Queer Women of Color Speak on Fashion and Body Image: What Makes You Feel Beautiful?

Brown Girls

Open a magazine or turn on the television and chances are good you’ll see someone talking about weight loss. In the United States, much of our media suggest that we are obsessed with our bodies, especially our waistlines. One ad sells a pill that will help you lose inches off your waist. Another ad tries to convince you that this exercise routine is the one to get you in shape.

In a culture where all women celebrities are thin, it’s easy for women to develop unhealthy attitudes toward their bodies, seeing themselves as too fat, too small-chested, or too short to be beautiful. There are studies that show what unhealthy standards of beauty have done to the self-esteem of girls and women. Yet, few to none have focused their attention on the particular effect of white-dominated, western standards of beauty has had on women of color or LGBT women. Those in the intersection have been left out, almost entirely.

From our own team of interns here at QWOC Media Wire, candid responses about how women of color and LGBT people view their own bodies make it clear that even though everyone’s story is unique, loving our bodies in spite of all the negative societal messages about beauty out there, isn’t easy.

It was a process to get to a point where I acknowledged maybe I was just meant to be this way. I don’t love my body, but I’m content with it.

What is at the crux of the struggle of positive self-image? A QWOC on our team affirms the obvious: “I find that some of my insecurity comes from media,” she says, but then also credits the desire to be an athlete for some part of that insecurity. Another brings up her mother, who “is extremely thin herself, so she feels compelled to make her daughter that way.”

Clothing and the heteronormative fashion industry can also be a problem, especially for gender variant people. One intern finds clothing that fits, though she knows “there is always going to be a compromise with fashion.” She’d “rather find clothes that flatter [her] body than fashionable clothes that hug [her]in all the wrong places.” Another of our interns, who identifies as genderqueer, says that “it’s unfortunate that clothes aren’t designed with recognition of how different people are shaped and how different people choose to express their gender presentation and style.”

If the media, the fashion industry, and even family, do not acknowledge all the various shapes and sizes our bodies come in, how can queer women of color feel secure (and loved) in their bodies? The work of Taja Lindey and Colored Girls Hustle suggests one way.

Taja Lindey, a queer woman of color, runs Colored Girls Hustle. The website — and associated Etsy store — feature the art work of women of color. states that its goal is to “honor the creations, adorn the bodies, and affirm the strengths of women and girls of color.”  The store proudly showcases jewelry, photographs, artwork, and video performances by women of color.

In a world where women’s bodies are constantly critiqued, exploited, and held up to impossible standards — i.e. “she must be tall,” “she must be thin,” “she must be perfect!” — Colored Girls Hustle offers a fresh perspective. There are no judgments made on the bodies these creations will adorn, and women of a range of sizes model the jewelry. The space, though seemingly remote in cyberspace, offers a refreshing break from the negative messages spewed by mainstream media, which often focuses on very thin bodies of a select group of white women.

“When we know our worth, it becomes intolerable to accept less than what we deserve,” Lindey says on her Twitter. When queer women of color know what they are worth, what will they then demand? What demands are already being made, but not being met? And what responsibility to each of us as women and gender non-conforming people have to effect that change for ourselves?

There is much to be desired as far as revolutionizing how the bodies of non-heteronormative people, and women of color in particular are depicted and dissected by the media. However, from the work of women like Lindey and the words of my fellow interns, it seems that such women are already resisting, already leading the way.