Tag Archives: black women body image

Photo of the Week: Photo in Ph21 Gallery Budapest – CorpoRealities


Laurie says:

My photo of Chupoo Alafonté from Women En Large is in the CorpoRealities exhibition at the PH21 Gallery in Budapest. A curated international photography exhibition from August 29 – September 21, 2019.



From PH21:  The human body, in full or in part, is often in the focus of various photographic genres. From documentary, event and street photography to fashion photography and the nude, photographers have always found ways of constructing images in which the specific portrayal of the human body gains significance. This may be stemming from the rich layers of meanings determined and shaped by the specific socio-cultural context of the image, the visual interaction of the human body with the surrounding physical space, or the intriguing compositional possibilities offered by the body itself. When focusing on the body, some photographers explore movements, study expressive gestures and postures, or concentrate on the beauty and details of the human anatomy. Some narrate whole life stories through the depiction of the human body. Others may offer stern visual criticism of our normative conceptions of the human body and its mainstream representation in Western media.

And here is Chupoo’s brilliant text from Women En Large:

When I think of what it means to be a fat, black woman, I think of my ancestors, women at the lowest rung of society, who were forced to serve, nurture, and give birth to a nation that hates and fears people who look like me. Those women were the invisible foundation used to build other people’s wealth and self-esteem. During slavery in this country, black women and men were used to physically build America. Black women were used as chattels to continuously replenish the slavery populations, as pawns to destroy black men’s self-esteem, and as meat to satisfy white men sexually. These women did not have the luxury to worry about their growing dress size. The life they lived called for big, strong bodies that could endure. Many petite, frail little women just couldn’t (and didn’t) survive the brutishness of living in America.

These facts may seem like ancient history to some, but it’s been less than forty years since white people decided it was all right for black people to sit next to them at a lunch counter. As a matter of fact, it’s still not okay for fat black people to sit next to whites at a lunch counter. One can say or do just about anything they want to a fat person in public. What makes the abuse different for women of color as opposed to white women is that for black women it’s nothing new.

Most people of color in this country are not living in their natural habitat. Most African and Indigenous people living in America come from a place where geography and climate dictated that the evolution of their bodies’ metabolism be efficient and able to store food to survive in their native environment. As we were introduced to European culture, we immediately began to lose access to the food and remedies we knew.

The percentage of large people in communities of color is much large than in white communities, and the less we have assimilated to the dominant European culture, the more we are accepted in our own community. I rarely experience discrimination because of fat in the black community. I feel the hatred when I am in public, where white people dominate. Even other black people will ostracize me if we are in a white environment.

So when you ask me about my life as a fat black woman, I have to talk about the many struggles of my people. A black woman is often invisible even in the movements where she is on the front lines. Black males reaped the benefits of the civil rights movement. White women benefit from the women’s movement and affirmative action. Black women are on the bottom of the heap even in these struggles. The realities of our lives are overwhelming, and we still don’t have the luxury of contemplating our growing dress size.

Survival is more important than acceptance.  – Chupoo Alafonté – Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes 1994


The Revolutionary Weapon in the Media War Against Black Women

Laurie and Debbie say:

It’s great to have Laurie back from her long vacation, and be blogging together again!

We’ll start by showcasing this trenchant book review from Tracey Ross for Racialicious. Neither of us has had the chance to read Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman, by Lakesia Johnson, and both of us are now eager to get our hands on it. Here’s the author being interviewed about her book:

Johnson presents a double thesis: first, that media images of black women have consistently pushed black women into a very small set of stereotypes: “angry, emasculating, mammy, sex object”; and second, that black women throughout American history have strongly and tirelessly used their own power to push back against these stereotypes.

She illustrates this by honing in on some of history’s most iconic figures–Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Michelle Obama, to name a few–and analyzes the imagery, interviews, film, literature, and music by and about these women. …

Johnson covers lots of territory in only 128 pages, but the main contribution of her book is that it serves as a reminder that we need to do better by black women. Starting with the black community.

We often find ourselves outraged when we see members of the white community diminish our women, and rightfully so. When Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) attacked the First Lady’s work to promote healthy eating by saying “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself,” who among us wouldn’t be mad? How did he mistake her curvy body for being unhealthy? And why are we talking about her body at all? There is a long history of such disrespect, but there is also a history of the black community marginalizing and stereotyping our women as well. This isn’t to let the white community off the hook, but is to say we can’t let ourselves off the hook either. And Iconic comes out at a time when there has been much debate over the images of black women perpetuated throughout the black community.

In the video linked above, Johnson (at the interviewer’s request) makes some useful connections to how this kind of media stereotyping extends beyond the black women’s community, to a range of media figures including Sarah Palin. However, her focus stays on how black women are portrayed–and how they have historically and currently pushed back against imposed limits.

While these debates reveal the need for us to do better by black women, they also highlight the fact that in every instance, black women are the ones stepping up and expressing frustration that we’re still talking about these things–that the concept of the video girl is alive and well, that the angry black woman and mammy are go-to characters, and that our hair seems like it will always be a topic of conversation. Johnson concludes Iconic showing how the black women she features are able to combat negative stereotypes and pursue their goals, saying “their knowledge of these stereotypes helps them develop counterimages that support truths about themselves.”

All too often, critiques of media stereotyping present the stereotyped group as passive and/or powerless victims of a power so much stronger than themselves; in contrast, Johnson’s spotlight on the revolutionary strength of defining your own image offers both agency and energy.