By Alannah Johnson
Edited By Jazmin Batey
Before this unprecedented year rendered many of us inside and in isolation, the most intimate relationship that I had already shifted. At the beginning of 2019, my body began to expand again. New markings of time, space and lineage seasoned my fat Black body unlike before. I began to forge a deeper understanding of my widening frame and thickened Black skin. I wanted to explore new ways of care and bring new meaning to showing up for myself and those around me in my fat Black body.
In the thick of quarantine, I dreamt of this idea to create space for myself solely by getting dressed. Literal space is something that I often have to negotiate within a bigger body. I decided that I wanted to do something that honoured the experience of illuminating my fat Black body despite previous years of wrestling with putting on clothes and showing up in the world with very few options to choose from. I wanted to build a closet. But not just any cookie cutter size one – a plus size closet.
Before this shift, I rarely saw plus-size clothing as a source of style or identity. Instead, I observed an industry merely existing out of bare necessity and only to be tolerated. Access to clothing beyond the limits of size 10/12 remains an everyday challenge. Over time, I began to appreciate the emerging artistry and intentionality of plus size clothing and expansive sizing. [I reckoned that squeezing into “oversized fit” standard sizes was just choicelessness.] My love for plus size clothing from Black owned-brands such as Zelie for She, Hanifa and Rue 107 affirms my fat Black body in non-negotiable ways. These embodied moments of getting dressed in my size feels restorative. However, naming the fatphobia and size discrimination rampant within the fashion industry continues to be integral to demanding the transformative justice that bigger bodies need and deserve.
I imagine “fat” reclaimed from hateful, ugly and unjust connotations and conditions. I imagine fat people as free to openly embrace their bodies with the same autonomy as those with other body types. I imagine if they — those who fear the normalizing of bodies like ours and use “fat” as a weapon — fail to gain control of not only our physicality but also our emotionality and attitudes towards ourselves.
Truthfully, I don’t proclaim to love my body every day, I doubt anyone does. But when I do, I stand firmly in the truth that I deserve all of the love that I can conjure up. This is my luxury. Showing up for myself in fine pieces – atelier co-ordinate sets, speaking words of affirmation onto the sight of my round belly in forbidden bodycon dresses, sporting the largest gold hoop earrings that compete with the size of my face – ensuring that I am seen by and for myself.
Loving and being at ease with the fat body isn’t a prerequisite to accessing luxury. Simply, luxury reminds us that we are here and the love that we offer to ourselves comes in many forms of our choosing. No matter the size or cost, the notion of luxury is a grandness within ourselves. To the dismay of many, fat bodies are normal and our pleasure should be normalized. Existing in a fat body and loving one is normal.
Black Is Luxury
Along my journey, I have read stories about Black women who show up throughout time in their fat bodies. I began to reference them in difficult moments and cite them within discussions. The women in my life now recommend books, articles and twitter threads waging with tales of fat bodies, fatphobia and asserting worth. Little do they know, these pieces are often difficult to navigate. The weight of these writer’s words often haunt me in unannounced ways. They catch me off-guard in the grocery store or in the shower and render me vulnerable to my emotions. Memoirs such as “Hunger” by Roxanne Gay and “The Body Is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor have long stayed with me.
Particularly because what is readily chalked up as “bravery” is actual brutal honesty. There is no reprieve in naming histories of colonial violence, anti-black racism and slavery done onto the body and their generational effects. Tracing these connections only serve as reference to mapping our bodies and the traumas we transport within us. However, as I read through these pages, I also visualized Black bodies and their lustre, beauty and immeasurable value. Over time, it became vivid to me that Black is luxury – that’s why we deserve it. Our existence on earth, in art, culture and fantasy infiltrates all spaces with wondrous presence.
When I feel love for my body, I source laughter both in its fluffiness and flatness. I trace veins and markings that remind me that I am growing. I touch the bits that are soft and mushy, and the parts that are firmer with muscle. I love how it can flex and groove, how it undulates and the fleshy parts jiggle and clap. My body can lift heavy things, it can stretch and bend, it can relax, tremble and cry. And I also know that it would be just as lovable if it could do none of these things, and there are certainly moments when it cannot. This reminds me that what a body can and cannot do is not and never will be a measure of its worth, but we always have the right to celebrate whatever it can accomplish. And we also must rest. As we recharge, we find ways to recite that our bodies are deserving of advocacy and not apologies.
Our fat bodies deserve to be seen and heard. On magazine covers, beaches, red carpets, advertisements, subway cars, and performance stages. Our bodies are powerful and can disrupt and dismantle the current world to rebuild and ensure better futures for all.
Alannah Johnson is a writer, publisher, Black archivist, fat bodies liberationist and DEI professional. Her work centres on unearthing Black diasporic histories, remapping geographies and vivid imagings of Black futures. In 2019, she founded a collective called Burgeoning Bodies. When she is not working, she enjoys travelling, building her plus size fashion closet, Octavia Butler reads and binging 90’s sitcoms with her sister.