A Guest Article by Joyniece Kirkland
Like most fat women, when I see any semblance of representation on television or in movies, I jump at it.Does that make me gullible? Perhaps, but in a world where thin is still very much in seeing a slightly overweight woman on screen gives me the feels and sometimes (most times) that cannot be ignored. On the other hand, as a fat dark skin super-plus woman of color, it’s pretty evident that my story and the stories of people who look like me are being ignored. Now, before you cite Gabby Sidibe’s character on the show Empire, let me remind you that she is just one actress in a vast sea of fair-skinned, hourglass and pear-shaped counterparts.
Let me start by saying I have not read Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. The book came recommended to me by a svelte white woman in an attempt to “connect” with me on “plus issues” as she assisted another skinny white woman in what could be characterized as a hugely successful coup to push me and my then manager (who was also plus-sized) off a project geared toward the plus, femme consumer. So, you can imagine that the title alone brings up some rather bad memories.
With that being said, I was intrigued when I initially heard that West’s book was being made into a show. Iwas instantly drawn to Aidy Bryant’s Annie. Hell, in a lot of ways I am her—navigating romantic relationships hasn’t been my forte. I’ve definitely met my fair share of Ryans. Moreover, I could feel her pain—the sting of being fat in this world. The constant cloud that hangs over fat women as they just try to go about their daily lives. And yet, much like Dumplin’ , the narrative of POC (i.e., fat POC, particularly black women, especially dark skin women) is pushed to the periphery.
It is insulting when the plus-size movement was created and brought into the mainstream by Black and Latino women many years ago —before fat became mainstream and white girls were “allowed” to have curves, and everyone and their mama decided to be “body positive.” So, while I love Shrill , I am also very aware that my story is not being told. What makes it even more obvious is Fran’s presence. I mean, she’s always RIGHT there! And yet, she is a prop, a cheerleader, a sage-like phenom much like Amadi, meant to only hold up Annie despite her persistent selfishness.
The reality is Fran is what Annie strives to be—a force to be reckoned with. That’s why I struggle with somany of the show’s pivotal moments. It seems Annie can only co-opt confidence from other fat white women, i.e. “the lady in red.” One moment, in particular, comes to mind—the infamous pool party. It has been the source of some recent contention in the plus community, but what struck me was that as mostly white and white passing femme bodies gyrated across the screen, and Annie got her “liberating moment” of jumping in the pool, we see only one pair of seemingly brown legs in the pool off in the distance. I won’t even get started on the lack of super-plus women or anyone veering far from the “sexy fat” aesthetic. And in the midst of all of this is Fran strutting fearlessly into this party, proceeding to get her mack on and land the girl of her dreams.
Still, Annie doesn’t appear to have learned much from her bestie. And yes, I appreciate that the showdoesn’t dive too deep in the “wise black woman” trope. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact Annie (and the show) treats the POC in her life as speed bumps in her reckless road to realization and self-discovery. Don’t get me wrong. I feel like there’s still some story left to be told. Fran is a fierce, confident, funny, kickass queer dark skin fat woman of color. You don’t check off that many boxes in diversity bingo without some struggle and strife. I just hope Shrill ’s writers dig more into Fran’s backstory as thoughtfully as they have the show’s “heroine.”
In the end, Hollywood is becoming more accepting of plus-size actors and plus-size stories. Sure, you’ll be hard pressed to find one featuring anyone that looks remotely like me, but I still relish in the fact that part of my story is being shown. With that being said, I still need more. When are we, as fat, black and brown women, going to see us in the mainstream—not as the butt of a joke, or someone’s sassy mama or friend, but as a whole person? I would argue the last time we got anywhere close was ABC’s Ugly Betty TV Show or Mo’nique’s Phat Girlz in the early 2000s and it’s time for a change. The reality is that fatphobia and sizeism aren’t white issues. They are human issues. If we don’t show more diverse stories on all screens of fat POC, that are equally vulnerable and complex, we are doing the plus community a disservice, especially when obesity rates are higher in black and brown communities.
Joyniece Kirkland is a professional writer and aspiring plus-size model. She has previously been published in Pink Things magazine. Her goal is to encourage people of all sizes to live their lives unapologetically. You can follow Joyniece on Instagram @flynfluffy.