A Meme to Mock? No Way. I See a Black Woman’s Audacious and All-Too-Rare Confidence

Everyone has something to say when certain photos of black women—like the latest one of a full-figured woman in a tank top—circulate on social media. My reaction to the image? I love it! 

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The photo of a full-figured black woman who looks to be wearing a tank top as a skirt and a visible thong and bra to complete her ensemble resurfaced last week and made its rounds on the Internet ... again.

In the latest version of this photo-turned-interactive meme, viewers are prompted to comment using one word to describe the photo (and woman). Imagine the worst thing you could say about a person you know isn’t capable of responding or beating you to a pulp, and that’s pretty much how many of the comments read. 

But guess what? Unlike many of the commenters, I salute the woman pictured.

The word I used to describe her: “audacious.”

What is audacious, and what should be celebrated, about a half-dressed woman standing outside her local Wal-Mart? It’s that, considering her stance, she is unbothered by our collective judgment, and I love it!

I take this stance intentionally, while the “mean girls” launch into their routine, commenting on how awful and fat and unattractive and disgusting the woman pictured is. While the body- and fat-shamers relish having yet another opportunity to take to their soapboxes and exclaim how our acceptance of obesity is killing the black community. While the fashion police weigh in on how repulsive she looks, because, again, she's fat and black. Inevitably, the crowd substitutes the master’s tool of racism with classism and talks about how ratchet she is, with her multicolored hair, visible cellulite and overall bad taste. Everyone has a laugh.

It’s unfair and ridiculous, and my writing this post may be adding to that ridiculousness, but here I am, writing.

I write because those of us who defend the sisters pictured in these ubiquitous memes are grown enough to allow space for people to choose to present themselves as they please. Moreover, we’re the ones who are sick of the ugliness that random people spew as fake gangsters behind their anonymous computer screens.

Some of us have been picked on for being “uncouth” and unconventional. Many more of us have fought the often exhausting fight of accepting and loving our own bodies, so although we might not choose to wear a similar ensemble, we totally love the subject’s straight back and meticulous accessorizing. We know better than to make sweeping generalizations about the woman’s health (because we don’t know her), and we don’t believe for a moment that just because such a person finds herself attractive—sexy, even—doesn’t mean that she isn’t also capable of being conscious of lifestyle changes that will lead to a longer and stronger life.

I mean, this woman might be upset, even hurt, if she were to witness the nasty comments so many have made about her without knowing anything about her. She might have anticipated them before she left the house. But she wins because she is choosing to dress—and, even better, to move through life—on her own terms. 

We applaud celebrities like Rihanna all the time for showing skin and for being unmoved by how we feel about their choices. Shouldn’t we recognize and respect this woman’s freedom to do the same? 

How many of us can say we’re as brave? As impervious to the constant and nasty messages society sends about black women’s bodies?

We applaud celebrities like Rihanna all the time for showing skin and for being unmoved by how we feel about their choices. Shouldn’t we recognize and respect this woman’s freedom to do the same? No, some say, because her body isn’t slim and trim (or, rather, what we believe to be so). She’s not rocking couture fashion and flaunting bedazzled breasts as she accepts fashion-icon awards.

I’m certain that if this woman were Rihanna or Beyoncé or Amber Rose, we’d be running to the fashion blogs for tips on where to buy her “look,” especially if the outfit had a designer label and price tag we couldn’t afford. But because she’s “regular” and we’ve labeled her “low class,” “poor,” “ratchet” and a “thot,” we cannot revel in the fact that she appears to be happily “other”—not rich, not popular, not skinny, not light-skinned, not all those things we deem acceptable and enviable.

I’m not participating in that.

In a way I feel sorry for those who are. Because maybe the underlying source of the public shaming of the woman in this photo, of the many that have preceded it and of the many that will follow is simply the idea that the woman pictured seems to love the skin she’s in, and we haven’t mastered the art of such self-love just yet.

Maybe.

Josie Pickens is a writer, culture critic and professor who seeks to create and further conversations about race, gender and otherness. Follow her on Twitter.