“It’s called SELF esteem because YOU need to esteem YOUR self”. Erm. No. No.

fat woman

So I’m on annual leave at the moment and despite all my grand plans to be super productive, this blog post is probably the most productive thing that has materialised in my life since Sunday. I plan to change all that tomorrow.  She says.

Anyway, because today was also hair washing day aka spend 4 hours or so detangling, washing, deep treating and generally luxuriating in my afro, I passed my detangling time watching Youtube. What started out as a fairly high brow sojourn through a nature documentary on wild hogs in Texas (they’re really big and their tusks are razor sharp, and they’re kinda speedy for pigs, and they’re apparently descended from some bigger hogs that existed a while back), ended up watching a show called Big Women, Big Love.  I’m generally opposed to trash reality shows but I’m also a sucker for anything that give a bit of insight into the human condition. (Throw me a bone, at least I tried to make it sound deep).

Big Women, Big Love as you can probably gather from the cringe worthy title, is about a group of plus size women and their travels in the world of romance. The show follows the women as they try to find love and overcome their insecurities, and it makes for an interesting journey.

What struck me from watching the first episode, was the horrible attitude and reactions of some of the men to the plus size women. One of the women approached a man (mistake number one, in my opinion) at a restaurant, and his response was less than favourable. That’s fair enough – everyone has the right to turn someone down they aren’t attracted to and women do it to men all the time. What I noticed though, was the dismissiveness and overwhelming sense that the man just didn’t feel like this woman was in any way worthy of his attention. He struggled to make eye contact with her, and at first I thought that it was because he was just shy. But a few seconds later either him or one of his friends went on to ask the plus size woman  the name of the blonde, slim friend she had come with. I think we can all agree that this was a little cold hearted but hopefully not typical of most men.

Unfortunately, throughout the show some of the women recounted tales of men who only ever invited them for Netflix and Chill because they were ashamed to be seen with them in public (or so the women presumed), or men who were content to sleep with them but not date them, or men who made nasty comments about their weight while on dates with them.

Interestingly enough, there were stark differences between the women in terms of their apparent confidence levels  when it came to their weight and dating. The two Black and one Latina women seemed more confident, which lines up with the research that suggests black women in America (not sure about the UK)  despite having higher levels of obesity, are the group of women who report the highest levels of body satisfaction. This could also be to do with the fact that curvier body types are the ideal in these communities.

One might easily tell the other women on the show that they need to ‘get some self esteem’.

Erm. No.

The title for this post actually came from reading the comments on another internet article about colourism in the black community. I’m actually quite bored of discussions about colourism, but it’s like the black communities hamster wheel- it just keeps on spinning. So predictably, a black man who stated that his preference was light skinned women also stated that dark skinned women need some.. ‘SELF esteem, YOU need to esteem YOUR self, nobody else can do that for you’.

I find statements like that when it comes to conversations about skin tone, weight, height, and attractiveness in general, insensitive, redundant and asinine.

Where is a teenage girl who has been relentless bullied from age 5 for being bigger than all of her peers supposed to magically create this self esteem from? From the foul breath of the last boy who told her she needed to lose a few?

The intent behind telling groups of people to ‘get self esteem’, from those who either do the marginalising or have the privilege of not being part of the group marginalised is generally to avoid taking ownership for their part in perpetuating the negativity.

Of  course I  maintain that something like weight which can be changed is somewhat different from skin tone, which can’t be (aside from unhealthy methods). Of course I advocate self worth. Of course I believe that ultimately your value rests in being a beautiful child of God with something unique to offer the world and that you need to discover that for yourself.

There are barriers to some people finding that out as quickly as others – the societal standards that exclude and erase them from popular culture. Instead of simply telling them to get some self esteem, we can all do our own work of examining  our prejudices and preferences and practicing a little more kindness and empathy in our dealings with one another.


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