Bad Fat Black Girl

In Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist, Sesali Bowen (coming October 5, 2021) combines memoir and feminist cultural analysis seamlessly. Bowen centers her own fat Black queer experience, as a memoirist should, and she includes definitions to make her writing accessible to people not familiar with Black culture, and more specifically, trap culture. I challenge white feminists to read it and learn. We gain understanding when we read (and therefore inhabit) the perspective of people who don’t have the same life experiences we have.

Thankfully, Bowen explains trap music and how it fits into the broader genre of hip-hop and defines “trap feminism” at the beginning of the book, centering Black women and female rappers. Generally, the book follows her life experience of growing up fat and broke on the South Side of Chicago and is organized around a different theme in each chapter–from being fat, fighting, and money, to sex, relationships, and the importance of friendships.

Bowen describes how she is fat, and I felt like she was describing me with her detailed description of her specific body shape of being bigger on top and through the waist, with smaller legs–and how it’s sometimes described as being “built bad.” She acknowledges that generally Black people “have a higher tolerance for body fat on feminine bodies than other groups do” but that acceptance has to do more with body shape than size — being hourglass or pear-shaped with a flat stomach is celebrated regardless of size, but fat girls shaped like her are rejected and disrespected. She analyzes the concept of beauty as a cultural standard that maintains capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy and how fitting none of the standards–essentially having lesser value and little of the privilege “beauty” brings–has shown up in the culture and in her life. It’s brilliant and astute and the best description of being the “wrong” kind of fat in any of the fat-positive books I’ve read. (And I’ve been trying to be fat-positive almost as long as Bowen has been alive.)

The chapters on sexuality–her experiences with straight sex, starting young but at her choice, as a professional sex worker, and how she came to labeling herself as “queer” are honest and raw and free of shame. Her rules on relationships are rules I wish had been written years ago–she is so wise for someone still in her 30s.

I highly recommend Bad Fat Black Girl to anyone who wants to understand more about black feminism; fatness and anti-fat bias; gender and sexuality politics; and hip-hop culture in general. I look forward to much more from Sesali Bowen.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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