Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel discusses a dangerous stereotype perpetuated by fat white women and highlights the injustice this creates for fat black women.
If you (like me) are a fat white woman, then we need to have a serious, grownup conversation. We are doing a MASSIVE disservice to fat black women by perpetuating the “black men love me” stereotype. I did some digging to try and find the origin of this trope, but search results were completely inconclusive. I know I was personally exposed to this stereotype at a young age. I was in middle school (age 12-15ish) when I was first made aware of this line of thinking, and I remember it being widely accepted as a fact. Like, “Yeah, duh! EVERYONE knows black men love fat white women!” This is such a widespread stereotype that someone actually took the time to sit down and write THREE books on the topic.
In 2015 plus size model Tess Holliday had a profile in The Guardian that uh…well it was a garbage fire:
“At one point, an African American guy, middle-aged, said something appreciative as he walked by. ‘What do guys think they’ll achieve by yelling something?’ she asked, shifting her weight and adjusting the cape primly. ‘They’re like: ‘She’ll love this, I’ll definitely get her number.’’ A pause, and then she added, with some satisfaction, ‘I do admit that black men love me. I always forget that, and then I come to a black neighbourhood and I remember.’ And no one quite knew what to say.” (The Guardian, 2015).
After loads of completely justified backlash, Tess issued a half-baked, excuse ridden apology:
“‘It was in relation to being cat called by black men significantly more than by white, but perhaps my tone and wording didn’t convey that clearly. It was also meant to play into the idea that black men like bigger women, but the humour of that doesn't come through,’ [Holliday] says. The original Guardian piece reports an awkward silence followed the plus size model’s remarks. A silence that Holliday claims was not present: ‘To further add context, the team included two talented black women - so it was clearly not something intended to cause offence’” (Buchanan, 2015).
The “apology” contains all three of the classic red flags indicate a deeply rooted problem, not just an isolated slip of the tongue: 1) I’m sorry you were offended, not I’m sorry what I said was offensive 2) It was just a joke! and 3) It’s okay you guys, I have black friends. Tess obviously isn’t the only fat white woman spreading this nonsense loudly and on a public platform.
So what is the deeply rooted problem? What we mean when we say “black men love me?” Pia-Glenn (2015) explains this beautifully saying “At best, it is reductive in lumping a whole group of people together as being attracted to one thing. And more often than not, it is flat-out dehumanising in reducing the black men in question to flesh-fueled predators, and often includes implied misogynoir, shadily letting black women know that ‘to them you're just fat but they love my jelly.’” Sweeping generalisations (like suggesting black men as one singular unit love you FOR EXAMPLE) are never helpful or productive. These generalisations really only serve to highlight prejudices.
“But Amanda,” you may be thinking, “Stereotypes exist for a reason! Plus, I’ve experienced this as well, so I know black men fancy fat white women!” Let’s look at some research, shall we? One study found that black women have been found to be less likely than women in other racial/ethnic groups to self identify as overweight, even if they were objectively the same size (Ali et al., 2013). Older studies of “overweight” black women (as defined by BMI) found that 40% of participants considered their figures attractive or very attractive (Kumanyika et al., 1993). In addition, less than 40% of participants dieting. Another study concluded that black women select an ideal BMI that is three points higher than white women (Burke and Heiland, 2008). This data agrees with previous research which also found that lack women identify a larger ideal body size than white women of the same age do (Lovejoy, 2001).
As Pia-Glenn pointed out, this stereotype is dehumanising and damaging to black men, but I’d like to focus on the implications for fat black women. White women consistently exclude women of colour, even in feminist circles (Carby, 1996). Unfortunately, this within the fat positive community. “I think my least favourite thing about the fat acceptance movement is when white people act like it is more difficult to be a white fat woman than a fat person of colour” (Beatriz as quoted in Williams, 2017, p. 8). “Fat black women are a forgotten demographic, especially in the UK. It’s ironic seeing as the body/fat positivity movement was spearheaded by black fat femmes years ago yet we are somehow erased from all of it. Fat black women do not only have to deal with fatphobia, we have to deal with misogynoir, racism and colourism from our own communities.” (Yeboah, 2017).
White women need to do more to advocate for our black sisters within the fat positive movement. We can start by ditching this “black men love me” nonsense, but that’s just Step 1.
Step 2: Follow more fat black women on social media. Fill your feed with their voices and listen when they talk about injustice and the severe lack of racial diversity in plus size fashion, plus size blogging, and the greater fat community. It’s imperative that we listen, and don’t speak over them. Some babes who discuss these topics include:
Step 3: Stand up for fat black women when they’re being bullied and harassed. The tweets above are just a tiny sample of the harassment these women experience on an all too regular basis. We also need to check in with our friends when they receive this kind of harassment. It’s not fair to just assume they’re okay when hatred is being spewed at them from anonymous jerks on the internet.
Step 4: Educate yourself. This is one area where I still have a LOT of room to grow. “I know we all catch shit from the world, but it’s not our job to educate the ignorant” (Shantal, as quoted in Williams, 2017, p. 9). The oppressed group is not obligated to educate the privileged group, so we need to do it ourselves. Everyday Feminism has loads of resources and is a great place to start.
Black fat women matter too - Steph of Nerd About Town
White girls - Chris Rock sketch
Tess Holliday's "Black Men Love Me" Comment Was Totally Unnecessary - Pia-Glenn for XO Jane
ALI, M. M., RIZZO, J. A., and HEILAND, F. W., 2013. Big and beautiful? Evidence of racial differences in the perceived attractiveness of obese females. Journal of Adolescence. vol. 36, pp. 539-549.
BUCHANAN, R. T., 2015. Tess Holliday apologises after saying: 'Black men love me.’ The Independent [online]. [viewed 15 August 2017]. Available from: The Independent.
BURKE, M. A., and HEILAND, F., 2008. From ‘overweight’ to ‘about right’ : evidence of a generational shift in body weight norms. Obesity. vol. 18, no. 6, pp. 1226-1234.
CARBY, H., 1996. White woman listen! Black feminism and the boundaries of sisterhood. In Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 61-86.
KUMANYIKA, S., WILSON, J. F., and GUILFORD-DAVENPORT, M., 1993. Weight related attitudes and behaviours of black women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. vol. 93, pp. 416-422.
LOVEJOY, M., 2001. Disturbances in the social body: differences in body image and eating problems among African American and white women. Gender and Society. vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 239-261.
PIA-GLENN, 2015., Tess Holliday's "Black Men Love Me" Comment Was Totally Unnecessary and Uncalled-For. XO Jane [online]. [viewed 15 August 2017]. Available from: XO Jane.
THE GUARDIAN, 2015., Tess Holliday: 'Never seen a fat girl in her underwear before? [online]. [viewed 15 August 2017]. Available from: The Guardian.
WILLIAMS, A. A., 2017. Fat people of colour: emergent intersectional discourse online. Social Sciences. vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1-16.
YEBOAH, S., 2017, Black fat women matter too. Nerd About Town [online]. [viewed 15 August 2017]. Available from: Nerd About Town.