TT: Sunday, August 27, 2006 - Black Fat

On throwback thursdays I revisit posts related to the project titled Patient. from my old blog which was hosted  at ablackgirl.com. 

Below, I am writing more about fatness, race, gender and display.

This is a rough expansion of a few previous blogs on fatness, race, and sexuality including:

Revisiting Aunt Jemima’s Big Black Ass

Revisiting Aunt Jemima’s Big Black Ass #2

Eating, Sitting, Loving, Living, While Fat

There, I speak more of the intersection of race, fatness, and sexual objectification which is only a part of my feelings towards race and fatness. While I have not read or shared on the experiences of women of color who are not black… I do feel the expereince of fatness for Black women is quite particular. There is an amazing article on the subject by Doris Witt in Kimberly Wallace Sanders' Skin Deep Spirit Strong called “What (N)ever Happened to Aunt Jemima” (it is also in an issue ofDiscourse I dont know which. It talks about perceived notions of Black peoples’ acceptance of fatness, and the racialized notion of appetite for Black women. There is this broad beleif that somehow for Black women it is more acceptable to eat (and therefore become fat) because “we” (black folks) are more accepting of fat on women. Simultaneously you have this fat Black woman trope called the mammy. The mammy is always fat and associated with food (Aunt Jemima for example), and therefore the archetype of a particularized Black womanhood: the fat Black woman.

The racialized notion of Black women’s appetites is so pervasive in culture and science that medical doctors concluded that Black women simply eat too much although their research proved otherwise.* Some Black women under-eat and remain at with slow metabolisms. The perception has also blocked the reality of Black girls’ and women’s eating disorders which are not only over eating but involve anorexia, and multiple forms of bullemia, and dangerous yoyo dieting.

My expanding thoughts on that essay would be to interrogate those attributes attached to mammy further for example: her a-sexuality, her willingness to nurture all but her own, her attitude, her duties in the mater’s house, her relationship to other slaves on the plantation, her location in the house etc.

The mammy archetype of course is something Black women choose to run away from… just as we have historically run away from the other tropes: Jezebel, Sapphire etc. So, in actuality, in the lives of Black women, appetite is not acceptable. Within the Black community fat is only acceptable in certain amounts and in certain places on the body. Other fat women are jokes, (“She looks more like Freddy Jackson!” -Friday) sidekicks (think of every Black film or TV show with a female protagonist… Kim to Moesha in MoeshaLove JonesJason’s LyricTwo Can Play At That GameThe Preacher’s Wifeand the PATHETIC role of Gloria in Waiting to Exhale) or aggressive Bitches (Queen Latifah’s role inSet it Off and Bringing Down the House, even Sophia in The Color Purple).

While history has shown that it was in fact mammy, who was continually raped and brutalized the need to see her as a-sexual of course stems from her corpulance. Ideaologically, her corpulance distances her from femininity, and is therefore pushed to the masculine. This trips up the other stigmas of the mammy:

In regards to her place in the house would also push us to think about how white women attach themselves to fat black women. It would be interesting to do a run down of white women’s attachment to Oprah (examine what happened with her audience when she lost weight for example) or white feminists’ attachment to Audre Lorde (why not June Jordan if one must dig a Black feminist lesbian?) Early white feminists’ attachment to Sojourner Truth…

I would argue that fat black women epitomize the inverse of what it is to be woman (again expanding the discourse on the notion of black women–with no disctinction on size–as the anti woman). A woman has restraint (doesn’t overeat and therefore become fat, isn’t sexually uncontrollable and therefore is not Black) she is also frail and managable ( fat women aren’t physically managable and too solid to be frail, Black women are too angry, masculine etc. to be managable or frail… think Sojourner Truth) women demand coddling and attention (mammies are made to cater to those needs… even and especially when it involves taxing demands on her own body – wet nurses for master’s children without breastfeeding her own. Mammies never have needs of thier own. I am reminded there of a moment in Gone With the Wind where Rett Butler gives Mammy a red silk petticoat. She is given it as a joke… 

Why the hell does mammy need a silk petticoat? She has worn the same dress every day for the past 30 years… The luxury of the gift mocked her status as slave. Also it was red silk–a very erotic fabric and color… again to mock her a-sexuality. In the scene Mammy is extremely bashful about it… like a 13 year old girl who has gotten her first compliment.

Oprah with all her money has always had to tuck away her sexuality. Even the richest woman in the US is not free of those things because of her race. The discourse around her and Steadman is extremely sexless. Therefore the new discourse that speculates her homosexuality makes complete sense. A-sexuality brings about the spectre of homosexuality for women. Where there are no men who are present as sexual releases for women they are speculated to be with women. Black women have always been placed in this strange space where not only where they a-sexualized into lesbianism, but also oversexualized into it as well:

Sarah Baartman for example was pathologized into lesbianism because of her physiology….

Even Audre Lorde with all of her talk about her sexuality and her own desires is suppressed in the literature of those who laud her. Her words in the “Erotic as Power” are taken as cautionary earth mother goddess advice rather than open discussions on her sexual relationship to her body (we are much more interested in how she dealt with her dying body). Masani Alexis DeVeux speaks a little on white women’s attachment to Lorde in her Biography Warrior Poet.

I could go on but these are just a few ramblings to pin down some of the racilized aspects of Blackened fat. Watch for the developing queered black fatness version… (That was more of a threat than an announcement.)

*As a food for thought: Black women die in the largest numbers of stress related diseases such as hypertension and heart disease. Science has blamed this on fat and unhealthy diet, not on daily traumas of racism that cause the heart to beat rapidly for short intervals. It would be fucking relvolutionary for science to admit that Black women are slowly dying of racism!