There are specific books that will stay with me forever. I can tell you exactly where I was and, more importantly, how I felt the first time I got lost in their pages. There’s something profound about reading words that impact you so heavily that you physically feel a shift in your being. Yet, there’s something equally intense in realizing that the shift will sit unknown until much later when the complete arc of its impact is finally visible.
The first time I read, “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,” I felt like Dr. Joan Morgan was speaking directly to me. Honey, she wrote a whole chapter about what she called “chickenhead envy,” and my head nearly exploded. Dr. Morgan was “strumming my pain with her fingers and singing my life with her words.” She explained how women sometimes feel envy and even anger when another sister they perceive as “less than” or a “chickenhead,” obtains the romantic life they feel should be theirs. She’d coined a tile to a feeling I’d secretly wrestled with in my youth.
Not only did Dr. Morgan hold up a mirror allowing me to examine my past, but she also showed me my future. In writing this book, she shaped a path for hip-hop-loving, dope-ass, Black feminist writers, and twenty-three years later, here I am. Since my first read of her book, I have written my own book and gravitated toward other books written by hip-hop-loving, dope-ass, Black feminist writers. Enter the amazing Sesali Bowen, author of “Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From A Trap Feminist.”
“Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From A Trap Feminist” is hilarious, candid, well-written, and smart. As Bowen notes, “mainstream feminism” usually leaves out the experiences and distinct lives of Black women. In this book, Bowen doesn’t just correct that, she centers Black girls and women from the hood, and she does it with the nuance, love, and care we deserve.
Similar to what I experienced the first time I read “Chickenheads,” Bowen sheds light on vital aspects of my personhood. I connect with the way she reconciled her love for some of hip hop’s more problematic content with her own ideas around feminism, but I also share Bowen’s sincere and deep reverence for sisterhood between Black women. My relationships with Black women have been a saving grace in life and with almost every page of her book, Bowen demonstrates the same. Her love for Black women is clear and authentic.
Speaking of authenticity, Bowen doesn’t use her debut book as a way to introduce the world to her “representative” — the filtered and acceptable person presented to society. Page after page, she consistently spits in the face of respectability politics with tales about her days as a sex worker, navigating a complicated “situationship,” and a sometimes difficult, but relatable, relationship with her mom. She does all of this while teaching the reader about “trap feminism,” which according to her work is “a contemporary framework that examines where hip-hop and feminism meet.”
Bowen’s conversational and engaging storytelling offers a thoughtful analysis of the intersection of power, sex, race, and fatphobia. She blends personal narratives and historical data with her keen understanding of pop culture to push readers to think deeper. The way she lovingly inserts some of your favorite trap songs into the themes of the chapters is also impressive, but if that’s your only takeaway, then I suggest a second read. If you haven’t read it yet, then I suggest you correct that soon. “Bad Fat Black girl is that girl.”