I came to Femme through Fat and Black; through freshly pressed hair sweat out in a dream about the girl with cherry lips and matching barrettes; through long brown Shirley Temple curls, white gloves, and look-up-her-skirt patent leather shoes during church services. The choir director gave me knowing winks. And, my pink dress was bought from Morrell’s, a store for husky little girls who wanted to be beauty queens.
I came to Femme as sustenance through my first diet in the fifth grade. Where tuna fish and cottage cheese starved my 10-year-old body down from 167 to 135, still too Fat for my barely 5’0″ frame, but thin enough for black stirrup pants, a green and yellow argyle sweater, and matching socks from The Gap. The sweater was just large enough to cover my womanly hips and rounded breasts, too shy for a bra. The Gap was just cool enough for my white friends to give me a pass into their sleepovers and pool parties, though fears of wet kinky hair and my baby fat booty kept my feet dangling in the shallow end.
I came to Femme for nurturing amidst my Mother’s exclamations that she didn’t know how something so big could have come out of Her. My mother is as beautiful as she is vain and didn’t take kindly to the attention garnered by my already-luscious thighs peeking through the threads of my baggy cutoffs. Public humiliation was my punishment for “making” men older than my daddy lick their lips at me and whisper words I didn’t understand. “Hussy” daggers bolted from her eyes, while admonishments about the nasty wants of men hissed through her clenched teeth. Twenty years later, Mother asks me why all her “light-skinned” children hate her, as if the distance between us is merely a matter of pigment and my feelings for her as uncomplicated as “hate.”
I came to Femme for armor through middle school games of derisive dodge ball, where the ball hurled slurs like Fat, Ugly, Nigger, and Faggot, and I ducked and darted with good grades, trendy clothes, and year-long obsessions with white boys. Our dates were limited to the phone, which I cradled like a first love. While the boys bounced their balls for giggling blue eyes, I learned to keep my silence. After all, in dodge ball, Fat, Black girls are easy targets.
I came to Femme for esteem when my D-cups refused to fit primly into my size 14 eighth-grade dance dress—periwinkle flowers that matched with silver ballet flats. And when I realized that the pencils that the white boys dropped were specifically meant for me to bend over and pick up, I was humiliated . . . and flattered . . . and humiliated again. . . .
I came to Femme for dignity because I was not white, or blond, and certainly not petite. My nemesis, Heather, was all of these. I picked her orchid corsage to match her violet dress and offset her green eyes. Even in hatred, I still have impeccable taste. We had the same homecoming date, one week apart. I don’t know who helped him pick out my corsage—probably his mom. It was a bruised white carnation. He was my first love. Heather was his.
I came to Femme laughing in red platform shoes, a tight sweater, and a lime green miniskirt—my campaign outfit to get my name on the prom queen ballot. I was an outcast among sun-bleached cheerleaders and skinny social-climbers. Some might call me the dark horse. But my life isn’t a movie so I lost the big title and never got my Carrie-esque vengeance. A leftover ballot hangs on my bedroom wall, its frame decorated with flames and devil’s horns—The Anti-Queen.
I came to Femme for a happy ending when I failed at slitting my wrists. In college, I camped in the library and combed fairy tales, looking for the stories that Disney forgot. In the real Cinderella, her ugly step-sisters cut off their toes in order to squeeze into the glass slipper. Understandable, I think, for a chance at happily-ever-after, or at least an end to being designated “The Ugly One.”
I came to Femme in girl-drag practicing my supermodel strut, fierce in my tight red dress. RuPaul told me to “Werk!” my 235-pound body before blessing me with a kiss on the cheek. Drag queen kisses are like holy water, and Mother Ru baptized me.
I came to Femme for graduation after passing everything else, but failing assimilation. At 5’9″ and 240 pounds, it is pretty hard to assimilate into anything. And when normalcy has been airbrushed, Femme gave me the makeup to be something else. Gold glitter glistens on my tan back Fat, and no one can wear teal eye shadow like a brown-eyed girl.
I came to Femme as defiance through a big booty that declined to be tucked under; through bountiful breasts that refused to hide; through insolent hair that can kink, and curl, and bead up, and lay straight all in one day; through my golden skin, against her caramel skin, against her chocolate skin, against her creamy skin; through rainbows of sweaters, dresses, and shoes; through my insubordinate body, defying subordination, incapable of assimilation, and tired, so tired of degradation; through flesh and curves and chafed thighs, which learned from my grandma how Johnson’s Baby Powder can cure the chub rub; through Toni Morrison and Nella Larsen and Audre Lorde, and Jewelle Gomez who, sometimes unwittingly, captured volumes of Black Femme lessons in their words; through Billie Holiday who wore white gardenias while battling her inner darkness; through my gay boyfriend who hummed show tunes and knew all the lyrics to “Baby Got Back,” which he sang to me with genuine admiration; through shedding shame instead of shedding pounds; and through learning that growing comfortable in my skin means finding comfort in her brownness.
I came to Femme through FAT—where hunger becomes ravenous—and BLACK—where darkness meets danger. And with the click-clack of metallic heels and a not-so-little black dress, in Femme, I arrive.
by Sydney Lewis
This is part two of our five part series: essays from Hot & Heavy edited by Virgie Tovar and published by Seal Press. Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion is a collection of 31 incredible stories written by fierce fat women. It is an unapologetic call to arms and an ode to liberation and love.
What is Femme? Femme takes heteropatriarchal femininity and queers it – fucks with it (sometimes literally), turning it into a threatening parody of itself. In order to realize its parodic threat, Femme must be a trickster — constantly shifting, glamouring, dancing – the magician and her lovely assistant.