Most of us know in Clarkisha Kent from social media.
Over the years and in 280 characters, the Nigerian-American cultural critic and author’s Twitter fingers have loudly and unabashedly called out racism, colorism, lipophobia and basically anyone who refuses to be on the right side of history. Even better? He does it with an unparalleled sharp humor that can literally blow the mind of anyone who tries it. (Who can ever forget that iconic Groupon Peen?)
But in her new memoir, “Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto”, Kent shows us a different side. Yes, she weaves her much-loved spirit into every page. But she tempers it because her little-known origin story of coming from immigrant parents and growing up in the South in a dysfunctional and abusive family isn’t necessarily the joke. Instead, in each chapter, we see how the intersections of race, class, religion, sexuality, gender, and pop culture—for better or worse—have shaped the Clarkisha we see now.
At its core, “Fat Off, Fat On” asks tough questions about how women like her must navigate and fight against a world – and a family – that doesn’t love, respect or see them. Luckily for us, Kent reminds us that it is more than possible to break the cycle of shame, silence, and internalized lipophobia, and most importantly, thrive.
Why was ‘Fat Off, Fat On’ the memoir you wanted to write now?
Honestly, I wanted to write a Black Western first — and I will one of these days. [Laughs] But, shout out to my agent Claire Draper from the Vent Agency, they wanted me to get my foot in the door in publishing first by writing a memoir. As a black woman and creator, it made sense to go down this path because it would give me a leg up in the industry and get my name out there as a writer. Yes, I’m young, but I’ve certainly been through a lot in my life and it made sense to put it down on paper. Now, am I worried about putting all my business out there? Absolutely. [Laughs]
But that’s the power of “Fat Off, Fat On.” You weren’t afraid to show us your business and be honest about it — even when that truth is ugly and at odds with who you are now.
I went into the writing process knowing that it was important to tell the truth, because people lie in their memoirs, pretending that they’ve always had perfectly radical politics. We don’t come out of the womb “woke”, do we? And screw the Republicans who tried to get that word to Columbus. [Laughs] Our environment shapes some of our earliest worldviews. I grew up religious and very conservative. I knew I had to expose those parts of me and show you that there were many versions of me before I got to the Clarkisha I am now. I had to show the evolution of my policy and how it’s been a long, long journey.
As Black people, many of us are raised with a cultural pressure to “not take our business to the streets.” Were you worried about being so open about your family, especially about the abuse?
Certainly, being Nigerian-American, that pressure is even more intense. [Laughs] I come from a secretive community, but I realized that this silence never benefits the community or protects the affected. It’s always about protecting the worst of us, like the pedophile uncle, the predatory pastor, or the abusive parents.
I wanted to turn that around when I was writing this book. When it comes to my family, you’re not worth protecting because you’re a piece of shit, so I’m going to spill all the beans. And doing so raises awareness and reminds people who suffer in silence that this kind of abuse is not rare. It’s about breaking that cycle of silence and shame. You are not alone, and navigating this and creating your own path is possible.
Lately, we’ve seen an alarming rise in the way lipophobia has been weaponized against black women online. How do you navigate your social media safety and sanity?
First, NONE of these men would talk to me like that to my face. They get courage only when they go online. But whether they’re talking about me, or Lizzo, or anyone else, the lipophobia and colorism they spew falls under the umbrella of white supremacy. And white people aren’t the only ones doing this work. You can be the same color as me and be the soldier of white supremacy.
My security comes in knowing this. This is about them and the systems that make them feel inadequate in their lives. It’s your business, not mine. Yes, it might hurt, but nothing you can say will stop me personally or stop my purse and my romantic choices. That part of desire Really pisses people off. Men will still chase me – the muscle heads and the skinny ones too. Lizzo is still loved by her husband. Fat black women are not miserable, isolated and dying alone as these podcasters and trolls keep telling you. Reality paints a different picture, and we can never forget that.
Being a queer black writer, this is such an interesting and tumultuous time as books like yours are being banned across the country. Are you worried?
There is always a little worry. I won’t lie. Becoming a writer was a life goal for me, period. So, in the end, it’s always very disappointing to see it pay off in the midst of great turmoil. But here’s what we do know: Whether it’s the Black community, the queer community, the disabled community, and any overlap between those groups, we’ve always been attacked. Overt or hidden. So we can’t stop working, living, and speaking our truth because Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has decided he wants to screw things up. I – we – we have to keep going and keep fighting and winning the good fight. That, and you can try to erase me, but I’ll still be Black and gay… ooooo…. now what? [Laughs]
What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself writing ‘Fat Off, Fat On’?
That I use humor as a coping mechanism, which has stalled my personal progress. Listen, it’s nice to be funny. I like to be funny, make jokes and make people laugh. This is important because life sucks. But my use of humor got in the way of my healing and the road to some much-needed self-reflection. Writing the book made me realize that I have to learn how to balance it because if I do too much, it will only hurt me in the end.
Finally, while this book is based on past trauma, you end it with so much optimism and a promise to “honor” your body at whatever size it is. What does this promise entail?
To honor my body is to understand that my body houses everything that makes me, me. And knowing that once my body is gone, it’s gone, and nothing will bind me to this earth. So before that happens, I want to take care of it. Part of that means not internalizing all the hate from the outside world, which can literally cut your mortality in half and destroy your body. This meant throwing my scale out and not allowing myself to be tied to some arbitrary number. In doing so, I had to repair my relationship with food and look at my history of disordered eating. Food is supposed to be this awesome thing. So why do we stigmatize it and deny ourselves this awesome thing that sustains our bodies?
Also, rethinking my stance on exercise, which isn’t supposed to be about weight loss. It’s about releasing stress, meditating and getting in tune with yourself, which can be spiritual. In this iteration, exercise strengthens your body, prolongs mortality, and keeps your mind sharp. This earth can weigh you down and you want to make sure your body is strong enough to handle it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.