DESTA hosted a talk about the preconceived notions surrounding overweight black women
A discussion about the stereotypes and negative connotations associated with overweight black women, and the media’s effect on the way society perceives black women’s bodies took place at last week’s DESTA Black Youth Network “Real Talk” session.
DESTA, an acronym for “Dare Every Soul To Achieve”, is a non-profit, community-based organization that serves marginalized and at-risk youth, aged 18 to 25 in Montreal. According to DESTA’s website, the organization’s mission is to mentor these youths in the areas of education, health, personal development and employment through activities, workshops and mentor support.
Personal accounts, understanding and attentive ears filled the room in DESTA’s basement on Sept. 14. Sitting in front of a half-moon-shaped crowd of about 30 attendees, 22-year-old LaSalle college fashion marketing student Nyoka Hunter led her first “Real Talk” discussion entitled “Fat Black Women: How We Do Them Wrong.”
The “Real Talk” monthly discussions are part of a new series DESTA has launched. The discussions are open to the public, with the goal of providing a learning centre, and a welcoming environment to address different social issues affecting Montreal’s marginalized youth. The discussion sessions don’t feature any experts or specialists, but instead have only one facilitator—someone to guide the talk, open the floor for discussion, and to present the matter in a researched, but personal way.
The success of DESTA’s “Real Talk” on cultural appropriation inspired Hunter to create this event. “I heard a lot of different perspectives surrounding the topic, and that motivated me to want to do this event based on fat black women and how they are perceived in the media, [by] their families, friends, just in general,” she said.
Hunter began the discussion by talking about how the media portrays overweight black women. She addressed black women’s place in Hollywood, and the types of acting roles that leaner black women might get, in comparison to overweight black women.
According to a Vice News article released on Sept. 7, a new University of California study found that out of 35,205 characters from the 800 films studied between 2007 and 2015, only 31.5 per cent of speaking characters were female, and only 26.3 per cent of the total amount of characters were racial minorities.
Not only are black women underrepresented on the big screen, but like other minority groups in the area, they are also not necessarily being well represented.
In a 2013 USA TODAY article, journalist Arienne Thompson discussed how the roles available for black women in Hollywood still lack depth. In the article, interview subject Jubba Seyyid, the senior director of programming of TV One, a black-oriented cable network, said the roles available are one-dimensional. She explained how black women are always depicted as aggressive and “bitchy,” creating characters that lack balance.
Hunter also talked about the fashion industry and “fatphobia,” as well as the so-called “plus-sized models” of the industry. “The industry advertises these average-sized girls as being ‘acceptable fat,’” said Hunter. However, she said body-loving and feminist social media personalities and activists such as Ashleigh Shackelford and Mercedes Brissett are shedding light on black women and weight. Hunter said it is important to raise new questions and discuss different perspectives to keep the dialogue rolling.