Through my research on black women’s exercise and fitness culture from 1900 to the 1930s, I discovered a little-known history of black fat shaming. While I expected to find that black women engaged in exercise for general health, I never imagined that some black women would craft their exercise programs for weight loss and at the same time participate in fat stigmatization. My surprise stemmed from common-sense assumptions about black people’s fat acceptance and flexible standards of beauty. Popular culture, academic studies on body image, and news outlets help to perpetuate these assumptions. R&B and Hip Hop is known for celebrating black women’s voluptuous bodies, including Drake who rapped famously he likes women “so thick that everybody else in the…

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The United States is in the midst of a contemporary civil rights movement that heightens the cry for understanding “Black Lives Matter.” Daily, debates surge around whose lives matter most, all the while missing the point that black lives, lifeways, and existences are important enough to be labeled Black. Black Lives Matter is a phrase that emerged in the aftermath of the recent series of racial unrests occurring in the United States. Specifically, the slogan of #BlackLivesMatter came to define the incidents in Orlando, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri where unarmed African American teenagers, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, respectively, were shot and killed by white representatives of law enforcement. This movement is dedicated to exposing the myriad African American—men, women,…

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Installation view: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby. Photo: Jason Wyche, Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker, full photo credits here

A massive, brilliantly white, sugar-coated sphinx commanded visitors’ attention at the Kara Walker exhibition at the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn, New York last spring: At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. Referring to her artwork as a subtlety in the tradition of medieval and early modern confectionary sculptures, Walker highlights its character as a culinary political allegory: similar to the elaborate animal figurines and grandiose sugar buildings gracing the aristocratic tables of…

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