Monday, August 30, 2010

Black Woman Thighs by Ernessa T. Carter

Hulloo Everyone!

Greetings from Oahu, where I'm currently on vacation. Or at least I'm supposed to be on vacation. As I've explained to my agent, publicist, and the many other people who have received business-related email from me while I've supposedly been taking it easy in Hawaii, I don't really vacation, so much as go some place else to write. Like a lot of writers, I find it hard to relax unless I've put in my pages for the day, and answered all my business email, and responded to my email from readers and--

Wait, that's not what this post is about. The point of this post is that while relaxing on the beach and at poolside, watching all the skinny Japanese mothers rocking bikinis while their spookily well-behaved children play quietly, a bit of a body issue has come up. Or I should say, come up again. You see I have big thighs. Well, relatively big thighs. Many refer to my kind of thighs as black woman thighs. Basically when you have black woman thighs, this means that your thighs are thick. No matter what. When I was three my thighs were thick. At my skinniest my thighs were thick. I could go on a full-on hunger strike and when I was driven to the hospital to have a feeding tube forced down my throat, I would be a bag of bones ... with thick thighs. That's the way black woman thighs work.

And sometimes I see skinny Japanese women on Hawaiian beaches and I think, "Man, I'll never look like that," and that makes me feel kind of sorry for myself. Because I live in America and they tell us certain things, like that any decent woman should feel bad about herself if the words "stick" can't be applied in a description of her physique. No one would ever describe me as a stick, though. At my fittest, I got "Serena Williams."

But then the jealousy cloud kind of rolled away, not just because I'm in Hawaii (I mean c'mon, son, how can you feel bad about yourself for too long in Hawaii?), but also because there are a lot of skinny chycks in tennis, but the only person who's had thousands upon thousands of editorial words dedicated to her shape is Serena Williams. In fact, one might argue that much of Serena Williams popularity stems from the fact that she has black woman thighs and doesn't look like everyone else in a tennis skirt.

What does this have to do with literature? Well, I have a number of black woman thigh issues when it comes to writing. Sometimes I wish I wasn't a romantic. Certain critics would have adored my book if my main character had remained a down trodden sad sack. Sometimes I wish that I didn't find humor in just about everything. Most prize-winning books aren't funny. But then again, most romantic characters aren't as damaged as mine. I doubt there's a RITA in my future.

This was a bit of a pre-sales hiccup for my debut novel, 32 CANDLES. My editor couldn't think of any comparables, that is books that mine could be compared to in order to make it more desirable to booksellers and readers alike. I couldn't think of any comparables either. Apparently, this issue was brought up during several sales meetings, but was never quite solved. "It's like Sixteen Candles meets E. Lynn Harris," said one exec. "It's like John Hughes wrote PRECIOUS," said another. "It's sort of like Bridget Jones but not really," said my editor. No one could settle on one description.

So basically 32 CANDLES has been thrown at the public with fingers crossed and assurances that it's different but you know, worth reading. During this process, I've sometimes found myself looking at other books, and thinking, "Why can't I write more like that? Why do I have black woman thighs?"

But then I look at my favorite writers and realize that they all have black woman thighs. Marian Keyes somehow manages to be wildly romantic and wildly depressing at the same time. In a country that is obsessed with the popular kids, John Hughes could not stay away from triumphant nerds. Tananarive Due cannot call her living dead vampires. They're Immortal, and they're uncomfortably both religious and sacrilegious.

The truth is, that if some affordable plastic surgery came out, that allowed me to replace my black woman thighs with a long set of flesh-covered sticks, I wouldn't get it. Most days I love my thighs. I realize my thighs are part of me and part of what made me attractive to my husband and the men I dated before him.

And it also occurs to me that we all have black woman thighs. Writing quirks that we sometimes imagine not having, but wouldn't give up even if we could. So now I'm wondering what are your physical and literary black woman thighs? Let me know in the comments.

Ernessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES. Her next novel is like Terry McMillan's WAITING TO EXHALE meets Salman Rushdie's THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET. No, not really ... but yeah, kind of. 

23 comments:

  1. Good Morning, Ernessa! What a great post. I have pioneer woman thighs. Good solid stock as my mom would say (who has adorable highs, by the way. Really ticks me off.). And even when every other part of me was thin, my pioneer thighs announced to the world that I come from people who walked across the plains pulling a handcart. And you're so right. We are who we are and shouldn't try to force ourselves into another form (do you hear me, Spanx?).

    I write serious. I write about regular folks who get hit with a proverbial bomb . . . and then what do they do. I don't write to make a statement (with a capital "S"). I just write. It's what I do.

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  2. Ernessa, what a wonderful post for a Monday morning! And I say, embrace those thighs! It's too bad that real women get stuck looking at surgically-enhanced, diet-obsessed Hollywood ideals all the time instead of celebrating the differences that make us interesting! I feel the same way about writing. Writing with a unique voice is what makes an author and her books so special. My literary "black woman thighs" is probably my oddball sense of humor. No matter what I'm writing, whether it's meant to be comedy or more serious, that quirky humor always slips through. Congrats on 32 CANDLES! If it's like John Hughes wrote PRECIOUS, then I've got to read it. Love that description! ;-)

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  3. I do think the books that stick with us have black woman thighs. Confident ones. Unapologetic ones.

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  4. I have really fine hair. When I put it into a ponytail it's a undernourished runt of a thing. I've always envied women with fat, swinging ponytails.

    As for writing, I'm known for being funny. But sometimes it's a curse because I rely on it too much.

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  5. Davie Jones, the protag of 32 Candles is the literary love child of Bridget Jones and Precious Jones, IMHO. I've been thinking a lot lately about writer dissatisfaction (it's everywhere!). And because of it I've reached some peace with my black woman thighs. If no matter what success one achieves, number one NY Times even!, you're not fully happy, I might as well be happy now, now what I'm sayin'?

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  6. Ernessa
    I love this post! Mine is my belly. At my thinnest I still had this pooch belly...my mom has the pooch belly and my grandmother had the pooch belly and unless I get the darn thing lippoed (which I won't do) I will always have this pooch belly! And as for the writing, oh my, how many times have I had *that* conversation in my head... If I only wrote more this way or that way or liked to write stories like this or that. But my voice is my voice and my pooch is my pooch and I guess since they are both me I am thankful for them. And Spanx...with a pooch belly I am also thankful for Spanx.
    Can't wait to read 32 Candles!

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  7. @Judy Oh, I love the description of pioneer thighs. And I actually gave up my Spanx after a trip to France. I saw that depending on all these "miracle" products kept me from learning to dress for my new post-baby size and was actually stunting my sense of fashion. So now I only wear things that look good even when I'm not sucking in my tummy.

    @Susan I love an oddball sense of humor! What's funny is that I live in LA and that's actually helped me with my body image. Much like Carleen said, you begin to notice that the (traditionally) beautiful people are no happier than you are (most times they're actually less happy AND hungry!). Living in LA is the best thing that ever happened for my self confidence. But the Japanese moms threw me a bit.

    @Caroyln Yes, I'm working on confident and unapologetic. Til then it's just Helpless Ones.

    @Karin Oh, I remember feeling the same way when I had dredlocks. There were all these other woman with glorious thick locks (ala Carleen) and mine were hopelessly thin and droopy. I had to do all sorts of things to give them some volume. I think that's part of the reason I ended up cutting them off.

    @Carleen I know, right! What's funny is that so many other authors have been like, "No, so and so shouldn't feel like that b/c she sales more than I do." And it occurs to me that at every level of the game, writers are going to be who they are, and who we are is neurotic. I remember reading an interview with Stephenie Meyers in which she fretted over all the people who thought she was a bad writer. Apparently she's been working on the issue for years, and I think her effort shows in THE HOST. But then I remember reading an NYT profile on James Patterson and he seemed happy just to take the money and run. And of course there's that great TED speech w/ Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she wonders if her best work is behind her. I think the secret is knowing that writing is a career and like any career it cannot be completely responsible for your happiness. That's what your family, friends, therapist, and self-determination are for.

    @Maggie I want a potbelly! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfN2SpUqfPM&feature=related

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  8. I absolutely love this post and I have black woman thighs and butt mind you,with some say dominican hair, which is something else altogether. Funny, I read Substitute Me by Lori Tharps yesterday and black woman thighs was an issue there to be sure. I simply want to thank you for allowing your black woman thighs to shine in your work. 32 Candles is one on my faves of 2010. I guess my bwt in my books is that I write about sexy desirable women over 40, thighs and all and I refuse to stop...Smooches!

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  9. I'm loving this post!! When I saw the name of the book, it instantly reminded me of 16 Candles. How fab to find out that there's a bit of 16 Candles in the book-- this is my kind of read!!

    There was this article about how believing in Jake Ryan will ruin your life a few years back. I couldn't find the exact one, but this article is similar:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/06/AR2009080603039.html

    Can't wait to check out 32 Candles!!

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  10. I don't know who's thighs I have now, but I want the ones I had in my 20s back, please. No questions asked. Just leave them at the foot of the bed (pun totally intended) and I'll slip into them in the morning.

    Oh, and can I have my flat stomach back, too? I know someone envied that enough to steal it but I really don't appreciate this sack you left behind.

    Wait. What was the question?

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  11. I have black women thighs extending from super black woman hips! I love them until my jeans don't quite fit...they're part of the way we move and I'm with Andre "3000" Benjamin on that one (I like the way we move). I am an academic so my writing is not nearly as exciting as a novel, so even though your work is kinda sorta but not really like other authors, I say brava! I read of your book on Glo (msn) an am looking forward to reading 32 and whatever you birth next.

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  12. "It's like John Hughes wrote PRECIOUS." *That's* what should be emblazoned on the front of the book!

    I feel for you. My books are hard to pin down too. They are the love children of Anna Quindlen and Nicholas Sparks, or Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks, or Jodi Picoult and Barbara Delinsky, or--well, you get the picture.

    As for thighs (and bellies, and butts), well, variety is the spice of life!

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  13. i blame the jeans industry. why must we have skinny jeans and low waists? we long-waisted girls can't catch a break. if i can get my thighs in the jeans, they don't fit in the waist. if they fit in the waist, my shirt is not long enough to cover my midriff. i'm inspired by those female authors and hope to join you one day, thighs and all.

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  14. I've added 32 Candles to the TBR list! I love when books defy easy classification.

    My BWTs is my insane hair. Gobs and gobs of thick, curly, long annoyance. I fantasize about cutting it above the shoulders and getting Keratin/Japanese/Brazilian straightening and having silky, straight hair that always looks nice and polished (a fantasy I've had since age 12), but I can't imagine feeling like myself with the mess of long curls. My protagonists often have the hair of my dreams, though.

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  15. Thanks for a great post Ernessa. and Judi, you crack me up!

    Actually, Ernessa, you're lucky folks were having that conversation about a book that was being published. My agent is constantly reminding me that I shouldn't even think of writing something that doesn't have comparables. Because she'll have trouble selling it and so will the publishers...sigh...

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  16. Ah, my job here is done. *brushes hands off.

    Happy chuckling, Roberta!

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  17. I used to pray for black women thighs! (Totally true, my Mama overheard me one night and had a very stern conversation that the size of my butt and thighs was not something on God's to-do list. That I should pray for acceptance of my body the way it is.) I've always been rail-thin, as black folks would call 'po. So to hear women fret about being thick, (which most men would call fine as wine) was something to envy.

    Writing for me is the same thing, instead of being happy with my natural writing abilities, (I'm great with dialogue and pretty darn funny), I instead am envious of writers who can write serious, heart-wrenching novels. I always felt that tickling the funny bone was looked down on, but if reading a book made you cry, then here come the awards and praise. Great post, and I'll be picking up your book!

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  18. @Angelia as soon one who plans to be sexy and desirable when she's 40+ I'm glad you're on the job.

    @Judi I've got to admit that sometimes I stare at the kid and wondering where she hid the body I had before she entered the building.

    @Erica D the search for jeans is the worse. If you're looking to spend the extra money, though, I can't say enough good things about 7 for all Mankind and Joe Jeans.

    @Therese I love lovechildren books! And yes, I agree that the difficulty is decided who your parents are. It's like our novels we're conceived at a love-in!

    @honeysmoke @a friend I know that is shaped like you, loves the gap long and lean jeans.

    @Melissa Can I tell you that I just love women with insane hair. It's one of the best features that I think anyone can be graced with.

    @Roberta Can you write what you want and just tell your agent it's "just like Jennifer Weiner" and hope s/he buys it?

    @Katrina I love hearing about black women who had the opposite experience growing up. It just goes to show...

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  19. Oh, and @Brenda, great article. Am loving that GQ called the actor that played Jake Ryan "the Salinger of male model/actors"

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  20. Ernessa, this was fantastic! You're hilarious, and I'm definitely picking up 32 Candles.

    Pooch belly and fine hair, reporting for duty. But it sounds like most of us have made peace with our bodies. Or at least called something of a truce.

    (PS: the John Hughes/Precious comparison is brilliant!)

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  21. LOVE this post! I've got black woman thighs, only mine are in my tummy. (Hello, Maggie Marr!) And yup, my best friend is a pair of Spanx.

    Can't wait to read 32 Candles!!

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  22. @Jess Yes, I railed against my post-pregnancy body for quite a while, then it was like, "Okay, okay, white flag!" Let's be friends again.

    @Ellen Spanx needs to use this comment thread as their ad. I think I'd acutally like them more if I didn't live in such a hot clime. They go from clever to unbearable really fast!

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