thats petty, sterile, surgical, separatist european elitist thinking if you ask me).” Daizy October Latifah, The Afro Mystic, Black Belt Hoodoo Practitioner
The time of fatness as a fall from divinity and a life well-lived is as much of an indictment on Abrahamic religions (namely Christianity) as it is capitalism. Especially since Christianity has been used as one of the four horsemen of anti-Blackness. Deviation from indigenous belief, that has always been more humane and progressive than white employment of Christianity, was a purposeful tool in the societal disconnect from the fat Black body. Insidious enough to even encroach upon the psyche of many Black people, some who believe that we’ve always been “bigger”, but “not that big”. Not noticing that we have always been “that big” and their views on our in-group largeness is merely symptomatic of internalized anti-Blackness.
“‘Our ancestors weren’t obese…’
This ancestor says otherwise. I found this photo taken by Napoleon Bonaparte and it’s from the late 1800s. Fuck the photographer, and all gratitude and love for this ancestral mother. [Magical Fat Black Femmes] always been here and we always will be.” Courtney Alexander, Dust II Onyx Tarot Deck creator
The idea of fat immobile bodies that are a drain on society and need to be eradicated is concurrent and congruent with the idea that Black bodies are a burden and need to be eradicated. Since they cannot rid the world of large bodies, they’ll attempt to colonize our understating of those bodies and to continue to push Blackness into a infinite abyss. For all their revisionist attempts, Black fatness has always been here, and is here to stay.
Some customs praising fatness still exist. Within the Efik people, along with some other Nigerian ethnicities, “fattening” is often a pre marriage custom for girls to undergo to enhance their allure as brides. During fattening the girls are fed foods high in fat and are promoted to live more sedentary lives than they did prior. “Fattening” is seen as something that both prepares pelvic areas for possible childbirth and as a way to have the girls turned women exude status. Status being of someone that is well taken care of and is of wealthy means.
“Among the Ibibio people and Efiks of Cross River state, it is compulsory for a girl to be fattened, no matter how short the period of seclusion might be. It is commonly said that no matter how charming, succulent and beautiful a girl might look or how rich and wealthy her parents might be, no eligible son of Ibibio land dares marry a girl that is not fattened. It is always a thing of pride for a girl to be fattened in Ibibioland before marriage so that she can fit in well among other fattened ladies as a wife… They do discuss their life experiences about fattening seclusion as house wives. It will also be a thing of mockery and reproach among relations and friends of the husband whose wife is not fattened.”
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This fattening tradition, a custom carried over from pre-colonial times, upholds fatness as a physical attribute that is not ostracized, but celebrated, expected, and a rite of inclusion.
Our current metrics of who is deserving of visibility deviates from that remnant of bodily inclusion.
People that are thinner, smaller, whiter, and more aligned to imperialist conventional beauty standards tend to either completely miss, or not spend enough time expounding upon the fact, that everything we know about our bodies are white-centered. We are seen as unqualified to not only interpret our exclusive experiences as fat people, but also the experiences that we share with others. At several rallies, marches, panels, etc, around feminism, blackness, LGBTQ+ concerns, poverty, fat people are taken less seriously when they speak about issues.
Just as our society does not trust fat people, it does not trust Black people to speak about our marginalization as a phenomenon that lives within reason and logic. The litmus for which empiricism is measured is white. Women like Rebel Wilson will expect me to watch her on screen and think that I, a black fat queer woman should be grateful that a fat white woman “bravely chartered” territories that my grandmother and her mothers already chartered for me, and themselves.
With contributions by Sherronda J. Brown
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