Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the room, and no, that’s not me because I’m not a damn elephant. What I am is fat. I’ve been varying degrees of fat since middle school. I’ve experienced the shame, the stigma, the low self-esteem, the insults, the invisibility, the disordered eating, the doctor fuckery, and the assumptions of poor health that come with being fat. I’ve also learned that while my fat shapes my experiences, I am not limited by it. The only limits I have are the ones people try to enact upon me and, fortunately, I’ve had the support I needed to deal with those folks—mostly.
Fat Black Woman
It is impossible to talk about my fat experiences without discussing race and gender as well, because all of these work together to create my reality. I am a Black woman who is fat. These three identifiers are used to keep me in a certain space, usually an invisible, underachiever space. For much of my life, I didn’t understand that.
Being gendered as female means being sexualized without your consent. It also means being coerced through advertising and societal “norms” into sexualizing yourself before you even know what that means. Being a woman means learning that you will not be respected as much as men, even when you consistently outperform them. It means that every task you touch loses value because women are perceived and treated as less. Being a woman is to have every aspect of your life centered on some man without your consent, and to have your identity overshadowed by whatever man is closest to you.
Being Black is to be hated, tolerated, dismissed, devalued, and seen as less by everyone. It means being labeled a discipline problem and the angry Black woman for asserting yourself. It means never fitting the Eurocentric beauty narrative that dominates Western culture on everything from hair texture to skin tone. It means constantly being outside of the norm and expected to conform as much as possible to fit the norm. It is to be belittled and ridiculed regardless of what choices you make and to still be considered less regardless of how often and consistently you outperform those around you.
I’ve been told I’m less for being fat, for being Black, and for being a woman. I’ve been told I’m nothing as being a fat woman makes me “unfuckable” and being “fuckable” is the whole goal of womanhood. As a Black woman, I’m informed that I’m unfuckable because Black women aren’t sexually attractive—unless they are looking for a ride on the wild side. Then I’m an experience that must be had before settling down.
I’ve been told that as a fat Black woman, I’m a burden on society. I’ve been asked if I’m on welfare, how many baby daddies I have, if I’m a single parent, if I went to college for free, how did I become so articulate, how do I have the confidence to put myself in the spotlight, do I have trouble dating, how often do I wash my hair, why are Black women so masculine, why do Black women have to be so loud, why are Black women in such poor shape, why can’t Black women keep a man, etc., etc., etc.
I can listen to the news and hear about how Black people are responsible for all the crime in the country or turn on the radio and hear how Black women ain’t shit but a receptacle for men’s dicks. I can go to church and be told to be submissive and my role as the incubator of the next generation regardless of any risks to my health.
Any identity I have was formed in spite of the constant negative assumptions, projections, and expectations of my environment. It was forged in hate of others, broken by unrealistic expectation, and reformed from a sense of self too resilient to be destroyed.
And while I am not alone in these experiences, I sometimes wish I were, because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Hell, there are many others who have even worse environments, as I am a heterosexual, cisgendered woman and don’t have to fight to have my sexuality and gender recognized in addition to my humanity.
Fat, Black, Woman Cosplayer
Being a fat, Black woman cosplayer is just another environment where I assert my right to exist and participate by existing and participating. I control my sexuality and reject the racial, gendered, and size fetishization others project onto me. I set my boundaries and push back when I need to do so. And I make a space for myself—and maybe a few others who may feel out of place—in this environment.
The environment is interesting, because even though I work to control my presence, I am still affected by others. I am affected by the hypersexualization of women in cosplay and in the past have made some choices playing up to that. I’m actually a little repulsed by it, primarily because that style of cosplay seems to focus on what appeals to men. Cosplay is a lot more than T&A and I support amplifying the other roles cosplay represents for people. It’s a way to support fandoms. It’s a way to meet friends. It’s a way to build audiences. It’s a way to show creativity. It’s a way to create businesses and career opportunities.
And for those of us constantly relegated to the fringe of society, it’s a form of activism.
Cosplay is a way of loving myself when the world tells me I should hate myself. It is the ultimate self-care. I focus on my needs, my wants, and my goals, and I pursue the hell out of them. I refuse to acknowledge those who say I can’t or shouldn’t. To be honest, I don’t even know where those people are because that’s not my audience. I don’t focus on who doesn’t want to see me. I want to see me. I have a support a network that wants to see me. And I have the power to dictate my terms when I decide to be seen.
TaLynn Kel is a writer and an avid participant in the Atlanta cosplay scene. You can find her at various Atlanta conventions in costume and participating on panels about cosplay. Find her blog, cosplay pictures, and updates on her website at http://www.talynnkel.com.
She is also an occasional guest writer for Black Girl Nerds and The Anime Complexium.