We need to have a real discussion about the policing of Black women's bodies and how the internet was used to exploit Patrice Brown when she didn't ask to be a part of this narrative.
For the last week or so, the Internet has been consumed with pictures of a woman known affectionately as “#TeacherBae.” She, Patrice Brown, a teacher’s aide in Atlanta, became the latest social media sensation after a sampling of now viral photos were plucked from her Instagram account.
Brown is posed in her classroom wearing outfits that range from snug fitting dresses to jeans and a t-shirt.
Why is this “news”?
Brown is stacked like what my father’s generation would call “a brick house:” ample bosom and bottom, wide hips and thighs and a snatched waist. Her curves are a combination of genetics and a devotion to the gym, as shown via pictures on her Instagram feed. Her images have been met with substantial praise – she’s a pretty woman with an enviable figure – and visceral criticism. Some onlookers say Brown’s snug attire is better suited for the club than the classroom, and that she looks unprofessional. Others reached to ridiculously question Brown’s competency as a teacher as they thought she spent more time posing for pictures than teaching.
(Newsflash: taking a picture doesn’t take long. She wasn’t doing photo shoots).
The popularity of Brown’s photos, and the backlash from the Internet, led to the Atlanta Public School District issuing a statement that Brown has been “given guidance” on her attire so that it’s in line the APS Employee Dress Code.
This whole situation has officially gone too far.
When I was taught what to wear to work, the rule I heard was “if you can wear it to the club or the beach, it doesn’t belong in the office.” It’s the rule I tried to abide by, but I sometimes broke, when I had a day job. I’ve been privy to lots of discussions about Brown’s attire and it seems many women were given about the same advice I received. By that common definition among professional women, one of Brown’s outfits, the pink dress, was a bit much for the classroom.
Body-con and the workplace don’t really, well, work, unless your job involves a runway, a bar, or a pole.
And yet, I cringe to hear that Brown received a reprimand, and one so public that it was issued in a press release. She wore a snug dress to work; she didn’t attack a student, seduce a student, or tamper with test scores. At best, her dress warranted a Sister-girl pull aside from a concerned and more seasoned teacher that one of her dresses was better served for happy hour than homeroom. And maybe a tip how to camouflage her shape in the workplace, not because her body is something to be ashamed of, but because every working woman knows that women who are considered “too sexy” at the office often get more attention, but less respect.
And yes, she can camouflage her curves. First Lady Michelle Obama has been doing so for eight years. We just found out she was, uh, very (very) blessed last week.
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But that’s not the total source of my discomfort with this story. From what I can gather, Brown didn’t ask for this attention. Yes, she posted pictures on her Instagram page, like most people with any kind of social media account, but the images that went viral, weren’t even all that recent. I had to thumb scroll at least twice to see them on her Instagram page. (Brown has since made her page private, and removed all the pictures of herself posed in the classroom.)
Someone who saw Brown’s page assembled older pictures of her and seems to have shared them, perhaps without her knowledge. (I sent her an interview request to get the backstory and did not receive a response at the time of press).
It’s a common enough online occurrence, but this time it sits even less well with me. Frankly, the sharing of Brown’s images, particularly to gawk at the largess of some parts of her figure, has icky Saartjie Baartman undertones.
Baartman, a South African woman with a significant backside, toured Europe as a “freak show” attraction in the 19th century Europe. There’s some debate as to whether she was employed or enslaved.
The sharing of Brown’s pictures feels exploitative. She isn’t an exotic dancer whose trade is showing her body and getting attention; she’s a professional woman who was fully covered, minding her business and showing up to work everyday. And while her job may not be in jeopardy due to the attention of social media, she’s got to be embarrassed to have someone come talk to her about her clothes, then issue a public statement about her.
And she’s still employed, but obviously being watched with a more critical eye from her higher ups. This all doesn’t just seem unfair, but wrong. Brown is beautiful (and busty and bootylicious), and while that may be threatening to fragile egos, it shouldn’t be an offense that interferes with her job.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She is also a blogger at demetrialucasdoyley.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram
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