We Need To Stop Sexualizing And Policing Women Who Have Curvy Bodies
Patrice Brown, a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta who is known for being at the center of the hashtag #TeacherBae, is being criticized in the media — not for her body of work, but rather her body at work. Specifically people are calling Brown's wardrobe “unacceptable” and too “sexy.”
First off, though her clothes themselves should be irrelevant to her job performance, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Brown’s work attire. A quick look at her Instagram page reveals that Brown’s typical dress seems like it would hold up to any standard dress code. She wears skirts and dresses that are knee-length and high-necked, usually paired with flats or heels, and sometimes a work blazer. In every photo taken of her at school, her neckline is above her collarbone and her sleeves cover her shoulders. Although Brown did wear jeans in her classroom once, which is against the Atlanta Board of Education dress code policy, her dress attire did not meet any of the other “unacceptable” standards.
But, of course, the issue here is much bigger than Brown’s clothing itself. This criticism points to the way black women’s bodies have historically been disproportionately objectified and sexualized. When Nicki Minaj released her music video “Anaconda,” only sporting Air Jordans and a bubble-gum pink G-string/sports bra combo, the up-and-coming artist was accused of “failing her potential as a strong female role model.” Artists like Minaj, Beyoncé, Lil Kim, and so many more, have been objectified and scrutinized for their curvy bodies. Far too often, black women artists are policed for presenting their own bodies the way they see fit and are dismissed as failed role models.
This phenomenon has longstanding roots. Perhaps most notoriously, Saartje Baartman (also known as “the Hottentot Venus”) was enslaved 200 years ago and forced to parade around Europe in so-called “freak shows” so that people could laugh at her and sexualize her curvy body. And if black women weren't blatantly sexualized, they were in effect by being relegated to a reproductive role. The “Mammy” stereotype has been perpetuated throughout American culture for centuries as well . The most popular image that has most recently circulated is likely Aunt Jemima — a heavyset black women wearing an apron and bandana, who is depicted as an enslaved women who worked in the house instead of the fields.
While women of color are undeniably disproportionately targeted for their bodies, this experience is also arguably generalizable to all women (albeit to different degrees). Even as a white woman, there were times throughout high school when I realized that having a curvier body than other girls often meant I felt uniquely ashamed for wearing a dress or skirt because of the way my waist, hips, and thighs firmly hugged the articles of clothing. At times, my appearance held me back from experimenting with my own wardrobe or ever feeling comfortable in my own skin. To this day, I’m still stared at in public when I wear something as innocuous as a casual sundress: I'm often automatically deemed “inappropriate” by older men and women and criticized for my body type, as if I somehow had control over my curves and could do something about them. Even though my curves are a natural byproduct of my biology, I’m made to feel it’s my fault that they happen to make me look “sexy” or “inappropriate” by sexist, mainstream beauty standards.
Ultimately, Brown’s experience should serve as a reminder that even though society still sexualizes and shames curvy women, this treatment is never their fault. Instead of focusing on Brown’s teaching ability and the fact that she just won an Educator of the Month Award, the focus has been on her body type. Rather than celebrate her success we yet again took a chance to police a black woman’s body.
As Brown herself put it, “I just wish they would respect me and focus on the positive and what truly matters — which is educating the children of the future generations and providing and caring for them.”
More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Media, Misogyny, Race/Ethnicity
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Discrimination, Music, Sexuality, Women of color, Social media, Television, Sexism