A black girl & her body: a love story
by michelle denise jackson
Setting the Scene
I have been a Fat Black Girl for most of my life.
And I have been figuring out how I feel about being a Fat Black Girl just as long.
At the time of this writing, I weigh between 270 and 275 lbs. My body is heavy, full of gravity and unwanted density. My body holds me down, literally. And sometimes, the only thing I want to do is escape this body—just float out of it, and never come back. Leave it folded over on itself, a heap of skin and viscera, adipose and blood.
If you’d have told me ten years ago that I’d still look like this, I would have laughed in your face. And then I probably would’ve killed myself.
At 15, I thought that being a Fat Black Girl was probably the worst thing you could ever be.
At 25, a part of me still thinks this is true.
But my fatness and I have developed a kind of interdependency. My body has learned to turn my trauma, and the stories I tell about it—these myths I’ve created to incubate the suffering—into something that is equal parts protection and prison. My fatness both terrorizes and takes care of me.
Maybe if I could unlearn these stories, I could remake my body.
Maybe if I could remake my body, I could learn to love myself.
Act I: Fat Black Girl Begins
I was in the first or second grade when I realized that I was “big.” My classmates and I were marveling over our freshly minted “Ident-A-Kid" cards, which were these laminated I.D. cards meant to help keep us from getting snatched. One kid leaned over, noticed my weight and said (loudly), “Hey, you’re bigger than the rest of us!”
He said it without judgment or malice; it was a fact. My weight number was higher than anyone else’s in the class. No one really said anything beyond that, but that was the day I became the “fat girl.”
It wasn’t until later in elementary school when I started to feel like my fat body was something I should hide. It was an odd confluence of things that happened: I switched from attending a predominantly Black and Latino school in the hood to a predominantly white one in the suburbs; I became the first one in my class to hit puberty; and my parents ended their marriage.
By the time I was 10 years old, I had already developed the body of a young woman: wide hips, breasts, and thick thighs. But no one saw that, especially the other kids. They just saw jiggling parts… and they teased me for it. And so, I learned to see my body the same way they did, and this made me hate it.
As I learned to hate my body, I also learned how to use food as a coping mechanism. Counter-intuitive? Hell yeah. Strangely comforting? Fucking right.
The thing about my fatness is that it is both the most comforting and the absolute loneliest of places. It is a house of contradictions, and I often wish I didn’t have to live here.
Act II: Fat Black Girl in Love
What I don’t tell anyone, is that I learned to hate my body at the same time my parents learned to hate each other. As love left our home, love left my body. And I’ve been trying to court it back ever since.
But it never works.
Instead, I offer myself to boys and men who don’t deserve me. First there is Kyle, then Derek, then Atu. I trick myself into thinking that their love will be the redemption, even when I know it can’t be.
Instead, I have written my body into a constant state of lonely, made my body deprived of and desperate for intimacy.
Instead, I punish it for its fatness. And maybe in this way, I take back control of all this gravity.
Act III: Fat Black Girl Rewrites the Story
I have been seeing a therapist-of-sorts for three and a half years. Eleven days ago, she told me that I need to rewrite these stories I tell about my body. She told me I need to stop the suffering.
I have been trying to think about what a new story would like. I have been trying to think about what my body is, stripped of its fat. Just me and my bones. Me and my truth.
The story in which I am
Fat and Black and Girl and Enough. The story in which I invite love into my home and let it feast, and let it grow bigger than all my pain and suffering. The story in which there is no Kyle or Derek or Atu, but just the ones who come after, the ones who I have yet to meet.
The story in which I am 15 again, and my fatness is the way in which I unapologetically take up space in the world.
The story in which I begin a child, with no memory of how I would teach my body to hold onto stories that I did not write.
The story in which I begin with the pen, hoarding the page, and no one else gets to narrate at all.
Michelle Denise Jackson is a Black girl who tells stories. When she's not writing and storytelling, she likes to produce independent media projects and make people laugh. She believes personal narratives have the power to change the world.
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