As a black woman, I’m still learning to love my big tits, thick thighs, and heavy hips—but what I do know about my body is that it isn’t the literal or figurative platform for anyone’s agenda but my own.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to some essential conversation on Black Twitter about eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and while it was affirming and healing for the younger me, I was confused by what prompted the discussion. After scrolling for a brief second, I was able to see the source of the discussion: The night prior, there had been a viral attack on Chicago rapper CupcakKe led by British, South Asian feminist and activist Jameela Jamil, star of NBC show The Good Place and founder of the body positive movement ‘I Weigh.’ Jameela, along with an army of white minions, chastised CupcakKe for posting the results of monthlong water fast, naming the post an irresponsible promotion for eating disorders and a danger for the young girls that follow her.
Regrettably, CupcakKe posted her photo as her return to social media, following a video she posted in September where she stated that she was quitting music after feeling judgment and was unable to be her authentic self. The rapper also admitted that she felt she was setting a bad example for her younger fans. So we can see why Jamil’s post may have been a trigger, right?
Rather than supporting the “Whoregasm” rapper through what Jamil named an eating disorder, she, a non-black person, chose to weaponize a CupcakKe’s black body for the leverage of her agenda. But what she did next was far worse: What we actually witnessed was Jameela Jamil using her platform of over nearly one million followers to call a black woman dangerous and promote herself by using her triggering thread to say that she will be in Boston next week working with Harvard to push for legislation around minors and non-regulated diets and detox. Somehow that moment seemed perfectly acceptable for her to boost her advocacy agenda.
Although calling out celebrities for promoting unhealthy methods of weight loss is Jamil’s “thing,” Black Twitter quickly got her together and let her know that black bodies will not be vulnerable to her shit. But apparently, this word here, by cultural critic Clarkisha Kent, is the moment Jameela realized she was out of pocket: “Eating disorders look different on Black women and the conversation is wildly different when it comes to us. Period.”
Y’all, I felt all of that. This journey to falling in love with my black body hasn’t been an easy one, and eating disorders were certainly a part of that process. But I never sat down and took the time to consider how my blackness influenced my eating disorder or the support I received around it. My family was probably today years old when they found out about my eating disorder, partially because their critique of my body is what incited it, but also because my black-ass family thought eating disorders were for white girls.
It started in high school, after the birth of my daughter. I was navigating postpartum depression and balancing my new body. I spent the remainder of high school claiming I was vegetarian just so I had an excuse not to eat the food my family was purchasing and preparing at home.
Not eating meat anymore provided a valid excuse not to partake in any of my family meals, and they figured me getting sick and vomiting was from my “new diet.” It felt misleading, but it let me navigate my eating disorder with a little less guilt and some privacy. I just wanted to have control over something in my life, and my body felt like my only option.
In my family, I wasn’t allowed to have an “eating disorder” because I was too black and too poor. The guilt you feel as a black person “wasting food” hurts more at times than the actual eating disorder. My mother worked hard to make sure there was food in the house, and, in addition to cooking it, I damn sure better show my appreciation—and that definitely didn’t include flushing it down the toilet.
The years that followed piled on the stress and trauma I experienced as a black woman and the weight I gained reflected it. It shifted my relationship I had with my body, going from the one thing I had control over to something with a mind of its own, and I hated it. My friends and family made sure to critique my weight any chance they got, which is why my eating disorder is something I’ve remained silent about over the years. I have a teenage daughter that I’m certain has heard me vomiting after meals and the pressure of her finding out and the example I’m setting for her as a young black woman is more than enough pressure already.
Jameela Jamil never took a second to think about how her critique impacted CupcakKe or the black women like me who follow her work. Although she has since apologized, it doesn’t take away from the hours of commentary and virtual violence she subjected CupcakKe to, and most importantly, it doesn’t erase the fact that she and other non-black people thought they had the right to comment on what CupcakKe does with her black body or how she went about it.
As black women, we have spent years trying to keep up with what society and the medical industry deemed acceptable, all of which are centered in whiteness. Between the images we’ve seen on television for years and even the entire BMI concept being racist and anti-black, critique about black bodies is never welcome from the gaze of those outside of our community.
Thankfully, CupcakKe was met with a completely different response from her Instagram, as her followers responded to her return with affirmations and concerned check-ins, commenting on how much they missed her and that they hope she’s okay. This seems like a reasonable way to respond to someone that left the public eye and came back with drastic weight loss under dangerous measures, right?
I’ll say it again: Our Black bodies are not platforms or podiums for anyone or any movement.
Brandi Collins-Calhoun is a menstrual maven, pleasure-positive baby mother and birth worker writing and critiquing culture through a reproductive justice lens as a member of Echoing Ida.