When Giuliana Rancic made her remark about Zendaya’s hair, I was appalled and hurt because as a woman, as a black woman, I understood how stereotypes affect our lives whether it is our self-esteem or the way the world reacts to us. This is the same outrage and chagrin that I also felt as I started to read reactions online, which were too often populated by crass comments about Giuliana’s weight.
People started making fun of her thin frame, referencing the trite suggestion that she needs to eat a sandwich or two, compared her to fictional characters with exaggerated features and even made fun of her inability to bear children. I won’t share the comments here because it serves no purpose but to give them more spotlight than deserved. It was however, incredibly disconcerting to see that many of the comments were made by women, because we especially should be hypersensitive to the harm done by body shaming. It is counterproductive to advocate the need for women to exist without the scrutiny of body image, yet we are quick to forgo that principle the minute we get a chance.
Some people may feel that Giuliana had it coming and the body shaming was justifiable, but it absolutely wasn’t. Whether she is that thin because it is her natural frame, because she is under pressure from media or because she is sick, it is never ok to be so crass about someone’s body. What also worries me is that I first heard of the Zendaya incident on blogger Awesomely Luvvie’s facebook page, and that is where I saw a lot of women who made comments in reference to Giuliana’s weight. Luvvie herself, is a thin woman (though not as thin as Giuliana) and has once or twice before discussed the idea that people often want her to put on more weight, to which many of her followers quickly answered that she needn’t worry about that all as she is just fine the way she is (which is true). So I think about Luvvie who wears dreadlocks and also carries a thinner corpulence. Should she have to put body image aside to speak out against the comments on dreads smelling like weed? I urge you to think about the fact that Luvvie, Giuliana, and other people with a frame like theirs, will be reading your comments. It could even be one of your friends. What will you say to your friend when she asks you if the comments about Giuliana’s body apply to her as well?
For me, this is a reminder that practicing of self-love though it is an individual journey, must also be a community effort. While we encourage people to be kinder to themselves, we have to create a safe space in which people don’t feel like they owe us their beauty. Giuliana doesn’t owe us more sandwiches, she doesn’t owe us a fuller frame.
Can we please cultivate better ways to keep each other accountable? Can our work not be mutually exclusive? Can fighting racism exist simultaneously with fighting against body shaming? I say yes we can.
EDIT: After posting this article, it was shared and retweeted nearly a 100 times, resulting in more than 4,000 views in just one day. I had a moment of excitement this morning, elated that people were on board with the fact we need to be responsible with the things we say about each other’s bodies. But then a lot of people who shared this article on twitter also said “yes I agree! people are just overreacting, Giuliana is a nice lady”. That’s when I started panicking, and feeling hurt. Because there I was, having written one article about the racism of Giuliana’s comment (which has less than 600 views) and the other about making sure not to body shame her while keeping her accountable. Two articles about accountability in our words, and it seems that people just chose to disregard the impact of Giuliana’s comment but quickly condemned body shaming against her. As a black woman, this is something we face daily, feeling like racism against us always takes a back seat to issues of sexism that affect all women. People’s ability to pretend black women’s issues have less importance is what allowed Patricia Arquette to stand at the Oscars and tell people of color that it’s time to stand up for her (by her, I mean white women). Because in her mind, black people or gay people owe white women something. As a black woman’s I shouldn’t have to put my blackness aside to support feminism. If you supported the argument in this article but cannot also hold Giuliana accountable for her comment, please I beg you, stop sharing or retweeting this article because it is clear we don’t share the same values. The solidarity has to be mutual. Condemn the racism as much as the sexism.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.