Cute when thin, angry when fat

image11Nicole McFarlane,
Fayetteville, NC.

I’m a 43 year old black woman who has spent most of her adult life living and working in the South. I notice that when my weight fluctuates I’m perceived differently — as different stereotypes associated with my race, gender and sexuality. At times when I’m heavier, many assume me to be a hostile and intimidating presence, no matter how accommodating and unassuming I behave. They may sometimes even assume I’m a lesbian or asexual. At my thinner size people are convinced that I’m younger and express dismay when I don’t “keep it cute and on mute.” Some are downright perplexed by my confidence and consider my assertiveness as “uppity,” which is something, believe it or not, I’ve been called to my face by seemingly polite white people. There’s much more to be said about how, whether fit or fat, the morphology of the black female body is always a particular subject of scrutiny. The failure to appear as “cute, “or to conform to an explicit and intentional social performance of diminutive proportions, comes with special pressures in cases where gender and race overlap. It is my belief that the hyper-vigilance I and many other black women have developed to fend off microaggressions might actually create the very health issues like hypertension and diabetes that I work so hard to avoid, regardless of my size.

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