Queering Sizism: An interview with Ashleigh Shackelford on Fatness, Blackness, and Survival.
Ashleigh Shackelford’s writings have blessed the internet through a variety of popular online blogs including Buzzfeed, Everyday Feminism, For Harriet, and Black Girl Dangerous, in addition to gracing other social media platforms such as Facebook and Tumblr. A self-proclaimed queer Black fat femme, Ashleigh Shackelford’s articulate and beautifully unapologetic writings and videos bring to center topics such as anti-Blackness, fatphobia, cissexism, and other marginalized experiences shaped by our white supremacist patriarchal society.
I had the opportunity to meet Ashleigh this year in Chicago while at a national LGBTQ conference, and in hearing them speak was, for the first time, overwhelmed with the desire to accept and embrace myself unapologetically; my Blackness, my queerness, and most importantly, my very much validated anger at society. It was a really transformative moment for me that has been extremely healing and empowering for me, both in my social justice work and my personal life.
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask Ashleigh, a self-proclaimed hood feminist, a few questions about the ways in which anti-fatness and sizism as a form of systematic, societal, and institutional oppression has influenced the ways in which they navigate the survival of being Black, fat, queer, and femme, check it out below:
What are some ways that anti-fatness/sizeism as a form of oppression intersects with other identities that you embody?
In navigating being fat, my Blackness affects how my beauty, desire, worthiness, class status, and humanity is seen. I am dehumanized at every intersection because my body, my race, and my perceived gender (read as a cisgender woman but not respected like a thin woman). Often, I’m denied sympathy because Black fat femmes are not seen as innocent, worthy human beings deserving of love and care. In my navigation, I’m constantly fighting to have my agender identity recognized because my fat body represents fullness that emulates the idea of womanhood, while also emulates an anti-Black trope of a mammy. This is also complicated by how my body represents de-sexualization due to this idea of my body representing mammy characteristics, while also layering the reality that my Blackness and fatness have skewed my age/ perceived age of consent by men who view my body as too woman-like/ too old when I was a child. My queerness is often denied as well within the intermingling of these components because my sexuality is ultimately queered through the lens of fatness representing layers of sexualization and sexual violence based on the gazer - I’m constantly proving and naming myself in spaces against what my body is codified as.
How do you see fat folks of color represented in media, and how do these representations play into larger systems of power and oppression?
Gabourey Sidibe is such an important person and representation for how fatphobia is inherently anti-Black, classist, and transphobic. Gabby is a dark skin Black woman who does not represent an acceptable fat body (non-hour glass shape, pronounced double chin, big arms, big features, big belly, etc.). The commentary around her representation and her body is similar to how Serena Williams is attacked with anti-Black transmisogyny but with the queering of gender through fatness and dark skin Blackness. Gender is queered by fatness because ultimately body politics are skewed outside of white supremacist thin beauty standards. Often, anti-Black transmisogyny is hurled at fat, dark skin Black women because they’re not seen as innocent, beautiful, or as “real women.” They’re considered a masculine counterpart that is not inherently equal to a cisgender straight man, but is too masculine and too ugly to be a woman yet can be violated sexually and physically.
Her character Becky on Empire sparked conversation when there was a sex scene in which Gabby haves sex with a thin, muscular light skin visibly able-bodied Black man. There was a meme with a picture of the scene saying, “Damn some of you people can’t even get a text back.” People will mock dark skin, fat Black women having sex or being loved as as way of affirming that dark skin, fat Black women are the most hated, ugly, and dehumanized people on earth. Love, sex, and happiness has been codified and capitalized upon as something exclusively accessible to thin, beauty standard acceptable people.
What are some of the ways in which you personally engage in self-care, and why do you feel this is crucial to fat folks?
My self care involves eating unapologetically and twerking to trap music at any given opportunity. Self care comes in different forms for everybody but often as a Black fat femme, my body and my performance is policed so heavily that I have to take space at any given opportunity to center myself and to protect myself from a world seeking to destroy me. Eating unapologetically is a personal revolution because often my body is site of voyeurism and violence. Twerking to trap music is a layered form of self care that allows for my Black fat disabled femme body to challenge the limitations often codified upon my body. Whether it be the anti-Black misogyny that limits my body autonomy and sexual agency, or the lack of space I’m given to dance and be free as a fat disabled person - it is a challenge and a revolution to use dance, music, Black culture, and my body as tools for self care.
How have you seen sizism/fatphobia play out in movements of liberation for other marginalized communities? (queer, Black, trans, etc.)
Fatphobia is often ignored in larger movements, especially within the Black Lives Matter movement. Often, conversations around body politics are limited to gender and sexuality - yet when size comes up, it becomes a conversation dominated by health and size policing. Within the Black community, size and weight only become an imperative issue if we’re discussing fatphobic types of food justice or addressing “childhood obesity.” Fat bodies deserve to be centered and protected without our bodies amounting to an issue of “choice” or “unhealthiness.” Every Black body is under attack by this system and fatness is not inherently a health related attribute. We deserve to talk about what body positivity looks like when we incorporate how fat Black folks are denied health care, denied sympathy and therefore mental health platforms, denied sexualization or body autonomy therefore also denied sexual/ reproductive health care, and are often paid less for jobs. We need to be at the intersections of all marginalized identities - i.e. the fight for the minimum wage, the fight for disability justice, the fight for trans and gender nonconforming identities, and the fight for queer bodies.