I hope you all are doing well. In this blog post, we’re going to be discussing Tressie McMillian Cottem’s book Thick.
Since her book did cover quite a bit we will only be focusing on a few chapters. Enjoy!
To start let’s talk a bit about the chapter “In The Name of Beauty”. In this chapter, she touched on the commodification of beauty and its distinct relations to whiteness. In a capitalistic society, beauty is a type of capital targeted primarily at women. The point she tries to drive through, though, is that beauty being a product of whiteness is upheld at the expense of nonwhite women (and especially black women) to maintain a system of oppression. When Cottem is talking about beauty she isn’t so much as describing physical appearance as she is discussing the systematic ways in which certain ideas are used to maintain prominent social hierarchies. The great lengths taken to convince women that beauty is achievable is sickening but unsurprising given the fact that there’s not much money to be made from telling women they’re ugly without at least proving a solution. She wrote on page 66, “White women need me to believe I can earn beauty, because when I want what I cannot have, what they have becomes even more valuable.” I thought that was such a powerful statement because it truly underscored why ideals of beauty are so important in our society. She talks about the freedom one receives from acknowledging that they are not the standard of beauty and how that recognition exposes the violence of using beauty as a means of social control. To understand your ranking among the standards, according to her, is to be free.
Another chapter that struck a chord in me was “Dying to Be Competent”. This chapter went into the atrocities that black women, specifically expecting mothers, face in the healthcare system. Her experience receiving care as she described it was horrific. Her discomfort and pain were minimized and her concerns invalidated. But what was truly unfortunate was how social position and status were of no use when the nurses and doctors saw her. It didn’t matter that she was a well-learned and accomplished scholar or that she spoke “well”, all they saw was incompetent and she was treated as such. Just imagine if people like her and even Serena Williams can be ignored and dismissed by medical professionals, how much harder must it be for less-privileged, poor black women to navigate the healthcare system. To be viewed as incompetent is to be de-valued, and stripped of any sense of human dignity. Cottem mentioned how the rates of Black mothers that die during childbirth in America are similar to those found in much much poorer countries. It’s insane to have such a high mortality rate in a country that views itself as a “city on a hill”. I think this chapter spoke to my fear of pregnancy but it also spoke to the gross realities of being a black woman in America.
Lastly, let’s talk about the chapter, “Black Girlhood, Interrupted”. In this chapter, she wrote about the perceptions of black girls/ black women and their sexuality. She discussed how the adultification and over-sexualization of black girls are extremely harmful and destructive. Desirability is mentioned for the role it plays in whether a woman is viewed as being a ho or not. This desirability as dictated by men makes them susceptible to immense violence. And as her cousin mentioned in this chapter, once you’re a ho you could never be a victim. Although Cottem didn’t discuss this very much in her book, I think it’s worthwhile to consider how the dynamics of victimhood collide with the way we understand toxic masculinity and the sexual exploitation of black women. This whole convo around victimhood also led me to think about how sex work is viewed and the little protection sex workers are given. We can even consider the way similar ideas manifest themselves in the outburst of violence that has been dealt upon black trans women.
I think ingrained in all of these chapters is a discussion around value: Who is valued in society? How is that value distributed? And how is it used to perpetuate greater inequalities among groups? All of these are questions that are vital to the way we move throughout this world.