Years ago — so many that I can’t remember how many — I watched a special on MTV where a group of famous men counted down videos with “hot” women. One of the men was Dave Chapelle. The others were all white men I don’t care to remember. As expected, they paraded blonde white woman after blonde white woman on the screen as they drooled over how gorgeous these women were.
Well, during the 90s and early 00s, no mention of beautiful women — at least in white spaces — was complete without exalting Pamela Anderson as the GOAT. So as these white men tried to suppress erections while they fawned over how gorgeous Anderson was, Chapelle admitted that she didn’t do anything for him. His co-hosts were outraged. One called her the classic beauty that everybody knows is hot. Chapelle responded, “I’m a Black man. I like ass.”
I remember that shit like it was yesterday. Watching white men appalled that the white woman they held as irreproachably irresistible was just “meh” to a Black man brought me nearly orgasmic satisfaction. It was no revelation for me, though. Where I’m from, slim white women with huge breasts ain’t never been what’s hot. It did confirm what I always knew, however: Body standards are created and shifted to affirm white bodies.
That’s why the trendy body positivity movement is lost on me. Conversations about allowing people to exist in their bodies, however those bodies are formed, are most often centered around white women. It’s not really about respecting people and treating them with dignity regardless of whether their body shapes or sizes fit into your margin of attractiveness. It’s about ensuring that any body cased in white skin is protected and upheld.
Let’s take for example plus-sized model Ashley’s Graham recent stint as a judge on America’s Next Top Model (Yes, I still watch that show. Judge not lest ye be judged). Those who watched the show from the beginning, will probably remember how Janice Dickinson berated two plus-sized Black models: Robin from cycle 1 and Tocarra from cycle two. Now both of these women were very curvy. In the Black community we’d call them thick. Yet, throughout the season they were reminded that they wouldn’t make it in high fashion. There’s a scene during one deliberation where Janice Dickinson blurts out that if Tocarra, a woman who came on the show weighing 180 lbs. could just “slim down 150 pounds” she’d be perfect. And famed designer Marc Bouwer echoes Dickinson’s sentiment saying it’s “ludicrous” to believe that a woman Tocarra’s size would ever be a supermodel.
Fast forward a few seasons, and ANTM crowned its first plus-sized model, a white woman named Whitney, who they constantly referred to as curvy and complimented on her beauty (That sound you heard was my eyes rolling out of my head). And now they’ve evolved so much that they’re calling Ashley Graham a “supermodel” and having her walk around a set in her underwear. Ashley’s size is rarely mentioned and when it is, it’s done to herald her work in the industry despite being a size 18. Maybe this is fluke, though. Surely there can’t be many more examples of white bodies which fall outside of beauty standards being redeemed while Black women of similar size and body type are ridiculed, only to be defended by other Black women, right?
Wrong. Let’s look at how Gabby Sidibe has been publicly disrespected time and again over her appearence since breaking onto the acting scene in Precious. Repulsive shock jock Howard Stern, who is in no position to ever criticize anyone’s looks, called Sidibe called sidibe “the most enormous fat Black chick” he’s ever seen and ignorantly predicted she’d never receive another acting gig after Precious (meanwhile Gabby’s resume says, “Bitch, you thought!). A month before Stern’s disgusting ass made those comments, some supposed fitness company posted an open letter to Sidibe under the guise of caring about her health, because as we all know the one to contact a celebrity about any business opportunity is to attempt to publicly shame them by telling them the only way to win an Oscar “is by being active, fit, and most of all, healthy. And famed “fitness guru” Susan Powter, who’s apparently a psychic doctor as well, took to You Tube to inform Sidibe that her “heart is under a burden.”
Enter Tess Holliday, the white woman who has been on countless magazine covers and is billed as “the size 22 supermodel who is changing the world.” Now, I’m not taking anything from Tess because achieving any kind of success in the modeling industry at her size, which is often also listed as 26, is remarkable even for a white woman, but I want to note that she and Gabby are (or were since Gabby has slimmed down significantly) the same size. Yet, Holliday is the more appropriate canvas to change the world’s perception of fat women. A dark-skinned Black woman who oozes confidence in the face of constant online bullying isn’t.
We can also look at how one writer at Jezebel nearly lost her shit at the thought that “even Kate Upton’s body can still be subjected to this nastiest and most personal of public critiques.” Upton, she wrote, ” is basically the epitome of curvy, blonde beauty as it’s valued in the U.S. today,” responding to a blogger who thought Upton was anything but the bee’s knees. Certainly, Upton shouldn’t be subjected to body shaming, but let’s be absolutely clear: Upton’s body is not the U.S. standard. It’s the white standard. What Black people consider curvy and beautiful is usually completely different from what white people consider curvy and beautiful. So the outrage that a woman like Kate Upton isn’t perfection to everyone is purely a product of white supremacist conditioning. Can you imagine Jezebel writing the same words about Danielle Brooks’ chocolate, voluptuous beauty Danielle Brooks? Would they be outraged that some people don’t find her attractive?
And while we’re speaking of dark skin, let me note the deafening silence of white feminists when Leslie Jones was body shamed on Twitter last summer. Even Jones’ three white Ghostbusters costars, one of whom has had her own battle with body shaming, didn’t come to her defense, as Twitter trolls ridiculed her dark skin and statuesque frame. This Black woman was fair fodder for all, as per usual, the only people stepping to her defense were Black women who believe that we have the right to be in our bodies however they may appear without being attacked, harassed and humiliated.
The truth is, body positivity is for white women. White female bodies being safe is paramount to maintaining white supremacy. We were taught early on how Helen of Troy’s beauty launched a thousand ships, and white people ain’t about to let the delusion that white women are the standard of beauty go. Accordingly, white women, feminists who claim to be here for all women, play favorites with whose bodies they cover and uplift, and whose body-shaming is worth memorializing and destroying (show me one Black face on that list).
White people who banged out 800-word think pieces on why it was not alright to fat shame a man who has spent decades fat-shaming women — not to mention his disgusting racist, xenophobic, elitist, misogynist bullshit — couldn’t be bothered with so much as a 140-character tweet condemning the same when the victim is a fat, dark-skinned Black woman. Body positivity, like most movements white women have made themselves the champions of, was never intended to include Black women. If a few rogue white feminists decide to defend Black female bodies, that’s fine, but we all know body positivity is for white women.
Black women of all shapes and sizes will stick to what we’ve always done: Affirming and holding space for ourselves.