Homage to Fat Womxn: Fat Black Musicians

I have always been obsessed with music. Growing up on musicians like The Steve Miller Band and Donna Summer to writing about Tchaikovsky on my personal statement for college; music has always found a way into my life. I constantly sought various genres and in high school made several trips to the local record shop, seeking new voices and sounds (s/o to Velouria Records). Sitting on the floor of my late older brother’s room, I was introduced to many people: Kirk Hammet, George Harrison, Freddie Mercury, etc. Scouring through my mother’s vinyl I fell in love with The Eagles, ABBA, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. What I did not process then was this: I physically looked nothing like any of the artists. I did not realize at the time, but society had instilled in me that in order to be respected, famous, globally recognized you have to fit a certain criteria: conventionally attractive, white, and have a thin/hourglass figure (with no fat except in the butt and breast). 

 As an adult, I now realize the importance of representation from sexuality, gender, race & ethnicity, and physical appearance. Besides needing to be talented (relatively) the music industry needs you to be conventionally attractive, it is what sells. When I was a child, an urban legend I heard was about how Mama Cass “Cass Elliot” from The Mamas & The Papas died. All you need to know was that Mama Cass was the only fat member in the group. People joked for years that she died from choking on a ham sandwich. At the time, I felt so embarrassed for her. Instead of celebrating her charisma and distinctive voice, the legacy left behind is that she was fat and even in death, shamed. My obsession with weight loss worsened. As a self-conscious “obese” eleven year old, I was afraid of dying the same way. I was afraid when I died that the only thing people would care about was that I died fat. That being fat will overshadow my accomplishments in life. Do you know how Mama Cass actually died? In her sleep from a heart attack. The result of her history with severe dieting which eventually led to various health problems and heart failure. 

Instead of ridiculing fat folx to be “healthier,” we need to rectify our internalized fatphobia within society and ourselves. The problem is not about health, but about respecting someone’s existence. Stop shaming others into dieting. My health is not your concern, it is mine and mine alone. Today we need to honor the womxn who regularly endure discrimination, cyber/media abuse, and mockery of their appearance. These women continue fighting and creating music in an industry that is against them. I will be highlighting fat black musicians who are not only fighting with discrimination against their body, but their race.

CHIKA

Jane Chika Oranika is a black, queer, plus-size goddess. Hailing from Montgomery, Alabama, CHIKA has been actively using her talent to raise awareness of inequality and body positivity. She is well known for her politically conscious lyrics, by being socially aware CHIKA is standing up for those without a platform. Be sure to check out her latest album, Industry Games. (Photo: Teen Vogue)

CHIKA’s performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. February 24, 2020.

Brittany Howard

Formally the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard left the band in pursuit of a solo career in 2017. Her debut solo album Jaime, was released September 2019. Another queen from the South, Athens, Alabama, Howard has a unique sound to her Rock music that is all her own. Personally, her track “Georgia” brought me to tears on the first listen. Coming out as gay in her twenties, “Georgia” reflects on her time as a child struggling with her sexuality. (Photo: Brantley Gutierrez)

Brittany Howard’s Performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. October 15, 2019.

Lizzo

Gaining traction from her latest album Cuz I Love You, Lizzo has received praise for her talent but criticism for her weight. Although she is incredibly talented the first question to come on google under her name is: “What size is Lizzo?” Her message of self-empowerment being ignored. I saw Lizzo in concert in December 2019 and her performance was exquisite. Her voice, style, and presence is in itself a symbol of resistance to an industry run by thin white bodies. (Photo: Teen Vogue)

Lizzo’s performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. July 29, 2020.

These womxn taught me to take up space, dress with confidence, and continue to pave the way for plus-size BIPOC. Fat Black womxn continually pave the way for Body Positivity. Unfortunately they are the ones most discriminated against throughout history. Let us keep trying to change that. When we live in a world that constantly tries to silence and erase Black voices, we need to step up as allies and continue to uplift them.

Resources

Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond and Rapper Chika on Cancel Culture and Staying Grounded in the Cult of Celebrity – Teen Vogue

Chika: True to Herself, No Matter What – Rolling Stone

Brittany Howard’s Transformation – The New Yorker

Brittany Howard finds freedom after Alabama Shakes – BBC

Lizzo: TIME’s Entertainer of the Year – TIME

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