Phat Girlz!: A Letter to Women Struggling with Their Body Image
Throughout February, Santa Monica College (SMC) has showcased a series of events celebrating the history of African, Caribbean and African American culture.
Award-winning filmmaker Nnegest Likke, pronounced Nagace-Lee-Kay, brought her film “Phat Girlz” for a screening at the SMC Theatre Arts Complex. The 2006 production focused on Jazmine Biltmore, a plump African-American woman struggling to find her confidence in a society that glorifies skinny bodies. Her life is turned upside down when she goes on a girls trip to Palm Springs and meets a group of Nigerian doctors. The cultural exchange becomes an enlightening experience for Jazmine as she learns “thick madames” like herself are the beauty standard in Nigeria. Suddenly, the girls trip becomes an unexpected romantic getaway.
Likke presents serious issues related to body image, including, body shaming in a comedic way. Jazmine speaks her mind, often leading to direct confrontation with those who mistreat her for appearance. She is described as intimidating but yet remains terribly insecure by wishing to unrealistically and unhealthily become a size five.
Emphasis is given on her unconscious judgment of other women, and her constant fear that every man will leave her for another girl, a skinny girl. Despite dealing with prejudice and difficulties throughout most of the movie, she is good-hearted and has a caricatured personality, drawing the audience into laughter several times.
"Phat Girlz" promotes a reflection of mainstream culture and how it can cultivate unhealthy habits. Jazmine is a talented plus-size fashionista but is discouraged to follow her passions and start a clothing line. Instead, she is miserable next to the overstock of metabo-pills in her room. Through the Nigerian characters, she is astonished to find out that "the thicker, the richer". The relationship they have with food is very different and the audience is presented with two distinct cultural perspectives.
Such aspects are often present in Likke's own life. Born and raised in Oakland, California, she was exposed through her family to a mix of African-American, Ethiopian and Nigerian cultures. "It was just organic for me to make films where my American side and my African side meet, learn and grow from each other. It also helps erase stereotypes, because even though there are so many different cultures in America, if we don't mix we don't know, we have ignorance about each other. I use film to open those doors and see a peek inside other cultures."
Despite the movie turning thirteen this year, Likke believes her story is timeless. "It's not that society has not improved, but I think the message still needs to be out there," said Likke, "I use weight as a metaphor, it's more than that, it's about anybody who feels like they're an other, an outsider or less than. Whether they have a disability, or whether it be their sexuality. Whatever area they feel they're not mainstream, I feel like they can plug into that."