Saturday, June 7, 2008

Black or White, and its part in Showbiz

Yesterday there was a very moving piece at Jiggly Bits, and Chrissy shared with the FA community her fears of being alone as a fat woman. LOADS of people reached out to her to empathize and strengthen her, promising that there is someone somewhere! Many of us have found him or her after a very long time of looking and being alone. The best part is--it comes when you least expect it, and have your mind on it the least. Which brings us to the first goal--of loving yourself and your life enough to enjoy it tremendously, even without a mate.

At any rate! Chrissy's heard all that. There was a lady who posted named Mari, who is a dark black woman. She commented that most FA ladies are white (which seems to be true), and also commented on how much MORE difficult it is to be fat and black, especially when it seems that even black men would prefer fat white women to them.

In reality: Mari is ab-so-lute-ly RIGHT. And as a white fat woman, I don't have the experience of having yet a third stigma (race) against me in this world. I can't pretend to know, either--but I can commit to being there for the racial diversity that's shown in this movement, and for seeing beyond color to give them as much of an even keel as is possible. Colors aside, we fatties are here for each other and supportive no matter what.

What this brings me to (oy, I'm really all over the place!), is the REALITY vs. ENTERTAINMENT. I had commented back to Mari that there is some discrepancy between how she lives the status of a black fat woman and how they are portrayed (vs. fat white women) in movies, TV, etc.

Most fat black women in entertainment display one or many of the following qualities: strength, maternal power, 'sassiness,' attitude, support, a hefty diet of soul food and home cooking,intimidation, street-smarts, funkiness, female empowerment, 'fabulousness.' This includes your run-of-the-mill fat black women and your two staples, Mo'Nique and Queen Latifah.

In my opinion (as a white person), this is a direct contrast to fat white woman (and not just pleasantly plump like Mrs. Weasley, I mean fatter): these women are almost always portrayed as ugly, unwanted, with little to no self-confidence, eternally dieting OR gorging on junk, not having any romantic prospects, being slow or lazy, and being in the way of society as opposed to part of it. There are maybe 2 exceptions to these- Camryn Manheim and Kathy Bates (and she spent the first half of "Fried Green Tomatos" being that exact description).

So what's the problem? It perpetrates major stereotypes, on both ends. Mari had mentioned the main fat black woman in entertainment to be like an Aunt Jemima or Mammy. I was thinking, "No! Of course not, that's----ohmygod, she's right." The only difference is that today's fat black women on the small and silver screens aren't subservient to white people. In fact, you had better fucking watch your back, or they'll take you down right here right now! Is that any better of a stereotype?! No! Who wants to be with a woman like this? Who wants to work with a woman who caustically grunts, "Mmmmmm HMM," as customers pass by?

While it may, at first, seem like fat black women in roles have it easier than fat white women, the self-assured profile is a double-edged sword: it STILL portrays these women as unpleasant to be around, pains in the ass, abusive or nasty to husbands, rough with their kids, smothering, etc.

The New York Times did an article nearly two years ago that I just found, that's just absolutely prolific on the matter: An Image Popular in Films Raises some Eyebrows in Ads.

As a semi-inside source, I can sadly say that it's not changing anytime soon. Each casting that I see for heavy/heavyset/overweight/voluptuous/etc. African-American women asks for (essentially) someone fat, sassy, with a lot of attitude and who doesn't take nothing from nobody.
And, yes, the same goes for the white folk--as you can see, that description has still not changed, re: the character I auditioned for the other day.

What are your views and experiences with these caricatures of our people?


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