A few months ago I unfollowed a woman on Instagram I had been following for nearly a year because she did something I found completely despicable. She was a white woman who tanned so excessively her skintone appeared very dark (but orange). She also regularly manipulated her photos to make herself appear darker. And over lined her lips. And did other things that smacked of appropriation. I overlooked most of it, but one day she posted a very obvious manipulation of her body and skintone, then used the hashtag, “#blackgirlmagic”.
*screeching brakes sound*
Excuse the fuck out of you, ma’am???
This sort of thing happens online all the time. Appropriation is limitless in nearly every facet of life, with fashion houses, entire celebrity families, TV networks, films, and musicians all making bank on the backs and off the culture of marginalized communities. And the internet gives every-day people a taste of that appropriation and the ability to do it as well. And it works. The white woman who used that hashtag got several likes and comments about her body and skintone because of the tag.
The moment a marginalized community’s culture begins to gain traction, appropriation soon follows. The culture of black people in America has been co-opted and paraded around like it was never theirs to begin with. Earlier this year one of the worst perpetrators of appropriation, Kim Kardashian, credited Bo Derek for braids Derek wore in her film, 10. In the film she ran down a beach in the “braids” and it was considered one of the sexiest scenes of the 80’s.
But, those braids weren’t just braids and they weren’t Bo Derek’s. They were cornrows with beads attached. They originated in and belong to black culture and the black community. Kim K intentionally credited the wrong source, then she and all her white banshees (including Bo Derek herself) defended the move, claiming it’s “just a hairstyle”. But, it isn’t just a hairstyle, anymore than Blues is just music, or Harlem is just a neighborhood. These things were birthed from black people and became what they are because of black people. Denying that heritage while gaining fame or money from it is appropriation, NOT appreciation.
I see it happening in the plus sized community now too. Being plus sized is being seen as more acceptable and “on trend”. Everyone wants to have a fat character and everyone is trying to make a movie about one. Online the plus size and body positive hashtags are filled to the brim with thin, straight sized people (usually white women) who are using the tags to gain likes and follows. And it really pisses me off.
The above influencer is NOT plus sized. She is thin, white, and blond. She is the ideal of beauty in most of the world, but she can not resist the delicious appropriation of our hashtag because she knows it boosts her engagement. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it enrages me. I don’t know why she and others like her can’t just leave us alone. They can’t allow the marginalized to have these small things like hashtags and online communities without digging into it with their spindly white fingers and devouring it to feed their own egos.
It happens to every marginalized community. The LGBTQIA+ community watches straight, white, Republican women from Minnesota screaming, “Yassss QUEEN!!”. White teenage boys from Florida scream rap lyrics and don’t even pause on the n-word or think twice about using it. Those same white boys launch abysmal rap careers and pay absolutely no homage to the black men and women who created rap and hip-hop. And on and on it goes. Latinx cultures experience it. Asian cultures experience it. Indian cultures experience it. Indigenous cultures experience it. Every single culture that isn’t inherently white or white centered will face varying levels of appropriation. And when they complain about it, they’re told it’s “just a hairstyle”.
If you’re white, I’m asking you as a fellow white person to STOP appropriating hashtags. I’d like you to look at your life and stop appropriating all cultures that are not your own (and YES, there is a difference between appropriating and appreciating, but that distinction is not for you to decide). But, in your online life, please stop this. Stop adding to the problem that is already out of control.
And if you’re thin, please don’t use the #plussize hashtag, and honestly, please rethink using the #bodypositive one too. That movement was created by fat, black women as a safe space and community for other fat women. I’m not saying thin people are incapable of having body issues and feeling hatred toward their bodies (I did when I was straight sized), but your hatred of your body doesn’t stop you from getting jobs, getting paid the same amount as other women, or having access to success and opportunities.
Fat women are overlooked, underpaid, and still largely ignored and pushed aside in favor of their thin counterparts. Additionally, existing as a fat person means living with constant abuse online and in real life, sometimes with this abuse hurled at us by strangers and sometimes from our own family and friends. #PlusSize and #bodypositivity make us feel like we have a place where we belong and we can meet other fat people. Or disabled people. (Because disabled folks also use and need the #bodypositive hashtag.)
If you’re a thin, white, able-bodied person and you’re feeling anger boiling inside of you while you read this, I want you to understand I am not saying these things to hurt you. I am saying them to protect marginalized communities and because I love the people within them. Asking you to not use just TWO hashtags isn’t taking anything away from you. Not really. But, when you use them it DOES take something away from us. I hope you can understand that.
I love my fat sisters. I love the BIPOC in my life. I love my LGBTQIA+ community. I love the disabled communities. And I love you too, thin, white, able-bodied person. I love a lot of thin, white, able-bodied people and I’m friends with a lot of thin, white, able-bodied people. But, I’m asking you, in love, to let marginalized communities have their hashtags. It’s such a small thing for you to lose, but such a big thing when they lose them.