Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Fat and Black part one.

Over at Red Vinyl Shoes Tasha Fierce wrote about Black plus size models and this bit caught me and is what inspired this particular post.

Those fat women who are fortunate enough to be considered “thick” are subject to an even more extreme hypersexualization of their bodies than average sized or thin black women are.

Looking back at my life I have seen this to be a truism more often than I really care to think about starting at a very young age.

As a wee Shannon I was undersized. I was born premature and grew a lot slower than my peers. For years I was among the smallest kids in class. I wasn't necessarily frail, I was a sturdy little thing. Strong big thighs, fairly wide shoulders. Essentially a boobless and hipless version of me now.

I remember hearing adults talk about girls being or looking "fast". I remember arguing with my Mom about me wanting black leggings and her saying I was too young and they looked too fast.

I'm going to fast forward to my late teens and early adulthood for several reasons. First reason, my formative years I did not have the Black community much at all so these weren't things I was thinking about and second of all it took me that long to start learning these messages.

So skipping ahead to me at 19 years old. At that time most of the Black folks I knew were puzzled by my body and had no issue telling me so. I remember I was in JCPenny or something and an older Black lady stopped me and turned me around to look at my butt and asked me pointedly:

"Where is your ass?"

I felt so humiliated and upset. The fact is, I have not do not and will never have what a lot of American's would recognize as the ass of a Black woman.

I have been fatter and thinner and my ass is not round in any kind of pronounced way, I do not have a hint of a sway back (do people even use that term anymore? Which also makes me wonder if there is a prevalence of the medical condition in the Black community?) my booty is kinda well- it is a little shy and often not clearly seen in any defined way unless I am either naked or wearing really tight pants.

It is probably one of those things about my body that I am most self conscious of.

I am also not extremely curvaceous or voluptuous. Again it's a situation where unless I am naked or in very tight clothes because my natural waist is way up high by my boobs you don't always see that.

Between the ages of let's say 18-21 or so I became incredibly conscious of what an "ideal" Black body was supposed to look like and I quite honestly suffered a lot of upset that my body did not look like that. I spent a lot of time aside from my already punishing workouts trying to "sculpt" that shape.

I had heard from so many other Black folks about how I was "trying to be White", been called Oreo etc etc that I needed that so I could in fact be a Real Black Woman.

At that time I also was under the impression that part of me reinforcing my Black identity to the world would involve trying to date other Black folks and thus I needed to have that body in order to make that happen.

Around this age I also started intensely studying Black history and I began to see what Tasha was talking about.

I began to see and understand the stereotype of the "fast slutty" Black girl based only around the fact of the shape of her butt. I started seeing these things reinforced in Black culture but then seeded and flourishing in the rest of the world.

I listened to people talk about Black women and all too often even if they didn't realize it (yes racism via sheer ignorance), people believed it.

It was too easy for any one of my friends to express their envy that because I'm Black I MUST never worry about my weight or body because culturally there's no pressure to be any certain way.

At that age I lacked the know how of really expressing myself when people said things like that to me. Instead of voicing my disagreement or shock I felt shamed because I did worry about those things all the time.

I saw how a fat (in this context as opposed to "thick") Black woman is (notice I use the present tense here because things haven't changed that much) shunted into the position of the sassy (oh how I fucking loath that word..more on that another day) best friend, the funny lady, the wise old auntie who says silly things but makes you think (yeah fuck you Eddie Murphy and every other fatsuit wearing mother fucker), I saw those things and I did not want to be that person.

As it was at that age I was 90% of the time the biggest girl and the fatter girl within my social circle which was fucking hard for me. It's hard for everyone at that age to be the different person. That being what it was, I felt this immense pressure to choose between being young Mammie or young Jezebel.

My selfhood was still very soft and I was trying like hell to become my own woman, and yes I struggled a lot.

I'm not even going to go into queerness as of yet.

I remember all too often when I was alone I would often cry about these things. I didn't have anyone at the time to talk about these things with. I didn't know how to start the conversation or even what I might say.

I felt weird and isolated.

I never knew if anyone else thought about these things. I wondered if other Black girls looked at themselves and didn't know where they fit into the going idea of what Black girls were supposed to look like. I wondered if it upset anyone else.

Now this is why I decided to do these entries in this fashion. I wish I could go back and give 19 year old me the internet and say LOOK GO GO GO.

It is a huge and integral part of who I am to when I am able, help other people.

I spent so many years feeling so isolated and strange and ashamed of the things I was thinking it really fucked me up in a lot of ways. I don't want anyone else to feel that way.

So to that end I want to let y'all know that it's open season.

I want you to go ahead and ask me questions about this stuff that you might have never had the nerve to ask someone. Ask me stuff you think might come off as dumb. Feel free to be anonymous, leave a comment or use the form.

I promise I may get a little giggle but if you are respectful I will be respectful.

Now this wraps up part one. I have a LOT to say clearly so it's going to take a few entries to get it all out.

Now my homies, ask away. Share experiences and be nice to each other do not make me turn this car around.

Homo Out.


Haddayr said...

All I have to say is WOW and thank you. Amazing, amazing post.

Frances said...

SWAY BACK. Oh my god, the way my back is shaped actually has a NAME. Sorry, this is an excellent post, but I'm an Indonesian/Australian girl and I never see anyone with a back like me. I never knew it was common enough to have a name.

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