If So Many Caribbean Women Are Dark-Skinned And/Or Plus-Sized, Why Aren't We Represented In Media?
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Remember that Scandal episode when Eli Pope told Olivia, "you have to be twice as good as them, to get half of what they get?"
That discussion was related to Olivia's experience as a Black woman in a world that prioritizes and rewards White people for half the effort. A lot of Black people live that experience. A lot of us can relate. Today, I'm thinking of that quote in relation to plus size and/or darker-skinned women in the Caribbean (...and the world for that matter.)
In a world where women like Lizzo and Lupita Nyong'o are finally finding mainstream success and admiration, people may want to comfort themselves by believing that we finally live in a truly body-positive society. It's true that we have made progress (mostly as a result of activism by Black women) but it's still an every day struggle for those of us who live in these bodies. In the Caribbean most women are considered plus-sized (68% of American women wear a size 14 or above.) Even more women have darker skin complexions. It's not uncommon for Caribbean people to see plus-size women, dark-skinned women, or women who can be described as both in our every day lives.
You would think that as much as we see these women in our communities that we'd see them in tourism and carnival advertisements or reposted on popular social media pages that claim to celebrate the "beauty" of Caribbean women. Turns out we don't.
Many of us have experienced carnival first-hand and are used to seeing plus size women coming down the road in elaborate costumes; smiling, happy, confident, and "wukkin up" without a care in the world.
Yet when local carnival troupes/bands release their promotional photos for their annual costumes the models tend to reflect a more slender image; one that promotes the idea of the stereotypical "perfect" body with no cellulite, overlap or thigh-touch to be found.
When local tourism advertisements come out, we see dark-skinned men accompanied by racially ambiguous women. Other times we see White couples frolicking on horse-back and living-la-vida-island. While those women are without-a-doubt beautiful, it makes a lot of us wonder where the dark-skinned women we know and love were when these casting calls happened. Why is the projected image one that insinuates that Caribbean women can't be plus-size or of darker complexion?
When I post a picture people like, a challenge, or a project I'm working on I tag a lot of the same pages that people in my niche do. When I wear a local company's clothing I tag them; every time. The influencers from back home that I follow do the same, and I often see their photos reposted on that brand's main feed. I even see pictures of them reposted on the feeds of other pages that celebrate Caribbean or USVI bloggers/influencers/women.
My pictures are shared sometimes - on Instagram stories. I get a quick 24-hour repost and then I disappear. Or (if I'm lucky enough) the brand will like my picture and then move on. No matter how good the picture is. No matter how many times I wear that brand's clothing and share it with my followers. No matter how many likes the photo gets or how big following is. I get minimal effort.
The other day a popular page back home posted a challenge I'm hosting for the month of October on their feed. The challenge is about celebrating madras fabric, a staple in our culture. They messaged me ahead of time to let me know that they would be sharing with their followers because they thought the challenge was great. I was very excited about it because this page is popular with Virgin Islanders. I was excited about both my challenge and my personal page getting some exposure for my work. Then the post went up, and it wasn't me.
The page opted to use a popular model from back home who happened to be wearing madras. There were other pictures included, one of which was me in a madras head wrap.
Don't get me wrong, I am grateful that this page even chose to repost my challenge. I am grateful that I was still included in the group of pictures they chose to use, but I was still hurt that of all the pictures they chose to be the cover of that story - the person who created the challenge in the first place wasn't the obvious choice to use. If this was an isolated incident I would have brushed it off and not allowed it to hurt my feelings; but this was one of many incidents where despite how hard I've worked at something I am never the choice for promotion. A thinner woman is.
I write this post not to complain or list my grievances, but to hopefully get others to question why things are the way that they are. Why are dark-skinned women non-existent in Department of Tourism advertisements?
Why do carnival troupes avoid using plus size women to promote costumes that plus size women buy? Why are there no plus size or dark-skinned women on Instagram pages like Caribbean Beauties?
If women like us are so common and supposedly celebrated - then where are the celebrations?