On Seeing Myself In Love

I wandered down the aisle of the library in search of my next delightfully enjoyable romantic romp. I already had a stack of books in my arm and was doing my last once-over when I saw Get A Life, Chloe Brown; I was instantly struck by the cover art that featured a plump Black woman and White man.

“Wayment,” I thought to myself. “She’s actually Black or…what’s going on here?” I wasn’t in the Urban section of the library; if you don’t already know, the Urban section features Black lives and love and yes, I do believe it’s called Urban. But I digress. I picked up Get A Life and read the back. My eyes landed on the picture of the author, Talia Hibbert: a cheeky snap of a Black woman giving a sweet smirk to the camera. Her bio says that she “writes sexy, diverse romance because she  believes that people of marginalized identities need honest and positive representation.”

I think, “Holy shit! She’s me but young and British.” I feel joyous anticipation begin to bubble inside of me. I checked out the book along with a few others but clearly I was reading Get A Life first.

Image from: @taliahibbert

My fascination with love was solidified during a random passing period in middle school. I was in 7th grade–this was pre-braces, poofy 90s hair, awkward Chantell Monique. I remember walking behind the most glamorous 8th grade couple I had ever laid eyes on. She was Black, and a cheerleader (don’t get me started on how much I loved cheer back then!); this beautiful Black cheerleader wore her boyfriend’s football practice jersey over her uniform. They walked hand-in-hand; he wore his game jersey tucked into his jeans, and her thick black ponytail bobbed with perfection.

I felt myself physically reacting to an image that, up until then, had been reserved for White girls; I saw someone who looked like me, walking with her cute, White, football player-boyfriend like they were the popular interracial couple in a 90s teenage rom-com. From middle school to high school, I attended majority White schools. I was the only Black girl in some of my classes and in my friend group; therefore, my crushes were on White boys. Of course this was reinforced by the gaggle of 90s heartthrobs including, Leo DiCaprio, Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, David Boreanaz, Scott Wolf and Scott Speedman…just to name a few. The movies and shows these guys starred in didn’t feature Black girls in love and neither did the books I read at the time, but it was okay because I paid the price and suspended my fatness and Blackness in order to enter their worlds. But when I saw that beautiful Black cheerleader with her cute White-boy, I realized I didn’t have to suspend who I was to see love because love was available to Black girls too.

During those years my eyes were always peeled for interracial couples. I saw one in Janet Jackson’s That’s The Way Love Goes video; there was another in Robert De Niro’s A Bronx Tale; the older brother on Party of Five had a Black girlfriend for a few episodes and of course I remember when Lisa Turtle and Zach kissed on Saved By the Bell. These images said that my Blackness didn’t make me some unlovable thing. Love and tenderness was available to Black girls and although I was chubby, with an overbite and questionable fashion sense, I began to believe that one day love would be available to me too. But as time went on, that confidence began to waiver as the images of Black girls in love dwindled. This is why at 40, I’m enthralled by a book written by a 20-something because she’s managed to boldly write women who speak to me in the most intimate of ways.

Image from: Amazon.com

Get A Life, Chole Brown is the first book in the Brown sisters trilogy. The next two are Take A Hint, Dani Brown and Act Your Age, Eve Brown. I haven’t been this excited by a series since Harry Potter. These books are perfect and I’ll tell you why: their truthfulness has soothed the heart of a fat, Black woman who’s desperately in love with love. A fat, Black woman who rarely, if ever, sees herself at the center of romantic stories; who rarely sees herself being pursued and devoured. This series allows me to escape to a world where I exist as a fully formed, complicated woman who doesn’t have to suspend my fatness nor my Blackness to gain access to love. In this series both are front, center and desirable. For example, in Take A Hint, Dani Brown, Hibbert describes Dani, saying, “She was all strong calves and heavy, dimpled thighs…” 

You may think: that doesn’t seem like much, Chantell.

But I’ve spent my life reading romance novels that feature pale, alabaster skin and strawberry blonde hair; long lean legs, flat tanned stomachs and blah, blah bullshit, so seeing my brown, heavy thighs as sexy is a fucking miracle. Fat, Black women have to love ourselves first because society isn’t all that interested in glorifying fatness nor Blackness. This is fine by me as I believe a woman should be the first to offer herself love, but to finally see myself means I can take a break from the heavy lifting of self-affirmation to retreat to a world where I’m the star and not some thin, wispy White girl. The Brown sisters trilogy has liberated my imagination, gently encouraging me to believe in my own love story.

If life has pushed you to the margins in some way shape or form, then you understand the importance of seeing yourself in love. We live in a world that still, even with protests and call-out culture, upholds mainstream ideas of romance. But that myopia has created space for a British Millennial or maybe Gen Zer–honestly, I don’t know–she’s young, to write her truth in a way that affirms my existence in romance along with energizes my ambition to write and produce films that center fat, Black women in love.

Image from: @chubbychapters via @taliahibbert

Not only does Hibbert center fat, Black women in love but she also writes about sensitive topics such as living with chronic pain, autism spectrum disorder, depression, and general anxiety disorder. She creates authentic worlds where people don’t have to oppress their uniqueness in order to find love. In Hibbert’s world everyone is lovable no matter what.

I would encourage anyone to read the Brown sisters. If you’re a fat, Black woman, you must definitely read them and if you aren’t, read them anyway so you can see fat, Black women as viable love interests because we fucking are! Oh, and the books are hot too, so if your netherregion has frosted over due to the pandemic, I guarantee these books will warm your bits right up.

All my love,

Chantell Monique

Instagram: @taliahibbert

Website: http://www.taliahibbert.com

Hibbert, Talia. Take A Hint, Dani Brown. First ed., HarperCollins, 2020.

Featured Image From: @booksonthel via @taliahibbert

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