Posted in Rants

Admired and Ridiculed: The Problem with Media Portrayal of the Black Female Body

With the release of Confessions of a Fat Girl, I thought it would be a great time to talk some more about body image. My book, which focuses a lot on body image isn’t the only thing that inspired me to write this post. In fact, this post isn’t just about female body image. Specifically, it’s about the black female and body image and the way society glorifies and simultaneously mocks the black female body, and more broadly, how society glories and simultaneously mocks the female body in general, telling us that we have to fit into an impossible standard. Not impossible because it’s impossible to achieve any look you want with implants and exercise and all that other stuff, but impossible because no matter how much you try to conform to the beauty ideal, it’s still not enough.

SerenaNow, if you haven’t been living under a rock these last couple of weeks, I’m sure people have heard about the controversy surrounding a comment being made by what I can only call sexist chauvinistic pigs and by The New York Times about Serena Williams. In the midst of her win and achievements, some people made the comment that she’s built like a man and some even said the only reason she continues to win is because she’s built like a man. There are a lot of things wrong with that statement. The first of which is that by making a statement like that, a shadow was cast on her achievements because it implies that only a man could make those type of achievements and since only a man can supposedly achieve what Serena Williams did, she must has achieved her wins because she’s built like a man instead of… I don’t know, maybe she worked her ass off. But that’s for another blog post at another time (probably after this one).

J.K.-Rowling-and-Serena-Williams2What really pissed me off about it and should piss all women off, but particularly black women is that once again have doubly applauded and praised her body and mocked her for it. Thankfully, Serena Williams has millions of people who love and support her and will defend her, one of the best defenses coming from my favorite person in the world, J.K. Rowling. But while it’s good to see people standing up to defend her, I have to say well of course they will. She’s a celebrity, but not only won’t she be the last black female or female that will be insulted by the media, the backlash against the comment made against her won’t solve the perpetual and centuries old problem of black women in particular being mocked for the shape of their bodies, and then having woman of other races try to emulate their bodies like it’s a new trend or fad. And you would think once it became a fad, black women would get the credit, but they don’t. Other people, usually white women get the credit and when black women raise up and call foul they’re accused of causing a division between women when women are all in the same fight. Well. Meh. In some cases, that is totally true. Women do have the same fight. But in another case, women of color, specifically black women, are fighting a totally different fight that not many people outside our group understand.

bantu knots
These are bantu knots. Not mini buns. Black girls have been doing them for a very long time.

I don’t feel like I need to give examples because it’s so overt that anyone can see it. But just in case you don’t understand what I mean, let me tell you a few. For years black women have and continue to be mocked by the texture of their hair and mocked for the styles that we put them in, even when their neat. We’re mocked for our weaves, our braids, our bantu knots, our afros. However, everyone wanted to make ado over “mini buns” that a model wore in Marc Jacobs’ show and got upset when black women cried foul and said that the so-called “mini-buns” were nothing new and that they were called bantu knots and that we had been wearing them since we got off the slave ships. Nicki Minaj was and continues to be mocked for her quirkiness, for the raciness of her videos, for being a female rapper (an admittedly good rapper even if you don’t agree with her messages), and for her body. Yet when Iggy Azeala blew onto the screen, everyone wanted to act like she had done something new, with people going as far as to say they didn’t know a woman could rap until they heard Iggy Azeala. Fine. If you don’t like Nicki, you don’t have to and we don’t even have to use her as an example. We can go way before her where black women have a long history of producing awesome female rappers, but that’s not the point. The point is people tried to put Iggy on a pedestal and ridiculed Nicki.

twerkAnd though I really hate that it became such a huge thing, twerking. I have to say it and excuse the rawness, but women, specifically black women have been shaking their asses for a long time and every time they’ve been ridiculed for it, mocked for having a behind big enough to shake. Yet Miley Cyrus got on stage and it became a thing. It became okay for girls to put a video on YouTube and shake her butt. And though Miley got some slack, she got and gets nowhere near as much as black women have gotten over the years for doing the same thing with their bodies.

Tina FeyNow that I’ve given some examples, let’s bring this on home and tie it back into my book and how the media has  women on a path to self-destruction because they make such a huge deal about body image. Admittedly, this kind of thinking—from a racial perspective–wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as I was writing Confessions of a Fat Girl, at least not from this angle. But the fact that 1) Season is overweight and 2) Season is also an overweight young woman of color means she’s not only dealing with the fact that she doesn’t fit the mold for the standard of beauty in real life, but the fact that even if she did, someone would have something to say about it. If she fit the mold, she’d be called trying to be white or accused of denying her black heritage. If she didn’t fit the mold and was a big, but proportionate (whatever the hell that means) curvy girl, her butt would be too big or she’d be accused of getting implants. And being overweight, Season doesn’t really fit any “approved” mold. In other words, if women who supposedly have “perfect” bodies are ridiculed, then Season and women like Season, who don’t fit the mold and might not ever fit the mold will never be able to win. Not while we live in a world where we are taught that there is a certain standard, where how you look is most important and if you look different from the norm you’re not the right kind of “pretty.” So is it really a wonder that people are overweight, that the new food marketing gimmick is sugar-free or fat-free or all natural, that people all killing and abusing each other and themselves over how they look?

And it’s easy to say that how you look doesn’t matter. And that’s true. Except that it does matter, even if it’s not right. No matter how “perfect” your body is, there’s something wrong with it.

So how do we fix this? How do we fight a world that on one hand essentially encourages us to flaunt it, but then mocks us when we do?

CoaFG Cover 1I don’t have “the” answer, but I do believe that it starts with us saying, “fuck how we look?” Asking why it matters like I’m asking? Asking who made it matter? And it starts with diversity in media, particularly in television, movies, and books and bringing awareness to the problem. And I’m not talking about making a joke or a comedy about it. I’m talking about books and shows and movies that take a serious look at what happens and all the complexities when you live in a world that defines your worth by how you look no matter what you have going on in your life. That being “thin” makes it all better when it doesn’t. That sometimes being thin just makes it a whole lot worse or even leaves you with the same problems.

Now am I advocating women to be fat? No. At a certain point, that’s unhealthy. However, being “skinny” or “thin” is not a guarantee to being healthy. What I am advocating is appreciating and loving the body that you are in not because of how it looks, but because of that body you—and when I say that I mean the electric spark or spirit or energy or whatever you believe that animates us—can exist and be here. And I think once that clicks into place, we stop worrying about how it looks and simply taking care of it so that we can exist, which is followed by having good health (as much as you can control), which makes your body look the way it was meant to look and once that happens we can not only break the mold but get rid of the pieces. And that’s not just black women, although this post was inspired by that, but all women. And I think once we do that, no one will say that Serena Williams is built like a man, or that someone’s butt is too big, and black women’s bodies won’t be admired and awed and oogled at the same way people admire, awe, and oogle at animals in a zoo. NO women’s body will be look at in a way that is both approving yet disapproving.

Now will this happen overnight? No. It won’t. But I have every intention of letting Confessions of a Fat Girl be a stepping stone that continues to stir the conversation about this issue.

This Post Was Brought to you by:

Confessions of a Fat Girl Productions

Built Like a Woman Productions

Beauty is Only Skin Deep Productions

*Images Courtesy of Google*

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