Saturday, September 10, 2011

Black is Still the New Black and Fat is still Fat...

Addressing the Top 2 Myths about Body Issues Within the 21st Century African American Community

I have never been shy about expressing my hatred for the saying ”_____is the new black” by people trying to get attention to their activist cause. A good example can be found the phrase, "Gay is the new Black!". It’s patronizing in the assumption that blacks have “arrived” and there’s no more struggle or oppression left to talk about or deal with. It’s because of similar reasons that I have officially hit my saturation point with hearing about how “things are so much better for fat women within the African American community because they have an appreciation for bigger bodies”. Feh. This blanket statement is usually followed by testimonials from happy caucasian women about how they have found the promised land among blacks in finally achieving the sensual and sexual validation that they were looking for. BBW Bashes seem to be a veritable cornucopia of handsome men of color seeking out luscious bodied partners’ which for many of these ladies seems to verify everything that they have heard when it comes to how advanced the African American community is in issues of body acceptance.

The reality of body image within the African American community is a lot more complex than most of the general public is aware of or in most cases is even comfortable addressing. So for your viewing pleasure my fatty loving chickies, I’m addressing two of the top myths and issues concerning BBW Love within the community.

1. BBW Bash Fever! - This is a common one that I run into. I hear a number of women come with glowing bash reports about how they are treated like queens by black men and how an increasing number of white men feel the need to constantly vie for the affections of these lovely ladies. The feeling that you are wanted and desired by many is something that many beautiful fatties are still lacking. The well meaning assumption by these ladies is that this cathartic and joyful experience is shared by all the women present. It’s not.

What many of these lovely ladies fail to realize is that the common factor for all of these beautiful stories is that all of the women involved are caucasian or fair skinned Latina. For many dark-skinned African American women there are no battle royales at the bashes for their favors’. Quite conversely, having so many women of other races talk about how they are being fought over while they themselves are left on the sidelines can frequently increase feelings of alienation and the sense that they aren’t desirable. In other words, a mahogany princess comes to feel like white knights and black knights only rescue white damsels.

2. The African American Community LOVES its Fat Women! - - As the middle class values of mainstream America have infiltrated into a wider segment of the African American population, the days where curves’ where widely and openly embraced are quickly going the way of the dodo. Self hatred is a multi-billion dollar industry and once companies realized that there was “gold in them thar black hills”, the pressure to fit into the beauty ideal of thin, white, and straight haired was increased exponentially. Let’s look at the evolution of the Mammy figure for what it really is shall we. In a number of Yoruba and Igbo cultures that were bought over and enslaved, the previous beauty standard did include dark skinned women who were considered beautiful because they were fat, wide hipped, and shiny faced. Many of my generation and older can definitely remember the beautification ritual of being “polished”with Vaseline or lotion by our parents' until our skin glowed and shone like a jewel. Once bought over to the Americas' as slaves however, this beauty preference came under severe ridicule and what was once a signifier of beauty became an object of derision. The goddess of beauty was transformed by the slave owning culture into a safe asexual clown figure. Not surprisingly, the features possessed by the Mammy (dark skin, wide hips, large breasts, and big lips) came to be viewed with embarrassment within the African American community.

Sadly, not much has changed and embarrassment that many African Americans feel when they see a fat and dark skinned woman on television is still being felt. You’ll hear comments that center around the need for more positive (read thinner and lighter) representations of black women in the media. People aren’t angry at Gabrielle Sidibe for starring in a film centering around the stereotypical tragic black woman, they’re angry at her for representing a segment of their female population that they still feel great shame about. In other words, it’s not the roles she’s playing; it’s the rolls on her body that makes a sadly large number of African Americans ashamed. Yemaya for many isn’t a goddess to be revered with all of her wide hipped and dark skinned matronly sex appeal; she’s to be kept quietly in the closet.

As seen in my previous post, I am finding all of the negative attention being put on black women’s audacity to take up space while none is being put on finding paths to emotional health and happiness to be a distressing and heartbreaking issue. Deifying my community as a safe space for fatties not only ignores the complex realities of what it’s like to be black and fat, but it also feels like a shiny happy face is being put on our pain. Still, I would love to see the day when these myths become realities….


alexanator said...

Thank you for that insightful exploration of the complexities of the intersections of fat-positive, anti-racist, body-acceptance spaces/communities. It's important to articulate how stereotypes and generalizations affect people negatively. Being aware of those affects is the first step in addressing the deeper (and infinitely more complex) issues of racism, sex-negativity, homophobia.

I thought the term "____ is the new black" was a term referring to black as a color in fashion that goes with anything--the hip universal. Now, I can see how it was used in reference to civil rights struggle of African Americans. Tactics and strategies of the black power movement have been used by other movements (gay rights, women, etc.), but I find it problematic to compare oppression/struggle/politics of each movement to each other as apples to apples. Racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc are so integrated and overlapping that they cannot be seen as separate. They are, in fact, in extricable reinforcing discrepancies in power and privilege.

Squishy Brown Chick said...

Hi Alexantor! Thank you for your comments!

While I agree that the various aspects of oppression such as gay rights, homophobia, women's rights' etc. all have to deal with power and privilege, it is a great disservice to people of color and of working class status to lump us all together under "one Happy umbrella". One of the problems with first wave feminism movement was the fact that the grievances of women who were working class, below the poverty line, of color and differently abled were ignored in favor of upper class women's issues with the reasoning that "everything overlaps". The same issue still affects the glbtqi community where racism and classism are so rampant that a majority of men of color now refer to themselves as "same gender loving" in protest of the fact that their needs are ignored and/or treated with a patronizing attitude.

For most of us who are poor,fat, of color, and queer, having someone tell us that all of the problems we're facing are all the same is tantamount to someone telling us to "stay in our place" and not talk about our problems. It takes away our voice.

Talking about the realities and complexities of racism and oppresion within activist communities is the only way we can learn, grow, and become more empowered.