My first job out of high school was as an administrative assistant for Black Infant Health of California in Littlerock, CA. I didn’t know this would be a trajectory that I’d continue to work with or even think about. And I think about it often. What I learned there, at the age of 19, is that Black women have the highest infant and mother mortality rate of any ethnic group across class. This is structural inequity based on race and gender. Shalon Irving’s story haunts me because she could be me. As I think about my own fertility, unfortunately I am often thinking about whether or not I would survive pregnancy or birth. This doesn’t have to be the case.
We have to save our own lives.
Serena Williams on motherhood. The story in context.
After debates around J. Marion Sims’ statue have re-entered public discourse, more articles are addressing the issue of systemic medical inequality and its effects on women of color and particularly Black women. Here, we will continue to document the crises.
When I see a post about dark girl appreciation or black girl appreciation or what it means to be black and beautiful, it’s largely thin girls or girls with hour glass shapes. Whether it be paintings, drawings, photoshoots, porn, etc. it’s usually a girl with a big butt and a small waist. I know women on tumblr have brought light to it before but I just want it on my blog.
No one (at least not me) really delves into how it feels to be a girl who doesn’t have the ideal black body. How you begin to believe you’re not good enough for black men because your waist isn’t tiny and your hips don’t spread wide. For me personally, I’m one of the only women in my family with bigger breast and smaller hips; I’ve spent my whole life being told things like:
“You’re built like a man”
“You gone have to find somebody who really like you”
“Where did you get that body from? Surely not our family.”
“Maybe if you lose weight/that stomach you’ll look better.”
“I can’t believe how bad built you are”
“Ugh you dark and fat”
“Why can’t you stop eating??”
“It’s your fault you’re so big. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
“No you don’t need that, you’re big enough already.”
“Just don’t eat”
“You’re big as a house”
“You ain’t ever had a butt, maybe you should look into surgery”
“Have you ever heard of a balanced diet” (a doctor on our initial visit, proceeds to draw a plate and what needs to be on it… Even though I explained that i knew what balanced meant).
“Thank god you’re pretty with makeup, makes you look smaller” and the reverse “you can’t fool men with makeup”
“Maybe if you lost weight you could love yourself”
“Fat guys like fat girls right??” (Ignores that I have a very real fear of only being attractive to fat men because I’ve been conditioned to believe that fat isn’t beautiful and now rarely ever find fat men sexually attractive… A fact that I am severely ashamed of).
These are a small number of things said to me personally from childhood til yesterday. So when I venture into a public platform and all I see is women who look like my mother always dreamed I would look…it’s like a small stab each time through a deep wound. It’s a work in progress to get over the shame and sadness, but I’ve never spoken about it before. I try with my friends but I’m accosted with:
“You’re not fat; you’re pretty”
“You carry your weight well”
“I mean women with hips are still considered fat (PHAT) too”
“You look nothing like her” (as I point out a woman with a similar body shape as me)
“But you’ve lost weight” (have weighed the same since I was 17 years old without gaining or losing a pound).
To be fat and plain in this world is to live in constant silence and invisibility, fear and anxiety, loneliness and shame.
what pains me the most is that black women and girls live with this everyday. I’m not alone and I’d rather I was. No one deserves to feel as empty as I do.
Modern fat phobia emerged in America during the 1800s in response to industrialization and globalization, but its broad cultural appeal rested largely on racism and white supremacy.
White, western “scientists” in the 1800s categorized people into social hierarchies on the basis of their distinguishing physical characteristics, including relative fatness. Unsurprisingly, they places white Europeans at the top of this social hierarchy, and their distinguishing physical characteristics – including relative thinness – were deemed to be signs of civilization, and cultural, moral, and intellectual supremacy.
In contrast, Black people, the indigenous peoples of North America and Australia, and many other non-Black peoples of color were placed at the bottom of this hierarchy, and the physical characteristics attributed to these groups – including fatness – were deemed to be signs of primitivity, and cultural, moral, and intellectual inferiority.
Thus, it became essential for white people to maintain a thin physique to distinguish themselves from other “primitive” races, and to physically embody their own racial supremacy.
Furthermore, because fatness distinguished non-European immigrants and poor people of color from rich white people, any discussion of the social, economic, moral, and medical harms of fatness became coded language for discussing the “problem” of the “uncivilized” races. This coded language is still in use today. Case and point: The “obesity epidemic” is used to blame mostly poor people of color for social ills ranging from global warming to economic depression, and weight-loss is prescribed to solve health problems more logically attributed to poverty and systematic oppression.
Fat phobia was born of racism, classism, and white supremacy, and continues to service these oppressive systems today. Never forget that.