Fat-shaming, loosely defined as valuing people less or bullying them because of their weight/size, seems to be all over the news lately. Earlier this month a Wisconsin anchorwoman received a vicious email from a viewer who was angered by her size. “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular,” the man wrote in a letter that has since gone viral.
Last week, Candy Crowley, CNN’s award-winning chief political correspondent and the moderator of the second presidential debate, came under criticism for her weight as well. The folks at NYMag.com compiled a quick list of the online fat attacks against her while noting they were “surprised” by the reaction, especially as Crowley is the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in two decades.
And also last week, the University of Mississippi (a.k.a. “Ole Miss”) announced its first Black homecoming queen, Courtney Roxanne Pearson, who won her crown on the 50th anniversary of the institution’s controversial admission of James Meredith, the first African-American to attend the school.
I discovered the details of her win accompanied by a photo of her. She’s a young black woman with a delightful smile, and she looked like a blushing bride in her all-white gown as she was escorted across the Ole Miss football field by her daddy. “Congrats! Good for her,” I thought. Most of the sentiments expressed about Pearson reflected a similarly positive theme.
But for some, Pearson’s looks didn’t quite meet the expectations of a homecoming queen. Not only because she’s black, not white or in a Greek organization like all of the homecoming queens before her, but also because Pearson’s complexion is a deep chocolate hue and she is plus-size.
It never occurred to me that her election could be a joke. But that was the sentiment suggested in some places. Apparently Stormfront.org had said as much, and the theory was gaining traction. (I don’t expect much more from a self-described “white nationalism” site.) But then I found the comments section on a story about Pearson on a fellow Black women’s site, and several readers didn’t find the hoax angle so far-fetched. Some said they were baffled by the outpouring of support for Pearson as it seemed her election was a clear and obvious joke because she doesn’t meet “conventional” standards of beauty.
“I’m saying that while I am quite impressed with this young woman’s beauty, spirit and academic accomplishments,“ wrote one commenter, who received multiple likes, “I’m not impressed with the sentiment I feel is working behind the scenes on this. I admit freely that I feel the opposite of excited, in fact, I feel patronized. And, given that this is the year of the 50th anniversary of integration at Ole Miss, the plot thickens…”
I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next woman, and given the history of racism at Ole Miss and Mississippi at large—Nina Simone called out the state specifically in “Mississippi Goddam” for a reason—I acknowledge that an elaborate hoax to shame Black women isn’t as far-fetched as it would make me more comfortable to pretend it is. But without a confession from the organizing parties, I’m going to hope for the best, ignore the weird racism, colorism and size discrimination that Pearson’s win evidently brings up for some, including some other Black women, and acknowledge her win as legit. She’s a student who just achieved her childhood dream, and she doesn’t deserve to be a jumping-off point for circular conversations—like Gabrielle Douglas was—about all the “-isms” that never get resolved within and outside of our community. I’m sending her my “Congratulations!” and that’s it. I hope you can do the same.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk