Clarkisha Kent’s “Fat Off, Fat On” asks tough questions

Most of us know you Clarkisha Kent from social media.

Over the years and in 280 characters, the Nigerian-American cultural critic and writer’s Twitter fingers have fiercely and unabashedly invoked racism, colourism, fatphobia and basically anyone who refuses to be on the right side of history. Even better? She does it with unmatched sharp humor that can literally eviscerate anyone who tries. (Who can ever forget that iconic Groupon Peen?)

But in her new memoir “Fat off, fat on: A Big Bitch Manifesto‘ Kent shows us another side. Yes, she weaves her beloved joke into every page. But she tempers it because her little-known origin story of coming from immigrant parents and growing up in the South in a dysfunctional and abusive family isn’t necessarily what jokes are made of. Instead, with each chapter we see how the intersections of race, class, religion, sexuality, gender and pop culture – for better or for worse – shaped the Clarkisha we see now.

at its core, Fat Off, Fat On asks tough questions about how women like her should navigate and fight back in a world—and a family—that seeks not to love, respect, and see them. Luckily, Kent reminds us that it’s more than possible to break the cycle of shame, silence, and internalized fat phobia, and most importantly, thrive.

Why was Fat Off, Fat On the memoir you wanted to write now?

To be honest, I wanted to write a Black Western first – and I will do so. [Laughs] But say hello to my agent Claire Draper at the Vent Agency, they wanted me to dip my toe into the publication by writing a memoir first. As a black woman and creator, it made sense to take this path because it would give me a head start in the industry and get my name out there as a writer. Yes, I’m young, but I’ve certainly experienced a lot in my life and it made sense to put it on paper. Now, am I worried about putting my whole business out there? Absolutely. [Laughs]

But that’s the strength of “Fat Off, Fat On”. You weren’t afraid to show us your business and be honest – even if that truth is ugly and at odds with who you are now.

I went into the writing process knowing that telling the truth was important because people lie in their memoirs and pretend they’ve always had perfect radical politics. We don’t come ‘woke up’ from the womb, right? And fuck the Republicans for trying to get Columbus to say that word. [Laughs] Our environment shapes some of our earliest worldviews. I grew up religious and very conservative. I knew I had to flaunt these parts of myself and show you that multiple versions of me existed before I got to the Clarkisha I am now. I had to show the evolution of my politics and how it’s been a long, long journey.

Kent is the author of Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto, a memoir that asks tough questions about how women like her should navigate and stand up to the world we live in today.

As Black people, many of us are brought up with cultural pressures not to “take our business to the streets.” Were you concerned about being so open with your family, especially about the abuse?

As a Nigerian-American, this pressure is definitely even more intense. [Laughs] I come from a secretive, secretive community, but I realized that silence never benefits the community or protects the harmed. It’s always about protecting the worst of us, like the pedophile uncle, the predatory pastor, or the abusive parent.

I wanted to reverse that in writing this book. When it comes to my family, you don’t deserve to be protected because you’re a shitty person, so I’m going to spill the beans. This raises awareness and reminds those who suffer in silence that this type of abuse is not uncommon. The point here is to break this cycle of silence and shame. You are not alone and it is possible to navigate through them and find your own way.

Recently, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in the way fatphobia has been used against black women online. How do you manage your safety and sanity on social media?

First of all, NONE of these men would talk to me like that. They only get courage when they go online. But whether they’re talking about me, Lizzo, or whoever, the fat phobia and colorism they spew falls under the umbrella of white supremacy. And white people aren’t the only ones doing this work. You can have the same complexion as me and still be the foot soldier of white supremacy.

My safety is in knowing that. This is about them and the systems that make them feel inadequate in their own lives. That’s your business, not mine. Yes it can hurt but nothing you can say will stop me personally or my bag and my romantic options. That part of desirability Really makes people angry. Men will still haunt me – the muscle heads and the skinny ones too. Lizzo is still loved by her husband. Fat black women are not miserable, isolated and dying alone as these podcasters and trolls keep telling you. Reality paints a different picture and we can never forget that.

As a queer black author, this is such an interesting and tumultuous time considering books similar to yours are banned across the country. Are you worried?

There’s always a little worry. i won’t lie Becoming a writer was a life goal for me, period. So it’s always very frustrating to see it come to fruition in the midst of major turmoil. But here’s what we do know: whether it’s the black community, the queer community, the disability community, and any overlap between those groups, they’ve always attacked us. Open or hidden. So we can’t stop working, living, and speaking our truth because Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has decided he wants to be on some shit. I – We – have to keep pushing through and keep fighting And win the good fight. That, and you can try to erase me, but I’ll still be black and gay… sooooooo…. what now? [Laughs]

What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself writing Fat Off, Fat On?

Using humor as a coping mechanism, which has halted my personal progress. It’s cool to be funny. I love being funny, cracking jokes and making people laugh. This is important because life sucks. But my use of humor got in the way of my healing and the path to some much-needed self-reflection. Writing the book made me know that I need to learn to balance that because if I do too much it will only end up hurting me.

Finally, while this book draws on past trauma, you end it with so much optimism and a promise to “honor” your body of whatever size. What does this promise include?

Honoring my body means understanding that my body houses everything that makes me who I am. And knowing that once my body is gone, it’s gone and nothing will tie me to this earth. Before that happens, I want to take care of it. Part of this is not taking in all the hatred from the outside world that can literally cut your mortality in half and destroy your body. That meant throwing away my scale and not getting tied to an arbitrary number. As a result, I had to repair my relationship with food and look at my history of eating disorders. Eating should be such a great thing. So why do we stigmatize and deny ourselves this great thing that sustains our bodies?

I’m also rethinking my attitude towards sport, which shouldn’t be about losing weight. It’s about stress relief, meditation and aligning with yourself, which can be spiritual. In this iteration, exercise strengthens your body, prolongs your mortality, and keeps your mind sharp. This earth can weigh you down and you should make sure your body is strong enough to withstand it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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