Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist – Sesali Bowen

First, this is an amazing book that becomes very, very readable after the introduction. Many terms and concepts not familiar to those of us with different backgrounds are beautifully defined, which is one of my favorite parts of the book. In fairness, if you know what trap music is, which I did not, the introduction makes tons of sense. (Nope, not about “The Sound of Music” and the Von Trapp family) It was worth it to reread the introduction after finishing the book but no matter what, do NOT let the introduction stop you from reading this book.. Bad Fat Black Girl is part memoir– totally engaging– and, in my opinion and experience of it, it is part self-help book, useful and somewhat universal in its perspectives. In deciding how to review this book, I kept thinking about me, me, me. Because I’m an unlikely audience for this book. It felt very narcissistic of me to want to explain why I chose to read this and yet, this desire continued in the brain of this privileged, sixty-something, white, cisgender, female “progressive.” And then I saw Bowen’s epilogue about a publisher who rejected “Bad Fat Black Girl” because the audience would not be broad enough. “Her feedback was that women who were older, more settled into professional lives, or even those who didn’t have ties to the hood wouldn’t be able to relate. For her, trap feminism was something that only young, ratchet Black girls could relate to.” For over sixty years, I thought I was “all that: with my long-standing civill rights, activism thanks largely to my activist mother and my various jobs involving enforcement of discrimination laws. In fact, I needed and need way more education and understanding and (might not sound like it so far) way more humility. So, when I find the description of a book by a Black author (fiction or nonfiction) interesting and its initial reviews look good, and and if the book offers me a chance to get further down this road of understanding, I read it. First, this is a book about the experiences of a Black girl, now a Black woman, who was sexually active with older men at a very young age, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago with very little money, but with more of a safety net than many of her contemporaries because of her grandmother and relatives in the suburbs as well as the fact her mother worked for many years in an ob gyn office in the community. Bowen’s relationship with her mother is difficult, in part because of common themes she identifies in Black parenting in her community, an authoritarian approach to raising children with no room for questions. Also, her mother struggled with addiction for many years leaving their living situation unstable and chaotic. She loves trap music, a subgenre of rap originating in Atlanta in the 1990s/early 2000s that mostly involved lyrics that were misogynistic and objectified women. As Bowen evolved and became more introspective about herself, her life and her studies, she needed to revisit this love and figure out whether she wanted to stay true to trap. She listened with a new ear and decided, fairly in my understanding of all this, that in many of the songs, the women at issue have agency. There is power in being the man’s object of desire and the women make decisions about where they choose to be and how they choose to act. Thus, the origin of “trap feminism.” Agency. Living authentically. There are gems throughout this book. , I mentioned it on my Facebook page as I dwelt on how to describe it to a “broad” audience…. I quoted ” ‘Friendship is one of the purest forms of love precisely because you love your friends voluntarily.’ From a book that likely would shock you but I’m thinking about a lot. “Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist” by Sesali Bowen. This small segment of a relationships chapter includes that Bowen won’t get intimately involved with anyone who doesn’t have friends. Wise, wise-ass, full of choices and perspectives that are totally jarring even to those of us who think we are fairly unconventional.” So yes, this book will speak immediately to people already further down the road with a broad view of sex and sexuality and Black experience in the world generally. And, after some of us draw back for a moment, Bowen’s choices and perspectives make sense and we are more educated about sex and sexuality and Black experience in the world generally. Bad Fat Black Girl sent me to the internet to watch trap videos, read trap lyrics, particularly those Bowen cites, and to listen to a podcast interview of Bowen on her book and her trap feminist theory. There is no middle ground here. But there is plenty to think about with an open mind. Bowen writes a lot about gender fluidity, identifying as “queer.” (I believe she uses female pronouns, since she adores looking good and calling herself femme, so don’t fault me there folks!) She writes about sexuality and sexual behavior and her own background as a sex worker. Bowen eventually went to college, stumbling a bit but getting through in part because of opportunities she found through a mentor and her own talent for writing and inspiring people. What I get from this immersion into her book, trap music, her Instagram and interview is respect for this woman who can explain so well the things we do not know and remove stereotypes, while defining the influences on her life and her philosophy thus far of how to be who she wants and needs to be — without apology.

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