Sour Victory

Actress Gabourey Sidibe was recently recognised with an Academy Award nomination for her work in Precious. I haven’t seen Precious yet, but it sounds like the recognition was well deserved, from the reviews I’ve read and the people I’ve talked with about the film. This is a huge victory; to be nominated is an immense honour, even if someone does not win.

But it seems like a lot of folks couldn’t respect that. Couldn’t, in fact, allow Gabourey Sidibe to enjoy her recognition.

Why? Because she’s fat.

Every single person I have talked to about Precious, without exception, has made a point of mentioning that Sidibe is fat. Not just fat. Dangerously fat. Grossly fat. OMGDEATHFAT. ‘I worry about her health,’ a friend of mine said one night. ‘Really,’ I replied. ‘Do you know something about her health that I don’t?’ ‘Well,’ my friend said. ‘She’s fat.

It must be so hard to enjoy a movie when you are fretting about the health of the lead all the time!

Oh, wait. These people don’t care about Sidibe’s ‘health.’ They care about the fact that she is fat and radiant and doesn’t give a flying fuck. They care about the fact that she dares to wear snug gowns for publicity appearances, that she shows her arms, that she is often smiling broadly; how can you be happy and fat?! They care that she showed up on the red carpet at the Oscars in a beautiful dress with a big smile, ready to enjoy her honour and the night.

She should be going around in sacks! With a paper bag over her head! She’s fat! Ew! Gross!

I don’t know Gabourey personally. I don’t know anything about her other than that she is a good actress, and I’ve liked the interviews with her I’ve seen and read. She seems like a pretty cool lady. I can’t put myself in her shoes because I am not her. But I imagine that it must be really, really hard to be constantly reminded that your accomplishments are nothingĀ  because you are fat. To be told in as many ways as possible that you cannot stand on your own recognition; no matter where you are, people have to throw in a reference to your size.

Gosh, if we didn’t stress the fact that she was fat, it might give the children bad ideas. It might suggest to other fat Black women that they, too, can be successful and radiant and happy. That it is possible to be fat and nominated for an Academy Award! If we don’t constantly harp on her size, people will think that fat is healthy or something, or it’s the way to get ahead, and they will rush out and gorge themselves on Twinkies.


This is not about her ‘health.’ These concern trolls don’t give a flying fartle for her health. If it was health we cared about, why aren’t we worried about all those Olympic athletes? They train their bodies with grueling programs! Lindsey Vonn skiied with a possible fractured somethingorother! They work so hard and subject themselves to serious injuries. That’s got to be unhealthy, right? But no, Olympic athletes are celebrated. They are allowed to enjoy their accomplishments and they are universally heralded.

This is not about her ‘health.’ It’s about the fact that some people think that fat women are disgusting. Some people think that fat is a moral failing. Some people are personally offended by the sight of people who are fat and happy. By the fact that fat people can do great things. That we can be great people. This might suggest that fat people are actually human beings, just like everyone else, and we can’t have that. Fat folks need to be constantly reminded of how unpleasant and icky and gross and foul they are.

Which means that we must, constantly, always, talk about how fat Gabourey Sidibe is. We will cover up our prejudice and bigotry by making it sound like a health concern; ‘there’s nothing wrong with being fat, really, it’s just that I worry about her health.’ ‘What kind of example is she setting for children? Doesn’t she know there’s a childhood obesity crisis going on?’ ‘How can I enjoy her work when I’m worried she’s going to keel over with a heart attack at any minute?’

And some of these people will openly admit that it’s all about the fat hate when they are pressed. But others won’t. They will vociferously insist that they just care about health, even though this is inconsistent with their own actions. Unhealth has become so coupled with fat and fat is so coupled with ‘bad’ that people have internalized the idea that it is acceptable to attack fat folks on the grounds of their ‘health.’

I know absolutely nothing about Gabourey Sidibe’s health. I suspect that the same holds true for most of the population. But, more critically, it’s not my business. Whether she is healthy or unhealthy, it is not my business. She’s a human being. She’s a person. Her body and health are her own and she is allowed to make choices about them. Being healthy is not a moral obligation. Being unhealthy does not make you a bad person. And that means that it’s not acceptable to speculate about her health, to use her health as a tool for berating her for being fat.

Gabourey Sidibe is a big girl. She can take care of herself. Really. She doesn’t need your ‘concern’ and your worried statements. You know what she would probably like? Congratulations for her accomplishments. Recognition of the fact that she is a terrific actress. For people to decouple Gabby Sidibe the person and actress from Precious, the character. For people to be able, just once, to talk about her career and her accomplishments without dragging her weight into it.