I don’t follow tennis except for when I get news updates about Venus and/or Serena Williams whooping someone’s ass. I didn’t know who Caroline Wozniacki was until the stunt she pulled heard ‘round the internets. I was so annoyed by it that I tweeted her.
“You’re an idiot, and you only wish you had a body like Serena Williams,” I typed. Then I went on a rant where I called her a “flapjack ass having tennis playing yamp.” At the time, I didn’t realize that it’s not uncommon for tennis players—primarily the men—to mock each other and that Serena Williams and Wozniacki are allegedly friends.
It’s not usually my style to tweet my irritation at people but after doing some self-reflection and watching The View—where Whoopi Goldberg pointed out that Serena gets made fun of a lot by other players, even the men—I realized that Wozniacki’s stunt triggered something personal. I could theorize about the Venus Hottentot effect and the idea that curvy bodies—traditionally possessed by women of African decent—are historically rarely praised as beautiful. Curves are exotic hyper-sexualized things to conquer and tame—but not attached to an actual woman one would be seen with in public. I digress.
I am a woman who has been very well developed since I was 11 and I still struggle with self-acceptance.
I’m happy with myself, for the most part (I wish my boobs were a lot smaller), but I literally went from pudgy kid to va va voom over night. That was traumatic. I was an A cup right before heading to 6th grade. By the end of that year, I was a big C. I didn’t notice at first until one day (still in grade 6), some loser kid—even at that age he was a hoodlum—walked past me in the hallway as I stood in line with my class and yelled, “DAYUM! She got some big ass titties!” My teacher, a man, ignored it and everyone else laughed. I was mortified then but eventually got desensitized, as it’s now a phrase I’ve grown accustomed to several years later—because people are primates, and I don’t mean that scientifically. It doesn’t annoy me any less when I hear it but I’ve learned to not act on the urge to punch people in the face, or go into a profanity-laced rage behind it.
It wasn’t just the boys who noticed, it was grown men too. One time at about age 16, I was with my dance school rehearsing for our recital at Avery Fisher Hall. I walked past the “Boys Tap” class right as they were about to go into a pre-rehearsal huddle in their dressing room. There was no other route I could take to get to stage left so, as I walked past, the grunts, groans, snickers and giggles in reference to my body (it happened so much that I could translate every sound) began, and I sucked my teeth huffed and sped up but stomped to get my “Fuck you” across. And then, one of the boys said, “Shut up big things!” They all guffawed—including their teacher, an adult man who I had a crush on. I then heard said teacher say, “Watch, all of that is gonna be down to here in a few years.” My crush was immediately vanquished and I stormed back in and said, “Why would you let them talk to me like that and join in as a grownup?” His response was, “I can’t control them,” along with a shrug—before Kanye shrugging willful ignorance was cool.
My teenaged self didn’t know what else to say. I wanted to attack him because I didn’t have the rationale to point out that he was a loser tap teacher who was the back up Sand Man at the Apollo, and that he was behaving inappropriately toward a minor girl while encouraging boys to grow up thinking disrespecting women is ok. Anyway, by the grace of God and my ancestors, I didn’t pounce and rip his locs out. I fought back the tears and continued to my wing so that I wouldn’t miss my cue. This is the first time I shared that story.
But the men weren’t the worst. I remember being teased and given grief because “I thought I was all that because I had a big chest,” or being called a duck and watching kids trying to arch their backs in a way…I don’t have to explain that one, right?
Interestingly enough, I’ve come across a lot of the girls who picked on me or made snide comments about my body growing up, in recent years. Guess what? They’re either morbidly obese and delusional, telling themselves that they’re “thick” or curvaceous, or actually got surgery to get those parts they ridiculed me for (this one is rare, but I’ve seen it a good amount of times).
There’s only one woman—let’s call her Megan—that I’ll probably never see again but I remember her like we just had our rift yesterday. This incident was my real life, “Oh. My. God, Becky. Look. At. Her. Butt.” Actually, it was one of many but the most memorable.
I was probably about 15 and in summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains. I was with a group of girls headed to some activity that I don’t remember. I was a few steps ahead of the group as we approached our destination and that’s when I heard Megan—a white girl—mutter, “Her ass is…huge.” Initially, I didn’t realize she was talking about me because there was so much disdain in her voice, and considering that I was from Harlem, I didn’t connect having a “huge ass” with being negative. Megan repeated it to her flunky who replied, “I know right” and that’s when my friend, *Lisa, a girl from my neighborhood in Harlem who was still in her pudgy phase jumped to my defense, “Why you talking shit about her butt for!” She snapped.
I turned around and said, “What?” There was bass in my voice because I wasn’t about to get punked. Megan wasn’t going to back down either.
“I can see your butt through your shirt. That’s crazy.” She said.
I was wearing a baggy t-shirt but not all of me wanted to be hidden, I suppose.
“So…then don’t look at it, flapjack ass!” I retorted. Lisa laughed uncontrollably and then another black girl from Boston joined us (the camp was an affluent place made up of a predominately white body of girls, you get where I’m going) to see what the hubbub was all about.
“What happened?” She asked.
“Megan was talking shit about my butt being big, like that’s a bad thing!”
“So! Who doesn’t want a big butt? Flat asses are white people shit,” said Boston—albeit crude, she had a point at the time considering where we were from. That was before big butts or any kind of curves were en vogue in the mainstream.
Megan was confused because she was known for being the dominant rabble-rouser until she crossed paths with the rough black girls from the hood with alien values. But her version of starting shit was rookie-ville compared to the things my girlfriends and I had seen in our respective neighborhoods at home. *Side bar: Megan also once told me that New York City was a “homie G town” and that she was never allowed to visit, and on another occasion, she had the nerve to ask me why black people were so violent after Boston slapped her friend who had provoked the attack by spitting on Boston, accusing her of theft (the object in question was eventually found because it had been left in an obvious place), and spraying bug spray in her face—that’s another story.
Now that the tables were turned, Megan’s flunky got perplexed but also curious.
“Having a big butt is…good? Would I get teased?” She turned around and bent over. Dead serious.
My girlfriends and I, who were of course the ambassadors for all black girls, explained that in black culture, being curvy is lauded—for the most part (*Cues Sir Mix-A-Lot). We then explained that they would all get teased in our respective neighborhoods for suffering from “n’assatall.” At this point, we were all gathered outside, waiting for the rest of the group to gather but a few other girls who wandered over had gotten wind of the conversation. They were so fascinated by the notion of thickness that they started taking turns asking us if they’d pass the ass test where we lived.
My friends and I were so amused by this that we reveled in the fact that we had turned the tables on bitchy comments meant to ridicule.
Today, curves are a lot more mainstream but then you still have ignorance like what Miss Wozniacki displayed. It was a silly and insensitive thing to do even if she didn’t mean to be insensitive, but bashing her isn’t the solution. Education is a better tool. If she and Serena Williams are really friends, hopefully Serena will explain the struggle (provided she even understands it herself). On my end, I might share more stories about my struggles as a voluptuous girl in a state of shell-shock because I developed so fast.
In other news, I think everyone can be beautiful if they embrace their light, as cliché as that sounds. However, we let other people’s insecurities and ignorance ruin our shine. People project their own issues on to us by teasing us for being too fat or too skinny or being shaped like a duck, and then we believe it and wish we were more [insert desire here] or we take out our frustrations by harassing someone else, because we want to highlight their short-comings in order to feel better about ourselves. It’s a shitty cycle.
I fought back most of the time whenever people said something smart-ass or snippy or perverted about my body, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. If I ever have a daughter who takes after me physically, as I took after the women in my family, then I’ll teach her to fight back too but also that it’s okay to cry about it as long as she develops enough comfort with herself to realize what the real underlying issues are.
Until then, middle finger to those who can’t get with this and a Destiny’s Child salute.