By Hannah Eko
I discovered words like “fat acceptance” and “body politics” about six years ago when I graduated from college. It felt like a new world opened up to me. I was so impressed by the scholarship, passion, and fun that was involved in body positive movements. But, I was also a little sad/angry/annoyed when I saw how the perspectives of women of color in this movement were assigned: oftentimes they were not featured or at times they were “included” as some kind of pat on the head.
Thankfully, I found a way to women of color who were talking unapologetically about their own bodies and the self-acceptance involved in the journeys. They were business owners, activists, actresses, and more. Here are the top 8 women of color (who are in the public eye) who have inspired me in my own body acceptance journey.
1. Virgie Tovar
First off, her Instagram is so fun. I found out about Virgie when she was interviewed by Golda Poretsky a couple of years ago. I was taken aback by her charm, smarts, and her dedication to the body positive movement. Highly recommended: Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.
2. Gabi Fresh
It’s always cool to see how women bloggers become more and more successful over time. I used to read Gabi Gregg’s blog all the time, back when she was profiling other fierce “fatshionistas” out there doing their thing. I drifted away a bit but was impressed when I returned years later and saw what a globe-trotting style maven she evolved into. I know she has inspired a legacy of women to own their curves and wear whatever they choose. Highly recommended: Gabi’s Fatkini Creations.
3. Gabourey Sidibe
I like that she sounds like a Valley Girl and has serious feminist connection. I like that she doesn’t shrink or cover herself up in black. The amount of vitriol that this woman faces for her confidence is unreal. It’s sad we live in a world where confident fat and black women face such BS, but I’m glad for her grace and humor in the face of it. Highly recommended: Her Ms. Magazine Foundation Gala speech.
4. Sonya Renee Taylor
She is a performance artist, a scholar, and an activist. The writings featured on her website have challenged my own biases around bodies that do not look like mine. She has created a whole movement (The Body Is Not an Apology) and brings a much needed face to body positivity. Go on, girl. Highly recommended: Her performance piece “The Body Is Not an Apology and her article about the exclusion of women of color in the body positivity movement.
5. Fat Fancy Business Owners Carlee Smith and Annie Maribona
Okay, to be clear, I am writing about my friends here. If you wear clothes in the plus size range, you know how much of a drag thrift store or vintage shopping can be. Enter Fat Fancy to the rescue! I lived in Portland for almost three years and still have awesome pieces in my closet due to these ladies. Carlee and Annie gave me such hope about the possibility of having a socially conscious, viable business. They are awesome and I love playing dress up in their store. Highly recommended: Visit Fat Fancy in Downtown Portland and check out their website here.
6. Perle Noire
You know that overused-but-nonetheless-used quote from Marianne Williamson about being a light in the world? Namely the part of “…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same…”? Well, that’s what I think of when I see the inimitable Perle Noire perform. Another world subject to similar omissions of women of color is the burlesque world. I’ve been transfixed by burlesque for some time now and am always happy when I see a women of color take the stage. Ms. Noire is simply amazing. She displays such a lavish comfort and sensuality in her body that it never fails to rub off on how I move in my own.
Highly recommended: Watching the Black Pearl in action.
7. Lauryn Hill
I often say that we cannot wait around for media representation to appear before we accept who we are. I fully understand the importance of seeing our reflection in media, but what about that reflection is slow coming? Or the actress loses weight? Or changes her hair? Should our confidence also dip? Still, I cannot leave Lauryn Hill off this list. As a teenager growing up in Orange County, I had many privileges but seeing my kind of beauty celebrated amongst my peers was not one of them. Watching Lauryn Hill pose on the cover of Rolling Stone, win Grammys, and be her wonderful dark-skinned self was a huge help to my teen years. She helped me to see the beauty in myself. Highly recommended: Binge watching Lauryn Hill 90’s era music videos on YouTube.
8. bell hooks
I kinda hate some of the more mundane slogan-y aspects of the body positive movement. “Guys love curves!” and “Just Be Confident” bely the insidious nature of the industries profiting off women’s negative body image. If negative body image based on racist ideas was a personal failing, I think we’d all have figured it out by now. bell hooks opened up my mind to the why’s of beauty politics affecting black women. She was one of the first scholars who made me feel un-crazy for the colorism I saw growing up. Thank you, Ms. hooks. Highly recommended reading: Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery.
Photo Credits: (1) bedaonline.com; (2) gabifresh.com; (3) Vmagazine.com; (4) sonyareneetaylor.com; (5) chubstr.com; (6) thisiscabaret.com; (7) stagedoorfm.com; (8) feministing.com
Hannah Eko was crowned Miss Tall International 2014 and is the goodwill ambassador of Tall Clubs International. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of Penn State's Community and Economic Development program. Hannah loves Great Danes, Wonder Woman, and walking around cities with her headphones on. She blogs at hanabonanza.com