As you read from the title, this will be a two-part series. I mean, how can we shatter stereotypes of fat Caribbean women in one post? We need at least two posts to enlighten the darkness of those individuals who continue to put fat women in a box. In part 1, I want to focus on lifestyle stereotypes; you know those stereotypes that rob us of our potential and ridicules our bodies. I want to change society’s perception of the fat, Caribbean woman.
But first..let me address the word ‘fat’, which should have been a descriptive word has now become a weapon used against those with larger bodies. Fat has been associated with ugly, lazy, unattractive, irresponsible and any other negative words you can think of to describe a human being. As Caribbean women, we were conditioned to believe that ‘fat’ is what happens when you let yourself go, when you’re already in a relationship and you don’t need to try anymore or when you become a mother and your social life deteriorates. The word became a death sentence to us…so basically if you were young and fat then you were pretty much doomed…because nobody could ever achieve anything if they’re fat. Today we shatter these stereotypes! Let’s change the perception and break the barriers that even us as fat women put on ourselves based on what we have seen or heard in society.
When it comes to fat women, it seems everybody and their mother attended the University of the West Indies (UWI) and graduated with a PhD in Medicine. It is so easy to diagnose a fat person solely based on the size of their body. I don’t know about you but this confuses me. How can someone who doesn’t know you, let alone have any knowledge of your lifestyle, tell you what is ‘wrong’ with your health? I marvel at alcoholics and other chronic drug users when they have the nerve to tell me that the size of my body will kill me. There is a huge difference between being concerned and being condescending. Therefore if you have no knowledge of health and wellness in your own life then you should never feel obliged to offer unsolicited advice to anybody. A fat woman can be as active as her slender counterpart however she may not necessarily feel the need to broadcast her workout routines and that can be because she will be judged either way. Fat women are judged when we work out and judged when we don’t… Let Us Live!!! I think what people fail to realize is that fat women, are living their lives; being happy, sexy and active without the need for attention.
How many times have you heard the phrase ‘fat and lazy’ being used in a sentence to describe a fat woman? It is one of the many phrases commonly used to describe a FCW. But what does it really mean to be lazy? Am I lazy because there are some days that I just refuse to get out of bed? Don’t we all have those days… Am I lazy because you never see me exercising and so you assume that I don’t? I exercise in many different ways, maybe some of which I cannot show you…Am I lazy because you think I eat more than you do? I shouldn’t feel sorry if I have a favourite meal and I like to eat lots of it. Why do people still think a fat woman is lazy based on the size of her body? How can you even tell? What most people fail to believe is that fat women are human beings with larger bodies. That’s it! Just a larger package! We have potential, goals, good days and bad days just like everyone else. A FCW deserves the same amount of respect and love that anyone would expect.
We also do not settle for anything just because we are fat. In terms of dating, why do some men think that a fat woman needs their validation in order for us to accept ourselves? Now, before you even go there…by no means am I male bashing. However, I have been in situations where men have said to me, “You probably don’t get this often but you’re sexy for a big girl.” and I am like “Pause! Wait! Hold the phone!” because this man thinks I got dressed up, had my hair and makeup done for him to validate me? No sweetie, I did that when I paid for my own clothes, hair (yes, my Brazilian weave) and my makeup. I am not sexy or pretty for a big girl…I am pretty period! It is time that we, as FCWs, feel free to take up as much space as we need and educate as many persons as possible that we are here to stay and we don’t need your pity or your unsolicited advice on our health, or your validation of our beauty.
So I got a few of my fat friends to chime in:
Dionnie Barrett, certified diving instructor, mother, explorer and customer service representative from Jamaica:
“Being plus size has its limitations, however the perception and negative connotations used to describe a woman who doesn’t fit the unrealistic standards of society can increase those limitations even more. Until a woman is able to appreciate her “flaws” and understand that she will have to set her own standards, she will never be able to live a fulfilled life. I remember when I first got the opportunity to get certified as a diver, I was scared at first because ‘a fat girl can’t dive, right?’…so wrong…see the impression many have about a plus size woman is that she ISN’T active and some may even associate us with being lazy…
…this couldn’t be farther from the truth, my adventures often involve dancing – enjoying a soca fete, swimming – diving or just going to the beach with my son or climbing and walking from exploring the islands. I am a FAT, CONFIDENT, BEAUTIFUL WOMAN no matter how society may label me.”
Sharlene Cumberbatch, plus size model and student from Barbados:
“When I was growing up my dad always told me ‘if the shoe don’t fit don’t wear it’. It took me a while to understand that he was saying don’t let people put labels on me that are negative and derogatory. Later I found for myself that you have just be yourself and not care what people think about you because people are going to have their opinions no matter what. It’s how you see yourself that matters. So in my opinion a full-figured woman can only shatter the misconceptions and stereotypes of fat Caribbean women by living a life that is true to themselves…
..showing others that you can do anything an average-size woman can do or better. Just love and accept who you are and people will have to accept it too, whether they like it or not.”
Renee Edwards- Ambrose, plus size model, speaker and drag race driver from Antigua:
“Where some may see the ‘fat Caribbean woman’ mentioned as just one stereotype, I look at it as two different stereotypes as it relates to drag racing.
‘Fat’: People think that it’s a huge contradiction to have someone weighty/fat driving something fast. To me, no matter what size anyone is, they have every right to chase and accomplish their goals just as anyone else with any body type/size. I love the saying, ‘Don’t worry about my weight, I’ve got nitros!!’
‘Caribbean Woman’: Drag racing is a sport which is dominated by men WORLDWIDE! So just imagine gender ratio here in the Caribbean. For the few who choose to indulge in this sport, their body types and sizes vary. However, I happen to be the heaviest lady on the list. Caribbean Women are stereotypically known for a little more ‘fluff’ in some places. Fluff that I, for one, am very proud of…
…In most male dominated fields, the public tends to perceive women in these environments to be ‘tom boy like’. When they see a me in a fully beat face, it’s hard for them to even visualize me doing a job that’s considered to be masculine. I like the fact that it blows so many minds.”
So basically, society won’t change its mindset unless we offer some positive reinforcements. How do you, as a fat Caribbean woman, speak about yourself in public? When was the last time you invested in yourself? How do you present yourself, as a fat Caribbean woman, to the public? How do you want people to see you?
Think about these questions for a minute; because once you can answer them, you will find that being a fat Caribbean woman is the least of your problems.