Music’s Big Fat Lie
And for the majority of my adult life, I’ve been morbidly obese. I peaked at 406lbs in my mid-20s, generally bouncing between 350lbs and 400lbs from age 19 until I had weight loss surgery at 32. Since having the surgery, I’m comfortably managing a plush 230–240lbs and still consider myself a large woman (I’m also 6'0" tall).*
I began gaining weight around age 12, and years of therapeutic retrospective revealed it was directly related to early traumas I experienced. Like every other girl, I was inundated by the media-driven message that being thin was something all girls and women should want to be. Thin was beautiful. Thin was smarter. Thin wasn’t lazy. Thin was more ambitious. Thin was desirable. Thin was what would attract the boys I was expected to want to eventually marry.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever fully buying that. Perhaps it was because I grew up primarily around Black and Latinx people who were generally more accepting and appreciative of fuller figures and who embraced sharing and consuming food as a go-to method of communication.
I’ll be honest and say I was more concerned with my not being of a lighter skin tone like most of the girls and women in my family than I was about being bigger than other girls; colorism in the 1980s media was ridiculously unbearable. I liked a boy, he liked me back. It didn’t seem like my weight was an issue until I went to a predominantly White boarding school with so few Black people, one could name them all, first name and last, and know their hometown and favorite color, probably. This was the first time I witnessed young Black and Latinx men lusting after and competing for the attention of thin, often blonde White girls. It was definitely a culture shock that made me become acutely aware of how my larger body (I was probably 250–275lbs at 16) was less desired, even reviled by the boys I liked.
With the advent of the internet, however, I became vigorously active in online communities that fostered love and support for “BBW” (“Big Beautiful Women”). Within these communities, I didn’t ever feel completely out of place or unwanted — there is someone for everyone, as they say. This was how I met my ex-husband, who married me when I was 350+lbs and pregnant with our son. We may have had our issues over time, but the one thing he never failed at was making me feel incredibly beautiful, sexy, and desired.
Fat women are rarely portrayed as conventionally attractive and desirable in mainstream media. The only movies I can immediately think of that show a larger woman, Black woman specifically, as someone who actually engages in intimate relationships star Queen Latifah or Jill Scott, two musicians whose lyrics celebrate the diversity of their womanhood.
Most television shows that include larger women often cast them as the funny, often sexless friend, the sardonic married mom of several children, or as the sassy, no-nonsense conscience of the entire crew. And much of the music we consume across genres, while not often specifying the dimensions of a woman’s body, are often accompanied by music videos that feature thinner women. Rarely are there celebratory anthems for fuller-figured women. Where should all the fat girls and women like me go to find inspiration, affirmation, and praise for our aesthetic? Further, should we even be seeking affirmation through others? It’s complicated and yes, representation matters. (That’s as far as I’ve gotten with this.)
Our society continues to deny fat women body autonomy, pride, and the right to feel desired and wanted. People go out of their way to make sure that fat women never, ever forget that they should consider themselves ugly, despicably gross drains on society’s resources. When fat women are sexually assaulted, they’re often less likely to be believed because “Who would want to rape a fat chic?” And when larger women do speak out in positive, affirming ways about their sexuality, be they writers or rappers, the pushback and vitriol received, just for daring to declare “I’m here and I’m sexy, too,” is often overwhelming.
I’m more interested in the flip side — the outright denial of the sexuality expressed by fat female artists as a means of erasure — and how pervasive this form of oppression is. It’s as if some people cannot even fathom that a fat woman would be having sex, much less be singing or rapping about being fucked six ways from Sunday (on her terms at that!), so they deny that it even happens. I’ve often posited that fat women are the most invisible people in the world, which is often met with jokes about how that’s “literally impossible”. Well, actually, our humanity is regularly dismissed when people assume that we don’t engage in intimate, sexually-charged relationships, so we’re erased as people; we go unseen in the fullness of our humanity.
When we do hear sexually liberating and empowering songs by larger women, there are those who are quick to dismiss the sexual nature of their art simply because they’re fat. Here are several women (who were not thin by any standard of their peak career periods) who made no qualms about their sexuality and romantic interests, and boldly let the world know 1) they be fucking; 2) they don’t give a damn who doesn’t like it; and 3) your dad probably keeps pictures of them tucked away for those cold, lonely nights.
Bessie Smith, “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl” (1931)
“I need a little sugar in my bowl
I need a little hot dog between my rolls
You gettin’ different, I’ve been told
Move your finger, drop something in my bowl”
I long for the days when metaphor remained valuable in popular songs about love and sex, though I do love how explicit some of the songs of yesteryear actually were. Does it get anymore sexy than this? “Come fuck me,” is what she is saying, in case you’re not clear.
Ma Rainey, “Nobody Rocks Me Like My Baby Do”
“Rock me, Baby
Leave me crazy
Rock me like a Mississippi boat
Rock me until you get mama’s gold”
What I love most about Ma Rainey’s music is how, when she talks about romance or sex, she makes declarations of her wants and needs and… she usually got them. She had several lovers throughout her life, of various ages and genders, sometimes at the same time. And she was big as hell. Yes, indeed!
Aretha Franklin, “Dr. Feelgood” (1967)
“But oh, when me and that man get to lovin’
I tell you girls
I dig you but I just don’t have time
To sit and chit and sit and chit-chat and smile”
“Y’all cool, but this man blows my back out so, uhhh, I’mma holla at y’all later!” says the woman who knows how good it feels to have the pipe laid just right, over and over. Aretha wasn’t always large, but for the majority of her decades-long career, she has been a fuller-figured woman and that’s how most people identify her.
Aretha became sexually active earlier in life, around age11 or 12, and some have suggested it is because she was exposed to the raunchy parties her father used to run out of their church that attracted famous celebrities and such. Witnessing these alleged parties might have made her more curious about sex at an earlier age and more experimental than some of her peers. She had her first child at 12 (fathered by a boy she knew from school) and another at 14. Speculation aside, she would go on to record some pretty hot songs when she came of age that suggested she wasn’t shy about her age-appropriate sexual desires and needs.
Shirley Murdock, “As We Lay”
“You’re leaving me,
I know you got to hurry home to face your wife, whoa
I would never never want to hurt her no
She would never understand
You belonged to me for
Just one night
As we slept the night away”
Not only did she sing about sex, she sang about having sex with someone else’s husband while she cheated on hers! Girl, was the #dicktoobomb? Unfortunately, Shirley got right with God and does the whole gospel thing now, so we won’t get any more of her sordid, juicy tales about backing it up on someone’s husband.
Kelly Price, “Himaholic” (2011)
“I think I gotta problem
’cause I can’t go a day without him
’cause my body starts raving I start shaking
It’s been too long
Two weeks four days six hours twelve minutes
Since I had a little bit of mm
You know what I mean
I can’t break free is there any help for me
I don’t want no speech when I get weak
I don’t want no preach when I feel heat
I can’t hear you teach when I have needs
I need relief”
When you’re counting down the days, hours, and minutes since you last got broken off by #him, you know you two stay getting it in! Kelly Price is one of the most gifted voices ever recorded, yet she has spent a good portion of her career being hidden away by those who couldn’t reconcile her larger size with the reality of her intimate experiences with men. What I love most is how she can record a gospel album, Christmas album, and still sing about craving dat dick. Amazing.
Queen Latifah, “Fly Girl” (1991)
“I know you want me
(You’re fine) thank you
But I’m not the type of girl that you think I am
I don’t jump into the arms of every man
(But I’m paid) I don’t need your money
(I love you) you must be mad
Easy lover is something that I ain’t
Besides, I don’t know you from a can of paint”
One of the things I truly appreciate about Latifah is that she speaks to her wants and needs while affirming her boundaries and establishing standards for how men should treat her. In this song, she talks about wanting to be held, and kissed, and made love to, but how she isn’t about to jump into anything with some random who shows her a tiny bit of attention.
As a larger woman, that kind of agency is often rebuked, as people think big women should just accept whatever men offer them; people think we’re desperate for affection and sex. No. And it was Queen Latifah who helped me understand that sexual attention isn’t the same as respect or legitimate interest, so I didn’t need to offer sex to anyone I didn’t want to have it with, just because I was fat.
Jill Scott, “Epiphany” (2007)
“Creamy lava landed on my skin and neck
Blended with my all day Chanel scent
This freaking was incredulent, decadent
Flip side, stomach meets sheets
He plows inside as if he’s making beats
As if this year’s harvest depended on it
Back on my back old fashioned is renewed
Red toenail polish on whitewalls
Documenting this freaking, ahhhhh”
Ooooh you nassssty!!! So Jill likes being jizzed on? I dig it. I do too. It’s good for the skin… I heard. Jill Scott has never shied away from singing openly about her intimate partnerships, the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs. Her poeticism makes her art stand out for many and the ways in which she describes her sex acts are just delightful. And I love how she makes food sound as incredibly sexy as it truly is; some days I can’t decide if I want to eat more wings or get my wig knocked off. Jill’s been one of the most vocal spokeswomen for affirmation of size diversity and her music continues to inspire women of all sizes to embrace who they are as individually unique women.
Missy Elliott, “One Minute Man” (2001)
“Tonight I’mma give it to you, throw it to you
I want you to come prepared, ohh yeah (Oh yes)
Boy it’s been a long time, a crazy long time
And I don’t want no minute man, and that’s real
Give it to me some more”
Whenever I hear someone say, “Missy didn’t have to sell sex to be successful”, I cringe and then feel incredible sadness. No, she didn’t have to sell anything but her talent as a musician, because she’s arguably the most talented woman in Hip Hop history. However, it’s an explicit form of erasure to suggest that several of Missy’s most popular songs weren’t about sex. It’s also incredibly obtuse to speak about anyone’s art as “selling sex” pejoratively; they aren’t affirming the act of “selling sex” (yay sex workers!) when they say this, so it’s clearly being used as a tool of oppressive silencing.
“Hot Boyz” praises the men who can sexually satisfy her. “Get Your Freak On” encourages people to explore their sexual fantasies and have fun with it. In “One Minute Man”, she asserts that she is looking to get dicked all the way down and doesn’t have time to waste on someone who can’t hang either way.
How people regard Missy is what as I suggested earlier — they often outright deny that she is a sexual being, despite making some of the most sex-positive, provocative songs of our generation. They perpetuate the notion that being sexually explicit somehow demeans one’s character, and since people want to “respect” Missy as the all-around talented bad ass that she is, they feel compelled to remove her sexual side so they can feel comfortable heralding her as such. Missy made anthems for those whose sexual energy has been repeatedly extinguished by those who can’t believe we can even spell s-e-x, and she didn’t tuck them away as album filler; she made sure these singles hit the charts around the world!
It’s unfortunate that we collectively continue to struggle with accepting fatness as beautiful, sexy, desirable, and marketable, despite the fact that the average dress size for women is in double digits. Anti-fatness continues to be a platform upon which many stand in order to find ways to feel better about themselves and it’s incredible how they can’t see how transparent, insecure, and pathetic they are. Or maybe they do, and that’s why they rely on such a widely-acceptable method of oppression to make it through the day.
We can pretend otherwise to preserve our comfortable desexualized Mammy aesthetic, but Big Black Women have centered their sexual identities and experiences in their music for as long as they have produced it. And since Black women’s sexuality is too often erased or exploited, generally, it would behoove us to honor and amplify those larger women who dare to take it a step further and challenge not just the racial status quo, but the size/shape aesthetic status quo as well.
Note: There is no room for you to respond with “You’re not fat” or “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful” comments. I didn’t ask you for your opinion about MY body and how I classify myself. This goes for those who see fatness as a negative physical trait and those few in the “fat acceptance” communities who deny people the right to identify as “fat” if they don’t weigh a certain amount or aren’t shaped in certain ways. I find it incredibly problematic, all of the polarizing and arbitrary selection of who qualifies as being fat enough, and I’m simply not here for the “you can’t sit with us” bickering I occasionally witness in these spaces. I know my story, you don’t. I live my life in this body, you don’t. Thx.