“You’re too big for that.” This is the subtle shaming background music with lyrics for big black girls everywhere. And that word ‘big’ is loaded all by itself: big as in taller, big as in wider, big as in curvier…and heaven help you if you possess all three, which is exactly my testimony. I am 5’10.” I am not petite, I am brown-skinned. I am curvy, and both my dress and shoe sizes are larger than a size 8.
So when I saw photos of this Atlanta fourth grade teacher all over my social media platforms, and all the negative comments on repeat that exclaimed “that is inappropriate,” “teachers should dress modestly” and of course, the old standby, “she’s too big for that,” I knew I had to say something on behalf of curve-shamed sistas everywhere.
Remember when Gospel singer and half of Mary, Mary Erica Campbell was shamed for wearing a fitted white dress on an album cover? The saints went nuts!
Or remember when actor Meagan Good was dragged within an inch of her life for wearing a blue dress with a plunging neckline that accentuated her cleavage? (Sidebar: Did we care what she wore before she married film producer and preacher DeVon Franklin?)
Some black church culture is notoriously vicious to curvy women, violating their privacy by taking photos of their ample behinds in fitted dresses and posting them to social media with tags like “hoochie,” “she belongs in the club, not the church,” and “she should be ashamed of herself.” Sigh. I can understand and appreciate church mandates that uphold respectability politics at all costs. That require women in church should be covered up and make themselves as invisible as possible…but. BUT! Why? Are women covering up so they won’t be a distraction to the (often few) men in church? Let’s face some facts here. If a man is inclined to ogle, he is going to ogle, likely no matter what one is wearing. My problem with this should be obvious: why does respectability require work from the woman ONLY? Why can’t men respect that women are not put on this earth solely for their viewing pleasure?
This is serious, people. Just this past Labor Day a twenty-two-year-old black woman was fatally shot after witnesses said she rebuffed a man who grinded on her without her consent. Grinded. On. Her. And while some people are quick to say women with curves should cover themselves up in order to “look professional,” “be taken seriously” or “thwart unwanted advances,” can we talk a little bit about the shopping challenges for ANY type of clothing if you are above a size six? Recently, reality television star and style guru Tim Gunn talked about how certain segments of the fashion industry refuse to create clothing for the actual sizes American women are, yet somehow we am supposed to shell out hard-earned dollars for designer clothes not made with us in mind, who don’t use women who look like us in their fashion shows, and force even the women they do fit to squeeze into sample sizes?
We live in a culture that celebrates sex. Sex is used to sell us everything. Pick up any random ad and you can find sexual suggestion:
In many cases, particularly catalogs, you will see pictures of women that are not of a single woman, but rather, a compilation of many women photo-shopped into a Frankenstein-esque artificial image that screams to the reader that she is valued based on her looks, that she will be scrutinized and judged accordingly, and that the quality of life itself is measured by how well you stand up to the beauty ideal that suggests that to be sexy is to be young, reed thin, petite and white.
Never mind that it is just a mere fraction of American women who fit into this size. Seriously, the odds of fitting this body type are about the same as being struck by lightning. The rest of us are pear-shaped. And the shaming of women who do not fit this model is nothing short of silencing. Which brings me right back to our fourth grade teacher in Atlanta. Think of all the challenges facing educators in Atlanta. Yet, the real problem is a fourth grade teacher who wears body conscious clothing and is not a size 2? Why does a woman have to hide her curves in professional spaces? Who gets to dictate that? And why wasn’t this same ethic applied to ‘Mr. Steal Your Grandma?’
I’ll bet I can guess where you might go with this. You’re going to bring up 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
Yeah, we’ll talk more about that in Part II.