The beauty and fashion industry was built on the backs of Black women. The hugely popular body positivity movement, which has always been apart of black culture (because we have celebrated our natural curves for centuries), is now dominated by white women and when you do see WOC they are racially ambiguous. When was the last time you saw a plus-size model who didn’t have an hourglass or pear shape and she had a deep dark complexion…I’ll wait.
As the purveyors of the body positive movement, Black women are often criticized for promoting obesity or being lazy, leaving us feeling ashamed of our natural bodies. However, when the movement went mainstream, white women became the face of it. And to add further insult to injury, it pushed darker-skinned black women to the back and only let a handful of lighter-skinned black women in at a time.
How often you see Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson and Adele on the cover of magazines being universally recognized for their beautiful plus size bodies? Now, think of when you’ve seen Gabby Sidibe, Amber Riley or even Mo’Nique celebrated the same—the answer is you haven’t. You have seen Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and Raven-Symone heralded for their beauty and fuller figures though.
This blatant colorism is a reminder that lighter skin is preferable, even if you are plus-sized. Ashley Graham and Tess Holiday are both models and proud members of the body positivity movement and two of the biggest names in their industry, but they are also not Black. Arguably one of the biggest plus sizes models of the moment is Tabria Majors, who is absolutely gorgeous, but it would be even more thrilling to see her darker-skinned, apple-shaped counterpart also have the same success.
In an article titled “The Body Positive Movement Still Looks Like White Feminism” for Wear Your Voice, writer Ashleigh Shackelford brilliantly described this huge problem within the body positive community:
“Fat women and femmes of color are ignored, while those who are lighter-skinned are hyper-humanized. This works in conjunction with fatphobia. Darker-skinned fat Black women and femmes are demonized and juxtaposed as the direct opposite of the beauty standards that promote white, thin, femme bodies as a universal goal. Gabourey Sidibe is a primary example of why body positivity and fat acceptance does not privilege women or femmes of color. If so, Gabby would have the platform that Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson has. We never regard Gabby as a forerunner in the body positivity movement, although her representation and presence is imperative for everyone. Seeing a darker-skinned Black woman who is not shaped like an hourglass, who does not have small petite features and who is unapologetic is powerful and necessary.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Stephanie Yeboah in an article with ELLE UK, when she discussed just how difficult it is to not only be a Black woman navigating through the body positivity movement, but also one who has darker skin and a less desirable body type:
“While people within the body positivity community have to deal with gender equality and size equality, women of colour have to deal with the above, as well as race equality and colourism. Which means it’s so important to include all bodies, regardless of colour, and to give a voice to those who are not represented fairly.”
Sadly, there is no instant solution to this issue because celebration of whiteness, in whatever shape and size it comes in, is always going to be the norm—at least for the foreseeable future. However, things have certainly gotten better than they were 10, 20 years ago, so progress is being made, but we are still in last place in a race that we started and never wavered from.