How People See Me as a Big, Black Woman

by CeCe Olisa I’ve had some thoughts whirling around in my head over the past week and I’m going...


by CeCe Olisa

I’ve had some thoughts whirling around in my head over the past week and I’m going to attempt to share them here… hopefully what I’m trying to say makes sense. I just really think its important to remember that biases and prejudices don’t always show up in the form of a disgusting act that makes the news. Sometimes those things are found in the everyday ways that we treat people. And maybe if we were a little more mindful, we would treat people better.

As I watched the footage of Eric Garner’s murder I started thinking about my experiences at the intersection of size prejudice and racial prejudice. Some of you may identify with some or all of my experiences, some of you may have no idea what I’m talking about and that’s totally fine.




I’m big, I’m black and I’ve become well aware of how those things shape the way people see me, what they assume about me and how they treat me.

On Being Big…

My first vivid memories of body shame came in fourth grade. At nine years old, I was both tall and chubby and that year for whatever reason, at recess kids in my class were constantly jumping on my back for piggy back rides without my permission, I guess they assumed I could handle their weight. They thought it was fun, I hated it.

One day we all filed into our cafetorium for a music assembly. As I sat giggling with my friends, a smaller girl from my class complained to the teacher that she could not see anything because she was sitting behind me. My teacher promptly instructed me to sit in the very back, behind all of the other students so that they could see the show. I sat in the back row alone, put my head down and cried.

Between the piggy back rides at recess and being sent to the back row, the body shame began to set in. I felt like I was being punished for my size. Now that I’m older, I wonder why the teacher didn’t move the smaller girl to the front row, instead of banishing me all the way to the back.

On being black…

I went to a predominantly white school and I’m pretty sure I spent all of third grade being racially profiled by my teacher. As an eight year old, it was hard to understand why Mrs. [Redacted] was always assuming I was the one causing trouble in her classroom. I’m not saying I was a quiet mouse or anything, I definitely had my moments, but I felt like I was blamed for anything that went wrong in Room 8. I will never forget hearing Mrs. [Redacted] screech “CeCe, be quiet!” and then turning bright red when she whirled around angrily to find me quietly reading at my desk while the other (paler) kids were jumping around and yelling. Oddly, she said nothing to reprimand them.

As an adult, I put myself in Mrs. [Redacted]’s shoes. If I was in a room full of 19 small blue balloons and one large pink balloon, the large pink balloon would probably catch my eye more. I would probably find myself focused on the large pink balloon, while the sea of small blue balloons flew under the radar doing whatever mischevious small blue balloons do. But I’d hope that I wouldn’t treat the large pink balloon more harshly than the others. And if I did find myself doing that, my challenge to myself would be to treat all of the balloons the same and hold them all to the same standards.

On Being Big and Black…

My second grade class spent weeks working on a presentation about– actually I’m not sure what the presentation was about. All I remember is that each of us were to make a speech as a celebrity or historical figure. Our roles were assigned to us by the teacher and we were to do the presentation in front of the entire school (K-8th grade) I was comfortable being on stage and I had my lines memorized to the approval of my teacher, so as a seven year old, I wasn’t nervous about speaking in front of the older kids. When it was my turn to make my celebrity speech I walked up to the microphone and held up my picture, “I’m Oprah Winfrey!” I said, and before I could say anything else the entire school errupted with laughter.

I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t finish my speech, embarrassed that all of those students were laughing at me, but most of all I was confused. It never occurred to me that being a chubby black 7 year old portraying herself as a fat black woman would a bad thing, or worse– a punchline.

As I type this I’m realizing that all three of these experiences happened before I was 10– can you imagine the overtime my parents had to do uplifting little CeCe to make sure my self esteem was where it needed to be? God bless them!

Anyway, these childhood experiences taught me that being big, black or big and black sometimes made people treat me differently. And in a vague way, I saw these lessons parralled in the Eric Garner murder video: Looking different can make me an easy target for negative attention. Having a large body might make people feel comfortable getting overly physical with me, it also may discourage people from taking me seriously.

Am I comparing my childhood experiences to Eric Garners murder? No. But in my observation, the seeds of bias are planted with fleeting thoughts.

I think its important for us all to question ourselves when we assume the worst in certain people– do we assume that a fat person is lazy? do we assume that a person of color is up to no good?

I think we should be aware of how we engage with people of different sizes– do we ignore a large person’s pain because they’re tough and can handle it? do we use big bodies as jungle gyms because we think they can hold our weight?

I also think we should be mindful of who/what we find funny– why are big black women (or black men dressed as big black women) often punchlines in movies? Why are shows and movies about big people in love always comedies?

Lastly, its important to remember that what people think about us has nothing to do with what we know about ourselves. I may be big and black, but I refuse to claim those things as negative or hilarious. I choose to find beauty in my size and the richness of my skin, I choose to define who and what I am in spite of any stereotypes people throw my way.

They say that changing your thoughts can change your life. I know how negative thinking can affect others, so I’m working to change mine and I invite you to do the same.

Originally published on PlusSizePrincess.com

Photo Credit: CeCe Olisa

CeCe Olisa blogs about plus size fitness, dating and fashion at PlusSizePrincess.com. Follow her on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/PlusSizePrincessNYC

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