My Bag


My name is Jameela Jamil. Welcome To I Weigh Community.

Two years ago we started an Instagram account to try to create a safe and radically inclusive space on social media. A lot of us want to help others and change the world for the better, but don’t know where to start.

Activism can seem daunting. Sometimes it’s just hard and lonely. At I Weigh Community, we don’t believe it has to be that way. We believe in brick-by-brick activism, and making a difference in large numbers. We’re going to have to come together and do this as one to really shift the narrative of our society.

I Weigh Community will introduce you to new voices, artists, activists and movements. These are the people we believe we need to listen to. We are still learning, and we’re inviting you to come and learn alongside us so we can all grow together. It’s never too late to want to help and understand each other better.

This movement is so important to me, and I look forward to getting to know you all.

Jam x

(Note: Contains discussions of weight gain, weight loss, anti-Blackness and, briefly, intimate partner violence.)

I suppose my being put on Paxil is as good a place to start as any. It was my well-meaning psychiatrist’s response to my post-graduate clinical depression. A quarter-life crisis. I’d swallow a couple of pills and before I knew it, I was floating with the clouds. I’d lay on my bed, fully clothed, blissfully making snow angels in my comforter.

Then the doctor was like, “This prescription is too strong for you.”

I was switched to Wellbutrin. On Paxil the sky was the limit. On Buty, the floor was the floor. I didn’t slide down into the depths of hell. I did not wake up only to take another sleeping pill so I could go back to sleep. I didn’t wonder if it would look suspicious to pop over to Ace Hardware on San Pablo and pick up a couple razor blades. I didn’t fantasize that I might know the exact second in which I might be able to let go. Let my lids fall for their final curtain. Head bowed, chin touching my chest in triumph as the tepid water turned the same color we use to celebrate the birth of our little girls. The circle of life. 

On Buty I was just alive. Not animated. Not pressed to take life. Just alive.

But on Buty, I gained something in addition to the will to live: a real appetite. Buty, it seemed, altered my sense of satiation as it course-corrected my hormones. At the time, I was working as a researcher for a HIV clinic with an attached needle exchange. We kept a bounty of sweet snacks, since sugar is a vice deemed lesser than (but a salve for) heroin addiction. Every day for lunch, I’d order a soul food plate or a full-works chicken burrito. This would be followed by a mid-afternoon brownie, or if I was feeling fancy, some peach cobbler. I gained 25 pounds. This was 25 pounds on top of the Freshman 15. So, at the age of 22, I weighed 40 pounds more than I had at the age of 18.

In many respects I thought I looked fucking amazing. This was the boon. I’d always been a relatively slender person. On the one hand that had made me feel like I wasn’t too far away from being a fashion model, and so I didn’t fall outside the mainstream norms of beauty and thus respectability for a young woman. On the other, I knew full well that where I came from, being thin was not where it was at. Add my deep brown skin and thick, kinky hair to the equation and I could be pretty sure growing up that the boys I knew were going to look right through me, searching for stacked girls with longer, straighter hair and lighter skin.  

But owing to Wellbutrin, I’d reached a size 10. That black male catnip. At the time I had my shoulder-length hair in a perm, and my newly D-cup breasts smashed into a too small bra. I never had so many black men tryna holla at me. One tracked me down on the street, breathless, just to tell me how beautiful I was. It was the sexual validation I’d always hoped for.

Still, I did struggle internally at times about being thicc. I had inadvertently traded the thumbs up from the largely white mainstream, for more likes from cis-het men of color. It’s the no-win Faustian deal that underlies women’s desire to meet the standards of our own objectification.

Around that same time, I was training for a triathlon. I was working out in a team of men and women for 6-7 hours per week—not to mention my solo runs. One of the white women I was training with once told me, “you have such a pretty face, if you could just…” she trailed off.

I knew what she was getting at. If I could just lose weight. Then I’d be a real knockout.

I was trapped between two worlds. Back at work, more than once, I was caught standing in front of the office window that projected a slenderizing image, trying to convince myself that this was the real me. More than once the black man whose office was just beyond the glass poked his head out, concerned. He never said anything, probably because he had no idea what the hell I was doing. And anyway, I was working in an environment in which everybody could be labeled thicc and thiccer. This meant that for the most part, nobody really said anything. 

Until Sheryl did. Sheryl was a black woman in her late 40s who had the kind of ass you could place a cup on. One day, Sheryl was in the kitchen when I was getting my routine 3pm brownie. She lowered her head reproachfully, shaking it just so. She lifted her eyes and said, “Girl, if you get annnyyy bigger.” She pursed her lips. 

In addition to having a shelf ass, Sheryl was heavier than me. Her thiccness was, without a doubt, a source of pride. That, and the fact that she had a reputation for being able to burn in the kitchen, meant that she was real popular with the menfolk.

I said,“What?” Her reply was smooth. “You heard me.” She grabbed her own snack, before turning to walk out of the kitchen.

It was a small comment, stated without preamble or follow up. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wrap my mind around how someone thiccer than me had got it into their head that it was a good idea to go in on body shaming. (It’s like when one Black person says to another, “Damn, you Black!” like it’s an insult.) Maybe everyone had silently seen me gain this 25 pounds and Sheryl thought she might step in and say something before things got out of hand. Before I got “too big.”


In my book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, and other writings, I describe how fatphobia in the West finds its roots in anti-blackness. Since at least the 18th century, white philosophers and race scientists had been convinced that Black people were excessively “sensual.” Black Africans, they claimed, were addicted to gratifying their sexual and oral appetites. As a result, they asserted, Black people tended to be “too fat.”

This, of course, does not answer the question of what Black people thought of fatness historically, and especially fat Black women. I conducted a separate study of this (forthcoming). It turns out that in the major Black publications from the early 19th to early 20th centuries, very little discussion of thicc, fat or thin women appeared. When it did, it was usually positive.

That blew me away. I could not find the roots of the African American preference for thicc physiques, and (frequent) ridicule or disdain for fat and skinny bodies. It didn’t make these preferences any less real, of course. They didn’t simply jump, fully formed, out of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s mouth or The Commodore’s musical instruments.*

Still, I didn’t need to consult the historical record to understand all that I needed to know about the here and now. Nobody needed to tell me that “thicc” was good, and that “fat” and “thin” were not as good among the Black folks I knew growing up.

If folks in the neighbourhood weren’t up to the task, there were plenty of media representations to remind me: Thicc over fat and thin.

There were all the slim-thicc video vixens from every rap song you’ve ever seen. Do I even need to tell you about Baby Got Back? How the foil for Black women who were “little in the middle but got much back” were a series of anorexic-looking white women? I also remembered watching one of Martin Lawrence’s comedy specials from back in the day, as he describes how sexy it was for his girl to have gained five pounds, and how turned off he was when she gained 75 pounds.

So when Sheryl warned me not to get “annnyyy bigger”, we both knew what collective knowledge she was calling on.

It was around this time that I met the two women, one Black, one Latina, who both refused to take their HIV meds for fear of gaining weight. In my memory, my interviews with these two women put a fine point on questions my grandmother had been asking about white women’s dieting habits. Why were they starving themselves? But I suppose neither she nor I had spent too much time reflecting on the fact that even in Black communities, there’s typically still a weight hierarchy. Voluptuous women with tig-o-bitties, geto booties, thick thighs and tiny waists are at the top. Sheryl was at the top. But temporarily thicc women like myself, who dared rapidly gain weight, were at risk of hopscotching from thicc to fat. And once you were fat, you could be subject to ridicule by folks of all races.

I eventually stopped taking the Wellbutrin. Not because I stopped being prescribed it, but because I didn’t want to continue to be dependent on a medication for my happiness—or so I told myself. The 25 pounds came off as quickly as I had put them on. I moved to southern California for graduate school. Fell in love with a man of color who admired my athletic figure and was not afraid of my dark skin and my Afrocentric hair-styles.

He told me he was big into the “India Arie” look.

How rare for me to hear such a thing from a man of color. In my experience the internalized preference for light skin and straight hair meant they were, like the Black nationalist author of Soul on Ice, searching for a woman who wasn’t, or at least didn’t mostly look too Black. This is the strange half-life of anti-blackness. It spends half of its radioactive existence pummeling through white spaces. Eventually, insidiously, the poison seeps into communities of color.

It meant so much that a man desired my Black self as I was that I remained mesmerized by him despite some obvious fucked-uppedness. I hung around until the day he grabbed me by the collar, lifting me off my feet and hauling me down the hallway and into the living room, in a nearly successful attempt to drag me out of my own home. Whereas, I had not auditioned to be part of the Madea franchise.

I walked away from that situationship. I found yoga, rediscovered meditation. I lost a further 15 pounds without trying or, I might add, wanting to. 

(Elna Baker already told you, this is when white men take note.

I started seeing a Black woman therapist. She was able to help me understand the root cause of my feelings of worthlessness—and they weren’t owing to an absence of male sexual objectification. Yoga, meditation, and therapy did a better job of helping me find joy than Buty. I was no longer depressed. I made peace with my own body. I fell in love with myself.

Many Black scholars before me have lamented the difficulty of piecing together aspects of Black history that were lost during slavery. Given the patchwork nature of Black archives, finding even basic information about how we got to this moment proves a challenge.




  • Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is Associate. Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. A certified yoga teacher, her work on yoga has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Yoga International, and LA Yoga. Sabrina is also an award-winning author with publications in diverse venues including, Ethnic and Racial Studies; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and Feminist Media Studies. Her bestselling book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019), was recently re-released as an audiobook and is available on Audible, iTunes, and Google Play.

    Stay up to date on her latest writings, travel and speaking engagements at

    Photo Credit: Steve Zylius

  • Taylor McManus is an illustrator, surface designer, and educator from the Northern Virginia area. Her artwork mainly focuses on lifestyle, and she draws inspiration from fashion, photography, social media, food, and culture. She expresses her point of view through stylish characters, bright colors, and fun patterns. Follow her on Instagram or see more of her work on her website.

    Photo Credit: courtesy of Taylor McManus