“For Skinny Girls Who Considered Cornbread When Their Thickness Isn’t Enough” by Tatiana Richards Hanebutte
You are a skinny black girl.
You are belong to that rare breed of women whom rappers claim don’t exist: you wear a size zero, sometimes a three, and do not fit anyone’s definition of “thick.” That skirt you wore to your high school graduation? Still fits. You have never owned a girdle.
Other people might be accused of having
a ghetto booty,
a donkey butt,
Not you. You do not have the whole world in your pants. You hate Beyonce’–not because she’s beautiful, but because of that stupid Uh-Oh dance. You tried it once, and it looked like you were having a seizure.
You look nothing like your cousins, petite brown women who do not walk so much as glide, parting the air with a lazy Southern swish. When out with them, people wonder aloud if you are really related. Should you succeed in convincing them that you share common ancestors, they have no qualms about asking you, “What happened?” The pity in their eyes is real. You try to explain to them that nothing “happened”, you’ve just never been very big. “It’s genetic,” you say, this statement belied by the presence of your beautiful cousins. If you laid them out end to end, their curves would snake for miles like the Amazon River. Your interlocutors will not be convinced. “No,” they will insist. “You just must not like cornbread.”
It’s true. You have never liked cornbread. You often wonder, late into the night, if your distaste for cornmeal is indeed the cause of your condition. It’s not that you haven’t given it a fair chance: growing up in southern Alabama, two out of three meals at your house were served with cornbread on the side. Over the course of 23 years, you have ingested at least twenty pounds of it. And you’ve tried to like it, especially upon learning of the causal link between cornbread consumption and the waist-to-hips ratio. You tried everything to make it palatable, including coating it in butter and dusting it with sugar. It still tasted like sandpaper.
You know what you do like, though? Yogurt. That shit is delicious. You have an eight-pack of strawberry Yoplait in the fridge as we speak. You consider hiding it, as your mother and grandmother will be stopping by for their weekly visit any moment now. Neither of them has respect for yogurt; still, when they arrive, your mother, who loves you the way God made you, compliments you on your healthy habits. But your grandmother is old enough to admit that love is conditional and is urges you to buy some real food. She secretly blames your mother for not raising you right (who, it must be noted, was never fond of cooking. And who can blame her? Theirs was a cramped house with no air conditioning. Definitely no dishwasher. She vowed at an early age not to “be cooking no big, everyday meals for a house fulla chillun and some ungrateful nigga,” and damned if she didn’t follow through). Your grandmother surveys the contents of your freezer, nostrils flared, noting with shame your penchant for meals that can be cooked in under five minutes. Which, where she comes from, is not really food at all. She gives your kitchen a final shake of her head and reminds you to pick her up on time in the morning.
That’s right. The next day is your turn to take her grocery shopping. Your grandfather wouldn’t teach her how to drive, explaining that she didn’t need to go anywhere he couldn’t take her. She learned to agree with him. Now that he’s dead, however, he’s not taking her anywhere. So you and your cousins split the chauffeuring duties among yourselves. You try to avoid personal shopping on Granny Grocery days–it’s a common sense thing–but this Saturday you are comparing the prices of Canadian bacon when you feel her press something cold into your hands. It is a packet of ham hocks. “For the collard greens you need to be eating,” she says. You try to protest but are silenced when she glares down at your hips. They are small and insignificant next to hers, through which seven large children have passed. You take the meat.
Power walking with your best friend, measurements 36-24-36, you inquire as to the proper way to cook a pot of collards. You are ashamed to ask any of the women in your family, and rightfully so: this is one of those things in life that you should know by now. Thankfully, your best friend can cook collard greens. She can also make smothered pork chops, and black eyed peas, and cornbread, of course–even you can make that–though she is still working on her chitlins. Your grandmother is immensely proud to know her, while your cousins have adopted her as one of their own. She agrees to write out detailed instructions when a deep voice from a passing Caprice yells out “Ooh wee! Thicker than a Snickers!” You don’t bother with righteous indignation; they are not talking to you. In fact, they are never talking to you.
At home you pull on the smallest pair of jeans you own, freshly shrunken from the wash. You are going out later, to a place that requires jeans to fit like skin. Standing with your back to the mirror (you have long been a master of the reverse appraisal) you check for signs of growth. Ten minutes of staring is long enough to convince yourself that there has been a marked increase in voluptuousness since yesterday.
But your lie reveals itself at the club, where you are surrounded by girls who appear to have shopped in Melyssa Ford’s closet. They are a sparkly mixture of Spandex, breast and booty. Everything on them quivers at the slightest touch. Surrounded by these women, the enormity of your reality hits you: you will always be a skinny black girl.
But when “Baby Got Back” comes on, you shake it anyway.
[author_info]Tatiana Richards Hanebutte grew up in Greenville, Alabama. She is a 2008 alum of the VONA writers workshop and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She currently lives in Wolfsburg, Germany where she writes about life as an expat at tatianainflux.com.[/author_info]