Stephanie Yeboah: As A Fat, Black Woman I Struggled With Femininity, Until Now

Stephanie Yeboah is not afraid to tell it as it is. You may recognise the 30-year-old plus-size blogger from Instagram, her blog, formerly Nerd About Town, and her Refinery29 Steph Styles column. She spreads messages of self-love, self-acceptance and self-worth with her ever-growing audience, teaming her brilliantly vibrant ensembles with her million-dollar smile.
But look past her confidence and you'll find a young woman who has been through it all. From being bullied at school to being objectified and humiliated in her dating life, Stephanie's response to discrimination has always been to change the narrative around body image and what we see as beautiful. The body positive campaigner has long been calling out body shamers, redefining the body positive movement and championing more diversity in the influencer industry.
In her debut book, Fattily Ever After (out this month), Stephanie speaks candidly and courageously about her own experience of navigating life as a Black, plus-sized woman and her journey to self-acceptance in a world where judgment and discrimination is rife.
Featuring stories of everyday misogynoir and being fetishised, to navigating the cesspit of online dating and experiencing loneliness, Stephanie shares her thoughts on the treatment of Black women throughout history, the marginalisation of Black, plus-sized women in media (even within the body positive movement) all while drawing her wisdom from other Black fat liberation champions along the way.
In the following extract from Fattily Ever After, Stephanie explores the desexualisation and hypersexualisation that she, and other plus-sized women, have faced.

Growing up, I’d probably say that I was a bit of a tomboy. I loved video games. I loved comic books. I hated dressing up in "girly" clothes for the most part, and a lot of my time was spent (especially when I used to live in
Ghana) climbing up trees and playing with the boys.

Equally, I also started collecting copies of Vogue and creating collages on my wall which would feature my very own "couture line" from the age of about 13. Alongside taking part in what society would consider "masculine" horseplay as a child, I would also always come home from secondary school every day, pop the cable on and tune into my favourite channel: Fashion TV. I was absolutely crazy about fashion. The creativity, the drama, the fabulous gowns, the beautiful models, and the outlandish camaraderie of it all. I was mad for it! You'd never know by looking at the way I dressed.
The entirety of my secondary school life consisted of absolute fashion fails; it was like my wardrobe was on crud, mate. I would wear a bandana to school every day to cover up my damaged hair which had been the result of having a home-styled Jherri-curl. Alongside said bandana – which by the way, came in an assortment of different colours because I was still trying to look cute – was a pair of those ghastly disco/grunge flared, denim jeans with a racing stripe down the sides of both legs. I used to buy these jeans in bulk from Peacocks – one of the very few brick-and-mortar stores that somewhat catered to plus-size bodies at the time.
Alongside these jeans would be hoodies in multiple colours. This would be my go-to uniform. Trying to cover up as much of myself as possible in order to "look" smaller. It was almost my way of unintentionally desexualising myself because I knew that someone of my size couldn't possibly be found attractive by the boys, so why try and accentuate my body even more when I was already considered invisible?

Alongside these jeans would be hoodies in multiple colours. This would be my go-to uniform. Trying to cover up as much of myself as possible in order to "look" smaller.

I didn't acknowledge the presence of dresses or how they would ever relate to me until I started my blog. Getting me to wear a dress back then would have been like getting Azaelia Banks to apologise for shading other rappers and singers online. Impossible…absolutely impossible. Not only was it difficult to find dresses that would actually fit me well but would also be current and stylish enough for people to not assume that I was some kind of foreign exchange student from an unidentifiably random place.
Once ASOS opened their Curve range, however, that was IT. ASOS Curve opened up a whole new world for me in terms of clothing and how I felt towards my body, as coincidentally it was during the same time that I had discovered the body positivity community online, had fallen in love with plus-size bloggers, and was going through my journey of self-love and learning how to un-learn toxic, fatphobic traits. My blog was going from strength to strength, and so I decided to introduce plus-size fashion as a new category on there, by way of purchasing my first ever "proper" dress. It was a rust coloured polka dot dress that I had seen on my favourite plus-size fashion bloggers, Nicolette Mason and Gabi Gregg. The dress just looked so elegant and flawless on them, so I thought, Why not try it on me?. I tried the dress on and to my surprise, I didn't immediately hate it. The dress outlined my shape without drawing attention to the fact that I wasn't hourglass shaped.
It was short and so allowed my long naked legs to flourish. It was…weird, seeing me look so…feminine. Up until that point, I had been so accustomed to the idea that Black, fat womxn had to be strong, masculine, aggressive, and show no signs of being sexual, so to see myself in this new light was incredibly illuminating for me.
Did I actually look…attractive in this garment? I had so many questions running through my head. The idea of me presenting as feminine was something I struggled with, and it took me a long time to un-learn the ideology that had brainwashed me for years about it. I bought a couple more dresses in different styles, in order to see how my body looked. I was blogging more about my favourite floral prom dresses, talking about how flattering they were on specific parts of my body and what have you, but then I began noticing something about the way in which plus-size womxn – especially Black, plus-size womxn – were being presented online. All of a sudden, it was "hourglass" this and "hourglass" that. Tits up to here and a butt down to there. The tummies were getting smaller and the hips were getting wider.

The idea of me presenting as feminine was something I struggled with, and it took me a long time to un-learn the ideology that had brainwashed me for years about it.

I'd go onto social media sites such as Tumblr, to see beautiful Black, plus-size womxn flaunting their curves, but it seemed to be a specific type of curve that was being celebrated now – the exaggerated hourglass figure. I started comparing myself to these womxn, thinking that I too needed that shape in order to qualify as a "good fat". After all, Black womxn were "supposed" to have the big tits and big butts, right? It's a part of #our #culture to be shaped in such an exaggerated way.
So, I ended up buying a corset from some shoddy website online. I am not well versed in corset lore and didn’t buy the right one for my size, as I assumed you treated corsets the same way you'd treat a girdle and just size down by a couple of sizes. Big mistake, lads. The corset arrived looking like some kind of medieval instrument of torture, and it took about 18 attempts, near asphyxiation, and a bruised torso before I could finally fasten the damned thing. Pain aside, I force myself to wear the corset every day – to train my waist – because in my head I thought that in order to be seen as an attractive and "acceptable" fat, one had to adhere to the correct and ultra-specific body dimensions that proved popular within society. The corset survived a grand total of two weeks before I chucked it in the bin.
Nowadays, I try not to pay attention to what society deems beautiful or not. It isn't always easy, and I'm always trying to un-learn toxic thoughts and behaviours anytime I recognise it. We've always been subtly told by the media that the pin-up is glamorous. Sexy. It's "womxnly" in its celebration of the curves we are constantly told to play up to. Exaggerated hip. Tucked in waist. Mahoosive boobs!

I try not to pay attention to what society deems beautiful or not. It isn’t always easy, and I’m always trying to un-learn toxic thoughts and behaviours anytime I recognise it.

It just feels like we can never meet in the middle when it comes to our femininity. On one hand, we are expected to be desexualised and maternal a-la all the Mammy tropes we are so used to growing up seeing on TV. On the other hand, because we have this stereotype as aggressive and masculine, there is also this expectation that we must perform masculinity and be ‘one of the lads’.
Failing that, the only other route is being 'hyperfeminine' in order to prove that your fatness is worth being seen as beautiful and valid.
Can we not exist within all categories? Give me chinos, baggy jeans, boxy shirts, or dungarees any day of the week. I'll wear them while beating you at Mario Kart and still be able to knock your socks off in a gorgeous Playful Promises lingerie set!
This is an edited extract from Fattily Ever After by Stephanie Yeboah (Hardie Grant, £12.99), out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook.

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