If one is to believe that Hollywood truly pays attention to the desires of its audience and explores those authentic nuances on film, then one has to believe that no one is ever in love with — or attracted to — an overweight, black woman.
White filmmakers have ignored her, while their black counterparts, such as Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy, and Martin Lawrence, have ridiculed her to make millions. Ironically, in the real world these same men are romantically entangled with women who are the direct opposite in many respects. Regardless of how much producers and directors attempt to disguise the “Mammy-Jezebel-Sapphire” trifecta, loud, over-sexed, emasculating and sassy still dwell at the core of how black women are perceived. And as long as we live within those images, or as caricatures of what white America believes us to be, then we are deemed safe for consumption by the masses and the lack of physical diversity in films continues to go unaddressed.
One could argue that there are no overweight, black women cast as desirable, love interests in film because many of us find that unbelievable, and if we find it unbelievable, then Hollywood finds it unmarketable — and the very real love stories of overweight, black women continue to go untold. More to the point, many of us have the audacity to be offended at the sight of an overweight, black woman on screen because deep-down there is a tug of shame, a fear that seeing her on screen will reinforce untrue stereotypes that all black women are overweight — and obesity, for many people, is synonymous with undesirable. Unlovable.
Oh, we scream sisterhood and solidarity, but how many of us paid money — repeatedly — to see black men mock overweight, black women? For many, it’s a way to laugh at them without appearing cruel, and that’s what we have Hollywood believing we want to see. To a very real degree, it comes down to what we have been trained to believe is acceptable in a society where, in many quarters, black is still an insult and “big and black” are fighting words. We’ve seen it recently with the election of Courtney Pearson as the first black homecoming queen at Ole Miss. Not only did many black people rip the girl’s appearance to shreds, many questioned the motivation behind her win, because white people couldn’t possibly select an overweight, black woman to represent them, right? Right?
And, if viewing habits are any indication, and silence is consent, we’re perfectly happy with our overweight sisters in the role of sidekicks, asexual nurturers, or desperately trying to find a man because that’s what we’ve been sold as “real.” We sit in darkened movie theaters and forget that 82 percent of black women are overweight or obese. We forget that they are our sisters, mothers, friends … they are us. We forget that we see their love stories play out every day in our homes, neighborhoods and cities.
We forget because Hollywood takes notes of our insecurities, while simultaneously cultivating them in the form of what we should look like and who it’s acceptable to love — and overweight, black women never quite make the final cut.
It is up to us to demand that the physical diversity we live amongst everyday be examined on film. This isn’t a conversation framed around health and exercise, it’s about the very real fact that overweight, black women don’t have images of themselves on the big screen that are reflections of their romantic lives. They don’t see themselves being kissed or made love to, or proposed to with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the occasion. They don’t see the handsome boy wooing the overweight girl, doing all that he can to make her fall in love with him.
And with 82 percent of us being overweight, the fact that there is not one big, black heroine in Hollywood is nothing less than insulting…not just to overweight women, but to all of us. Why? Because our reality is being manipulated and we’re paying full ticket price to watch it.
In the 2006 essay, Nobody Loves a Fat Woman: Portrayals of Female Obesity in Early American Cinema, Joseph Kerr makes a razor-sharp observation about the difficult transition from stage to film for overweight women in a weight conscious society:
“Visibility is permitted on stage,” opines Kerr, “but a permanent visibility on celluloid is more problematic.”
That visibility is obviously still problematic, both in Hollywood and in the Black community. And the fact that, collectively, we have not fought harder for love, in all shapes and sizes, to be depicted on screen, says a lot more about our cultural esteem, than Hollywood’s entrenched biases.
Big girls need love, too; we all do.