To say that fatphobia is not connected to anti-Blackism is to not understand the deep-rooted history between the two. During the late seventeenth century, body type was used as a marker for racial categorization. Scientific racism led to the attribution of other signifiers, besides skin color, to justify the horrendous treatment of the enslaved. Body size became a way to dehumanize and demonize Black people. The robust figures of Black women became associated with immorality, laziness, and lack of self-control—painting a stark contrast with the “rationality” and “refinement” of Europeans. Thinness became associated with whiteness and intellectual and moral superiority.
These falsehoods were spread by a culture that feared the power, might and inherent beauty of our Black goddesses. As most of us know, Black females, no matter their size, are naturally divine, confident, stylish and highly intelligent.
Below are seven Black thick-bodied beauties who are working on challenging and dismantling the oppressive opinions that have tried to keep Black women from flourishing and loving themselves.
Stephanie Yeboah is a multi-award-winning plus-size style blogger, public speaker, and fat-acceptance advocate. With over two thousand followers on Instagram and a successful book under her belt, Yeboah is shaking up how the world views Black fat women. Her book Fattily Ever After A Black Girl’s Guide To Living Life Unapologetically isn’t just a how-to guide or a memoir on finding self-love, it’s an informative insight into fatphobia and colorism’s effects on Black women’s lives that seeks to inspire and transform.
She discusses the medical experiences of Black fat people in the medical field.
“What people don’t know is that there have been so many occasions where [fat Black people] have gone to the doctor for an issue that has nothing to do with their weight and the doctor will ignore the underlying issues and that issue will fester and cause death.”
In a world that oversimplifies the experiences of this marginalized group, Yeboah’s impact lies in her ability to challenge stereotypes of fat Black women displayed in popular culture and society.
“Fat Black women are not monolithic. I think it’s ok to allow people to just be in their own personality without attributing it to a trope.”
Taylor is an author, poet, social activist, and founder and “Radical Executive Officer” of digital media and education venture The Body is Not An Apology. She deliberately sparks conversations to inspire organizations, audiences and individuals from boardrooms to prisons, universities and elementary schools with her messages of radical self-love.
Her book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical-Self Love, is a beautiful teaching manual on relinquishing self-hate and treating the body with “reverence and wonder.” Her authentic storytelling as a dark-skinned, fuller-figured Black woman peels back the layers of her experience navigating through racism, colorism, and fatphobia.
“The darker and bigger you are, the more likely you are to be disenfranchised and marginalized in society.”
She believes that to shift the current paradigm, people must first confront their own internal dialogue that devalues zaftig black bodies and become more aware of how all these oppressive systems are connected to create an illusionary hierarchy.
When asked about her own path to ‘radical-self love’, she says,”If I inherently know that I am loved, it’s harder for the messages to penetrate.”
New York-based obstetrician-gynecologist Heather Irobunda realized something during her experiences in medical school residency, as an active duty OB-GYN and working for NYC Health and Hospitals. There is a severe lack of access to reliable, transparent online women’s health information, especially for large Black women. Seeing the inherent lack of representation and the injustices in the medical field from both sides, as a client and as a provider, Dr. Irobunda realized something had to be done.
“I am a proud fat, Black female doctor. I feel like I wasn’t adequately represented in the medical space. It’s been really important [to me] to have these candid conversations.”
Wanting to show more body positive imagery for Black women, Irobunda took to social media. Her viewers are welcomed with a fun, yet informative space. She extended her sphere of influence on TikTok where she drops gems that empower women about their health with hints of humor. She also regularly appears on podcasts to inform women on the truths of their bodies and the medical industry.
By presenting body health positively that respects Black fat women, Dr. Irobunda is at once changing Black women’s lives and the entire medical profession.
When it comes to health and fatphobia, Irobunda notes a widespread misconception around rubrics traditionally used to determine it. This includes body mass index (BMI), which was created, she says, in white spaces and does not account for the diversity of humans around the world. She also speaks to the demoralization attributed to people of a particular weight class.
“Research shows that people in larger bodies have done everything to not be in those larger bodies. The body is more complex than food in and food out.”
Spence is a registered “anti-diet” dietician and owner of The Nutrition Tea, an online resource aimed at providing information and facts on trending topics related to mindful and intuitive eating, healthy lifestyle, and self-awareness.
“When we look at the media, we are given an idea which often is a white, thin ideal; and whether we realize it or not, even Black women think that they should live up to this ideal.” Through her work, she counters this mindset by promoting health without focusing on weight or body size, and by spreading awareness about disordered eating. “Anorexia can occur in fat bodies as well, which is another aspect that people don’t realize. When I work with Black women, frequently they do not realize that they may have had past eating disorders and disordered eating.”
As a body image coach and activist, Adams is fiercely dedicated to fighting the damaging stigma of weight in society. Thousands of followers have welcomed her work, and she consults doctors to help them create a more health-conscious environment for curvier Black people.
As a dark-skinned, fat Black woman, she speaks with authority. Unapologetically, she affirms others who, like herself, have felt marginalized because of their physique. She makes a point to highlight the violence experienced by larger-sized Black people as a justification for mistreatment, arguing that both racism and fatphobia are violent, hence the brutality faced by Eric Garner and most recently, My’Khia Brown.
“[People] understand that fatphobia is happening to Taylor Swift, Will Smith, and Beyoncé. People aren’t as oblivious as they claim to be. It’s very important to connect fatphobia to white supremacy.”
If you thought her social media debut was the beginning of her advocacy for body acceptance, you’re wrong. The Florida native co-created Eat or Die in middle school in response to the bullying her fellow classmates and her experienced for their larger-than-life size. Continuing her work in college at Florida State University, she became the voice of empowering fat Black woman.
While her platform opens up discussions around serious issues, in her own life, she emphasizes the need to still nurture herself and live a fulfilling life. “I owe it to my ancestors to really live. I put on my scheduled ‘me time,’ and I wear what I want to wear.”
Self-dubbed “a tantalizing confidence queen,” Agutu, a thick-bodied beauty, is no stranger to lack of visibility. “In Indiana, I was the only Black girl in most of my classes,” she remembers. “I didn’t see people who looked like me, and there was nobody who was really hyping me up!”
Agutu’s solution? Hype herself up.
She began creating content on her Instagram account, @noordinarynoire ,to make herself feel good in the mornings. After a while, she started to see inspired responses from followers who were boosted by her feel-good posts, which only motivated her more.
She amps up her visibility by leading through her words, actions, and appearance. “I want my outfit, whatever it is, to be vibrant and inviting. If I wear yellow and walk down the street, it might even make someone smile!”
Natasha Ngindi is a nutritionist and founder of The Thick Nutritionist. After years of yo-yo dieting that yielded unsatisfactory results and wreaked havoc on her emotional and mental health, the Canadian native decided to take a more loving and holistic approach.
Her brand and social media platform amplify the need for women, particularly plus-size Black women, to practice daily self-care and love. Her work is drizzling with enthusiasm and fun, all while effortlessly challenging societal norms that demonize Black bodies that do not meet a certain standard.
“I bring awareness of how deeply-rooted racism is in diet culture. I strive to normalize body diversity, and to cultivate radical self-acceptance for others, especially those in marginalized bodies.”
When it comes to dieting and the race to be thin for Black women, Ngindi maintains, “We are painfully aware of how unfair these beauty standards are, but yet we’ve internalized them. My main piece of advice is to tell yourself that no matter who you are or what you look like, there’s nothing wrong with embracing yourself.”
To learn how race and body standards intersect, check out author Sabrina Strings tome, “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”.