OPINION — A Fat Problem: Intersection of Class, Race, and Living While Fat

by Villainus

This society is full of oppression, marginalization, and intersections.  So many of these intersections are being addressed in the realm of social media and academic conversations. However there are more then few that go unseen except by those who experience them.

So I wanted to take some time to talk about my experience as a fat poor nigga. I say nigga not just meaning black but a specific caste within blackness.

I was relatively thin until I was about 8 years old, before that my hair was also relatively straight (for being black), and I was relatively light; everyone thought I was “the cutest kid ever.” Then I gained weight and my hair got nappy, growing into my amazing fro so many see as a curse.

Then my beatings at home started, along with ostracization and bullying at school. I was often told I eat too much and how I was fat and lazy, despite being so poor that the only time I was able to eat more than once a day was at the free school lunch program. I was very active for my size, but was often prohibited from joining sports.

Children used fat as a prefix for my name and teachers treated me as less than. Teachers would always see me as wrong even when I was in an altercation with a group of kids assaulting me. I thought maybe it would change as I got older, but all through school it maintained, as well as the abuse. Not only was my weight a target, but my clothes had holes in them, and the lenses on my glasses were the size, shape, and thickness of the bottoms of coke bottles. All of this betrayed my class background — that I was a poor kid. If I’m honest, the lack of friends or benevolent social interaction stunted my social skills as a child.

As I got to junior high and high school, I realize a few things: To white people, other people of color, and even black folks of economic privilege, I was a threat. I was one of the many examples of them niggas (or niggers if said by white people) — you know, the “bad blacks” who make up many of the poor neighborhoods in the “inner city.” Though I never joined a gang — mainly due to my appearance and demeanor — I was often jumped by them due to being fat with glasses, pushing me into a further corner.

Now I did have a few friends later in high school, but that had more to do with shared struggle of foster care, but that’s its own complicated story. Regardless, I was that fat one in the group, which was a complicated dynamic. By that point, selling weed gave me a sort of artificial status that changed dynamics slightly, but only within my high school and peers.

I can hear the people shouting, “Its just school!” as I’m writing this, but I assure you it’s not. As I grow into an adult I quickly realize that my appearance was making a huge impact on my chances of getting employed. People automatically assume that I’m slow, lazy, ignorant, and will steal their food. Truth be told, there are many times when even if I get hired, someone will let it slip how they thought I’d be a bad employee due to stereotypes about being a fat, poor, black man. Black men and people perceived as black men are supposed to be fit. The further away you are from that, the less people see you as human, and the less money you have, the less you have a right to live.

I know people probably think I’m just manifesting that from my prior experiences. Well for those folks I’ll share an experience with you: A few years back I lost 125 pounds (which I later gained back). One thing that caught my attention is how everybody immediately changed. Every on treated me better, were more friendly. People came out the woodwork trying to sleep with me when they previously had zero interest. People opened doors and provided opportunities for me — opportunities that I would have never accessed to without losing weight, opportunities that I now cannot access. That showed to me how much I was being marginalized for my size.

I’ll leave y’all with this: Racism is real, classism is real, but so is fatphobia, and the way they intersect creates extremely heavy amounts of discrimination. Do we as a people have the strength of character to address it?

Featured Image designed by Aaron Burkhalter.