Motivation comes in many forms. One motivational musical piece for me is Nina Simone’s melodious proclamation that, “In the whole world there are a billion boys and girls who are young, gifted and Black, and that’s a fact!” But if I could add an adjective to this adage it would read, “To Be Young, Gifted, Black, and Fat.”
Yes, it must be written and archived! Notated and dialogued. Black women living on the plus–er side of life are walking with more confidence than ever and taking over Hollywood and primetime television at the same time. You no longer have to “watch out for the big girl.” We are here, taking names, and cashing checks.
In an industry where thin and white is the prototype for beauty, opportunities for actresses who are Black and thicker than thick used to be non-existent unless they were playing the Mammy; and in most cases, they were muted of all beauty and sexuality. We honor those Black actresses like Hattie McDaniel for breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry so that there would be a place, time and opportunity for actresses today to share their talent with the world. We are thankful that we are able to see images of our likeness on television and in film.
Today, the list of beautiful and plump actresses is steadily growing. Writers have started to give an authentic voice to female characters who have more to love. The characters now have more depth. We are transitioning from being able to play only the maid, the mom, and the sassy best friend, to having successful lives and even having love interests.
One evening I watched Raven Goodwin in her role as Niecy Patterson on BET’s Being Mary Jane. Goodwin was standing in front of the mirror, glowing in the eminence of her beauty as she tried on clothes for a night out. She stared proudly at who she saw in that mirror and I was ecstatic about it. The brilliantly edited montage of Goodwin getting dressed in form-fitting clothing even featured a moment where she stood in her bra and panties, showing the world that size does not diminish beauty. It was a scene I’d been waiting to see for my entire life.
But BET isn’t the only network to be blessed with a voluptuous beauty on one of their shows. Millions of us tuned in every Wednesday for eight weeks straight to watch the new FOX Drama, Empire. Cookie wasn’t the only one serving fierce night after night. Gabourey Sidibe came pumping through the halls of Empire Entertainment as Becky, the loyal yet firm executive assistant to Lucious Lyon. On Empire, Sidibe is witty and fearless, and her confidence is contagious. As a plus-size woman, I can admit that I have an insecurity about wearing tops that expose my arms. I just can’t do it. So I’d often yell at the screen, “Gabby, where are your sleeves?!” But I was honestly glad to see that Sidibe didn’t care one bit and wore the hell out of every outfit!
Fox may have its suspect views on pretty much everything, but it’s clear they love us BBWs. Before Sidibe, Glee featured the beautiful Amber Riley as belting diva club member Mercedes Jones. Riley even catapulted that opportunity into a stint on Dancing With The Stars, taking home the mirrorball trophy in 2013.
What’s most heartwarming is that even in an industry where competition is seemingly inevitable, these three young women can be seen flicking it up on Instagram and hanging out together. Yes, Black women of Hollywood do support one another.
But this is just the beginning for plus-size actresses. There are more of us out there patiently waiting in the wings. We are going from overlooked to overbooked. We are beautiful, smart, sexy, and have a rightful place in film and television. “Oh but my joy of today is that we can all be proud to say, to be young, gifted, Black, and fat is where it’s at!”