Social Justice

Black trailblazers in #fatpolitics

Updated March 26, 2022

It’s almost the end of Black History Month. What did you learn this month? I hope you had a chance to take in some slices of the ways in which Black artists, authors, entrepreneurs, change agents, activists, scholars have made a difference to both Black lives and the broader culture.

And now I know you just want to know: who are the Black people who have either lit the way for fat politics or are making contributions as plus size creators in their own spaces—beyond Lizzo? Well, good news, because here are some of my favourite:

On Fat Politics:

Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia continues to be indispensable reading for anyone who wants to understand the deep connections between anti-fatness and anti-Blackness. 

Sonya Renee Taylor, one of the originals in the anti-diet, body liberation space, continues to celebrate Black excellence and press white people to unpack their privilege on her regular “What’s Up Ya’ll?” Instagram videos. 

I wrote recently about writer and thinker Da’Shaun Harrison‘s new book Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness and Anti-Blackness. This American, trans, non-binary writer is making a huge contribution in the area of fat politics, particularly regarding its intersection with Blackness and gender identity.

Writer and disability rights activist Imani Barbarin has been making huge moves this year. She is a must-follow on any of your favourite social media platforms if you want smart, trenchant social analysis on ableism—the close cousin of fatphobia—from the perspective of a communications pro. 

I just got this one out of the library but Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir has quickly joined the ranks of must-read personal narratives about being Black and plus size. Laymon’s piece on This American Life that ran not too long ago is based, in part, on what he wrote about in Heavy.

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Joy Cox‘s book Fat Girls in Black Bodies. Part memoir and part political analysis, this book examines misogynoir and the failures of both feminism and body positivity to be truly inclusive.

For plus size Black excellence (IMHO):

If you are into yoga and are at all interested in yogis with non-normative bodies, you must have by now heard of Jessamyn Stanley. This woman is a powerhouse (but in the most chill way possible) as an entrepreneur, an author, a podcaster, an activist and, of course, a yogi. She brings so much safety in the yoga world for people who just don’t fit the yoga mold.

Multipassionate writer, speaker and fitness instructor Simone Samuels has been an inspiration to me this year as someone who leans powerfully into vulnerability and authenticity. This Torontonian’s articles on Medium about the label “fat,” white supremacy, dating, sex, and more have been touching, smart and enlightening. I’m so excited to see what directions her career keeps going in.

It has been a real pleasure watching Toronto-based fashion designer Sashagai Ruddock‘s career absolutely explode this year. Sasha won Khloe Kardashian’s SheinX100K challenge, beating out a fierce crowd of straight-size designers. It’s so wonderful to watch a young talent blossom over time. And a shout out to Leah Vernon who has been a pioneer in the plus size modelling space, and to Precious Lee who wore this amazing suit at the Met Gala last year. 

Roxane Gay is a perennial fave as a writer and cultural critic, though she sits very uneasily in the body positivity realm. But just have to mention I have really enjoyed her Masterclass on writing for social change. I just enjoy her on so many levels, and in a way, her complicated relationship to body positivity actually strengthens my interest in her work. 

And for following on social media:

Regular readers will know that this blog has basically become a Ryan Ken fan account. Plus there are more fantasticplus sizeBlack creators on TikTok  than I can name. And finally, there are still some good folks hanging out on Twitter, including Marquisele Mercedes@fatblackqueer, and Saucyé West.  And honestly, lest we forget two of my favourite Black, plus size drag queens from Ru Paul’s Drag Race: Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Latrice Royale.