Colorism and Sizeism Affect Black Women in Media, too

By Kiana Stevenson 

NABJ Monitor

“My life experience has been so different from other people’s life experience.” 

Demetria Mosley, a creative communications and marketing strategist, says she has been plus-sized for her entire life and in addition to racism as a Black woman, has constantly experienced anti-fatness as a journalist.

Demetria Mosley

She’s not the only Black woman journalist who deals with more than racism. Many deal with discrimination based on their weight and complexion as well. 

While reporting for a publication in the past, Mosley noticed her boss was treating her differently than the non-Black, thinner people in her newsroom, she said. Mosley, who is confident that she completes her job responsibilities well, concluded that his perception of her as lazy and the mistreatment that followed was either due to her race or her weight.

“Why in the world would think I was lazy?” said Mosley. “It had nothing to do with like, was I not interviewing people? Was I not writing? No, it was just this concept that…I was being lazy and didn’t want to do things.”

Demetria Mosley, creative communications and Marketing strategist

Mosley recognized the anti-fat bias, but experts say the misuse of the term “fatphobia” is harmful and can lead to confusion.

Anti-fatness is most often labeled as fatphobia, a fear of fatness. It can also be called sizeism, defined by Merriam-Webster as “discrimination or prejudice directed against people because of their size and especially because of their weight,” or “fatmisia,” a recently coined term that calls out the bigotry and hatred projected through anti-fat bias.

“People don’t realize how ingrained that fatphobia is,” said Mosley. And so I can just talk to another fat person and they will know exactly what I’m talking about, and a smaller person will be like, ‘Huh, I never thought about it like that.’”

In the journalism and media industry, appearance can play a role in the trajectory of careers and the reputation journalists carry in the industry. Reporter, producer and “Queen of Commentary” Danielle Young finds fault in this approach.

“It becomes more about the fact that you’re fat than talent, than you’re doing amazing, than you’re a really great journalist,” said Young. “Let me just be what I am, right without you having to qualify it because I’m outside of whatever norm you think exists.”

Danielle Young, Reporter, producer and Queen of Commentary

Young says she has never been explicitly told her weight was an issue while working in media, but she presumes it has affected her success in some way. Still, she is reluctant to label the industry fatphobic, especially as it has been previously defined.

“It’s not a fear,” said Young. “It’s a dislike. It’s a personal idea, like it’s somebody’s personal thoughts or feelings of my unworthiness.”

For Sapphira Martin, a content writer, podcast producer and choreographer, the contrast became more noticeable when she lost weight. 

“As I got older and was working, you know, I gained weight because of personal reasons,” said Martin. “I just have noticed in the last two years since I have lost that weight how people have treated me differently, respond to even something as simple as my Instagram posts differently than when I was a heavier person.”

According to Martin, she was never mistreated due to her weight because she worked in spaces that specifically celebrated Black women’s bodies and beauty. But, she does believe the media tend to display one type of woman colorism. 

Martin explains this favored look is a result of companies’ disregard for Black consumers. She states audiences are believed to relate to racially ambiguous women more, and those connections are more profitable. 

“I’ve just seen different things over the years, even in working in radio,” said Martin on the impact of colorism. “Seeing who’s on the air as opposed to who’s not on the air, lighter-skinned girl is the face of the company as opposed to the brown-skinned girl is working behind the scenes and working the boards, but she has the same talent.”

Combating Colorism

Dr. Nicola Corbin

In 2012, Weber State University Associate Professor Dr. Nicola Corbin researched colorism to properly define the term in “The Publicness of the Private: Articulations of Colorism in Popular Media.”

“Its intra-race discrimination based on the shade of one’s skin, the person’s hair texture and the kinds of features that the person has,” said Corbin. “[With] better benefits or advantages allowed to the people whose features, skin color appear more European and lesser to those who appear more traditionally African as we conceptualize those ideas.”

These norms have implicitly determined every aspect of Americans’ life including relationships, accessibility, wages and rights.

“Shame is a marketing tool. Shame is the way to keep people in check,” said Mosley. “It just keeps people in a space of not being able to have complete, abundant liberation because we’re all in scarcity, because we think that we’re lacking something… If everybody felt free and happy about themselves, then who can make money? Who can profit?”

To broaden the mold, Mosley proposes media starts with prioritizing representation.

“I think it’s very important also for there to be more darker-skinned fat people in media to really rewrite those negative stereotypes that people think of dark-skinned people plus fat people,” said Mosley. “I know someone that has darker skin than me is definitely discriminated [against] more as a fat person than me, a light skin, fat person.”

Corbin says a way to combat colorism and anti-fatness in media rooms is simply fostering conversations. 

“I think what you do is equip the next set of folks with the tools to keep interrogating, keep pulling it apart, pulling out a conversation,” said Corbin. “Because in the daylight, we can plainly see how things sometimes get really essentialized and just naturalized as the way they always are and should be… Not so much. Let’s see how foolish this looks in the daylight.”

Young says at the end of the day women simply need to keep going and believing in themselves and accept what makes each human different, as these are the tools one has been given to fulfill their individual destiny.

“It certainly is a whole lot of stuff that we have that’s a part of who we are in this world, and I think just knowing that… you’re good enough, especially if you’re striving to be great,” said Young. “And that greatness does not only exist in one type of body, one type of person. That greatness exists everywhere.”

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