by Quita Tinsley
(This piece appears in BGD’s newest collection, “The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom”.)
As a young, queer Black woman, my friends, family, and community have been crucial for my well-being. Honestly speaking, finding a community of queer and trans people of color saved my life. There is something so beautiful and magical about having POC-only spaces to be able to vent and decompress free from white gaze, white guilt, and white tears. There’s also something beautiful and magical about having community that validates your lived experiences and confirms that macro- and micro- aggressions and oppressions can be equally impacting on how you navigate your life. One of the most beautiful aspects of having community that reflects your lived experiences is being able to share your experiences without centering whiteness. Having such a brilliant example of POC community and solidarity in my life has left me longing even more for fat people of color.
I think of the powerful impact a fat POC community could have had on me throughout my life. Would I have felt so isolated in my feelings about fatness and body-shaming? Would it have taken me until I was in my 20s to feel comfortable wearing short dresses and skirts? Would I have had as many unhealthy relationships as I did because I thought no one could ever love me and my fat body?
Are there other fat people of color longing for community like me? How can we build together and show up for each other? Can we share tips on chub rub and chest sweat? Can we share strategies on dismantling fatphobia and white supremacy? Can we can learn to listen to our desires of longing and build community and solidarity with each other, whether in person or online? Can we have the pleasure of sitting within the beauty of the magic that we build with each other?
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While solidarity has become a buzzword for some, I believe that solidarity is a practice that we must use in our daily lives to move closer to our collective liberation. Practicing solidarity is one of the strategies that we must use in order to work towards dismantling white supremacy and fatphobia. While solidarity looks different for everyone, there are some strategies that I would love to see fat people of color making a part of our common practices of solidarity.
One of these practices of solidarity is affirmations. We have to be sure to affirm each other more for showing up in the world. Black femmes have shown me the art of affirming one another. Whether it is “yasss-ing” someone down for their amazing outfit or letting someone know that you’re glad to see them, affirmations are important because they verbalize to others that we see them. Another form of affirmation is checking in with people to see how they are. It’s important to let each other know that we see each other when we show up in the world, but that we also have value when we’re not visibly seen.
While I’m at a point in my life journey where I feel comfortable leaving my house in crop tops and short skirts, I wasn’t always at this point. There were some days that I didn’t want to leave the house because I was so ashamed of my body and didn’t want to be triggered by the potential stares and giggles I might have encountered. Affirming each other strengthens our confidence to show up in a world that wishes to make us smaller. Affirmations also let us know we’re not alone when we don’t have the strength to show up.
We must also practice having honest conversations and holding each other accountable. We are doing a disservice to each other if we aren’t acknowledging the various racializations of our fat bodies; aren’t confronting the sizeism and colorism that happens within fat communities; and aren’t recognizing the ways in which we are complicit or actively participating in the policing of other fat people of color’s bodies. Creating a community of fat people of color is necessary and can be beautiful, but it also has the potential to be triggering and traumatic if we aren’t actively unpacking our internalized racism and fatphobia.
Growing up, my mother, a plus size, dark-skinned Black woman, would use the word “sloppy” as a shaming tool to police me into not gaining more weight. Sloppy was a term that she used to judge people who were typically bigger than a size 18/39. And this type of thinking is not unique to my mother. It is this same internalized fatphobia and fat-shaming that praises the bodies of plus size people whose bodies seem “height weight proportionate.” These are the same types of bodies that are most visible in the body positive movement. Just because we hold marginalized identities as fat people of color doesn’t mean that we are exempt from holding oppressive notions. We have to recognize that everyone’s bodies, whether they be thick or really fat, are valuable and worthy of love and respect.
While accountability and honesty are crucial, we must also respect where others are in their journeys. We aren’t disposable and shouldn’t be treated as such if we aren’t ready to stand on the front lines of any movements. For example, as mentioned, my mother is someone who taught me to be ashamed of my fat body and shamed me herself. However, as I’ve grown older and deeper in my own journey of unpacking my shame, I’ve chosen to speak honestly with her about her language versus shutting her out. While I don’t think it’s feasible or safe to ask that we all remain in toxic relationships for the sake of not disposing of people, I do think that we have to push ourselves to interrogate what it means to protect ourselves. We have to consider that it’s sometimes easier to dispose of problematic people of color than to confront their reflections of our internalized oppression. It could be easy for me to shut my mother out for the ways that she’s hurt me, but I also want to teach her how she has hurt me and how to respect my body and me. By choosing to teach her, I am challenging myself to speak up for my own protection and also let her know that I love her enough to let her know when she’s wrong. We have to bring this type of love and compassion to our relationships with other fat people of color.
We should also practice building space for each other. It can be easier to find space for ourselves in an oppressive society that wishes to vanish us than to create space for ourselves and each other. It is often seen as acceptable to laugh and point at fat people, which I believe influences our hesitance to be seen in groups with other fat people. For example, I’d build relationships with people who I thought were pretty and cool who were most times not understanding of what it meant to be a fat person, because I didn’t want to confront my own fatness or have others confront it for me. But what would it look like if we weren’t afraid to build intimate and visible relationships with each other? It’s important to have community that will navigate life with you publically. What magic could we create if, as fat people of color, we challenged each other to be seen with each other?
Last, but not least, I think an important solidarity practice is the decentering of whiteness in our conversations about the intersections of fatness and race. As someone who has found much of my voice in writing, I’ve often turned to the internet to vent my feelings and experiences as a fat person. But most times, I find myself centering whiteness by having to constantly confront the lack of POC visibility within fat and body positive movements. Think-pieces and call-outs are necessary, but also can be draining. I don’t want to keep expending energy to convince white people that it’s important that fat people of color bodies are reflected if we actually want cultural shift in the realm of body positivity. And I also don’t want this to be the only space that fat people of color have on the internet, or in life, to share our experiences. We deserve to have space free from the centering of whiteness. We deserve to have the space to build relationships and community with each other. We deserve to have communities and spaces where we can unpack the internalized shame that has tried to convince us we shouldn’t exist as we are.
These practices of solidarity aren’t the “end all, be all” of what solidarity for fat people of color should look like, but they are a few examples. I would love to see these and other practices of solidarity be shared to build stronger community with each other. We deserve to experience each other’s love, knowledge, and presence. We owe it to ourselves, each other, and our liberation.
Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and builds toward liberatory and sustainable change in her home, the Southeast. She is a member of Echoing Ida and serves on the Board of Directors for Access Reproductive Care – Southeast.