Tag Archives: beauty

Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?

 

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Nicki’s World

26 Aug

As BET gets set to air its documentary about women and hip hop Monday, I am finding my 30-plus, old school feminist-self working hard to gear up to get down with the over-the-top, lyrically layered, brand savvy rapper that is Nicki Minaj.

The self-described Barbie is inescapable. She works every rap and R&B hook, and changes her looks to fashion what could be categorized as camp, cultural appropriation or classic sexual objectification.  Until Minaj, I’ve managed to safely maneuver around mainstream new millennium starlets because they offered no more than a cookie-cutter replica of the unique hip hop dynamism I remembered.  (See the links to artists below.) Likened to Lady Gaga for her eye-catching performances, this former theater student is adept at staging media spectacles, such as autographing breasts, adopting different voices, and orchestrating a coming-out tweet to squash rumors about her bisexuality for those who might have misread the Remy Ma viral video confession from her masculine persona, Roman, as Nicki Minaj. You can call the latter a cop-out or a capitulation to a commercial model that demands that all women perform hyperfemininity period. As I enter Nicki’s world (slowly and with caution), I am not only considering the ways she uses her body, but I am thinking of three ways her performances of race, gender and sexuality instigate a feminist engagement with the popular.

1.  Beauty and Postfeminism

Postfeminism advertises the sexy, smart, economically successful self-absorbed it-girl from a post-patriarchal world where politics are defined by “style wars” rather than issues of gender inequity. Here, beauty and postfeminism seem to be disconnected from critiques of consumerism, gendered labor, or political citizenship.  On the one hand, the look-good-feel-fine empowerment that Minaj offers feels as lifeless as the dolls she suggests every girl wants to be—you know, the nonspeaking, decorative, plastic bodies to be handled and watched. Then again, I can imagine her Barbie thang as her way of injecting a sense of beauty and wonderment for homegirls, like herself, who’ve had to create other worlds to escape the ugly one they lived every day. In either case, Minaj has managed to capture the attention of young women—hook, line and stiletto.

2. The Lady and The Freak

In what could be described as a post-Tip Drill moment where folks are “manning” the line to distinguish the ladies from the freaks, Nicki Minaj is not the only one who is creating personas to perform otherness. As Roman Zolanski she can express desire for another woman, and as Harajuku Barbie she can perform a sexualized Asian girlhood without damaging the central “brand” or image. Beyoncé is another celebrity with a freak persona. In big hair and tall heels, Sasha Fierce does Beyoncé’s “dirty work.” Both entertainers talk about a sense of freedom—which is almost always connected to sexual freedom.  Celebrity aside, ordinary young women on and off screen are crafting “real” and alternate/virtual identities as a response to the increased policing of their bodies through this hip hop binary. Rather than marking public/private bodies, young women like Minaj are now describing their “real” good bodies and their fake freakish ones. In our sincere efforts to “free the girls,” it is possible we might have caged our “real” sexual selves.

3. Camp, Celebration or Cultural Appropriation

From her Anime-inspired Vibe magazine cover, her Harajuku Barbie persona, to her recent music video, Your Love, where she plays a geisha girl (among others), Minaj reprises dated stereotypes about Asian women that suggest desirability comes in part from submissiveness or obedience.  Costuming conceals and reveals her body, and both frame her as the exotic; the hand gestures she does in separate scenes either to seduce her lover or to fight her foe are grafted from other forms of popular culture depicting Asianness. I can remember the debut of the Harajuku Girls shadowing Gwen Stefani at a music awards show. Then, folks flipped about a white woman co-opting Asian culture and parading other women (as objects of her imagination).  Yet, as Minaj mines the visual landscape to reinvent herself, her Afroasian encounters – whether camp, celebration, or cultural appropriation – remain unchallenged.

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