Plus-size women have great sex, but you can’t tell by watching television. Actress and model Nzinga Imani is one of the performers changing that. Appearing in Curves, Pretty For a Big Gurl, and All The Queens Men, she’s avoided portraying fat friend stereotypes on screen, showing up as a fully-formed woman who doesn’t have to question whether or not she’s desirable.
“Growing up I felt like whenever I was watching TV, plus-size people were only really portrayed comically,” Imani told ESSENCE. “It was always the best friend or the jokester and never really someone who was portrayed as sexy.”
Even shows that have attempted to subvert expectations of what a sex scene should look like by casting actresses barely above a size four have left women like Imani behind by exclusively showing the perspective of white women and shrouding the experiences in self-depreciating jokes. “It was real, but it wasn’t exactly sexy,” Imani said of previous representations. “My sexy is kind of always at the forefront. I’m very flirty and silly.”
Imani was proud to bring an experience that illustrated an empowered plus-size woman coming into her own to the BET+ series All The Queens Men. Her character, Dawn, wasn’t a desperate pawn seeking male affection, but rather one who saw what she wanted — a recent divorcee finally letting go of his hurt and insecurities — and went after it. She tells Midnight directly, “I want that one,” without any concern about what he thinks about the circumference of her waist. It’s a casual encounter and she treats it as such.
“I feel like people often think that plus-size people don’t have sex or at least they don’t want to see it. And that’s not realistic,” Imani said, “The majority of the women in the U.S. are plus-size, we’re out here having sex. And I feel like it should not be so taboo or so alarming to see a natural body on TV.”
Speaking on her sex scene specifically, she added, “I definitely felt the pressure to be a representation, but more than anything, I just wanted to live in my truth. And I felt like in that scene, you kind of see that it’s authentic.”
Imani described the experience of filming the scene as “beautiful and freeing,” adding, “Even the crew was very supportive. They were just like, you know, we don’t see this. And then it was shot so beautifully. The team did such an amazing job. And even one of the producers told me originally the scene was much shorter, but they made it longer because it was beautiful. Even the way that they shot it, the angles, the overhead, it looked romantic, it wasn’t just sex and ogling and groping.”
The progress Imani and her counterparts are courting through the roles they choose and the images they project on shows such as this and First Wives Club, is arriving slowly. She noted the need for body positive advocates in C-suites.
“People are starting to realize that we’re necessary and we need to be seen. There’s still a battle to be fought and we still have a long way to go,” Imani explained.
“Even now there’s so many shows with plus-size women at the forefront. They get sidelined because these production companies don’t feel like there’s an audience for that. And I think we still need to kind of push the narrative and push the idea that we’re, we’re eager to see it and we need more of it.”
Plus-size characters who make it to “mainstream” audiences are still widely portrayed as so desperate they’re willing to accept any quasi-affection they are offered.
The series Shrill featured a plus-size heroine willing to sleep with a guy who routinely insisted she shimmy out of a window afterwards so his roommates won’t see her. Recently, BMF featured a fat woman down to get down on the filthy floor of a Detroit fast food joint.
The movie Top Five used the attraction of J.B. Smoove’s character to plus-size women as a visual gag throughout the film. The role reflected a growing vocal segment of those who fetishize plus-size women, something Imani is not sure can lead to true inclusion.
“I think that it’s helpful that we’re not being ostracized as much for being plus-size and that there are people who prefer and love and cherish plus-size bodies. But I also think that when you’re fetishized it creates this weird stigma that makes you feel less than human,” she said. “It makes you feel more of an object and it doesn’t celebrate the person you are.”
Like any other social movement, body positivity has factions and people in the plus-size community often have open disputes about what it takes to move past stigma and hyper-sexualization and towards normalization and respect. Imani, too, has her own thoughts.
“I love Lizzo, but I know a lot of people who feel like that representation can set us backwards,” she shared, explaining she feels it’s unfair to expect one person to represent everyone.
“There’s so many different kinds of plus-size women. Just like there’s so many kinds of standard size women, and you’re not going to expect the Cardi Bs to do the same things that the Oprahs do. So there’s room for a diverse group of women.”
All The Queens Men is now streaming on BET+.