Pin It
Destiny Adeyemi, Fat, Black, & Sad
Destiny Adeyemi’s Fat, Black, & Sad

Destiny Adeyemi’s new poem and short film explore being fat, Black, and sad

The poet shares their experiences in the hopes of shifting the language and perception around fatness, Blackness, and mental health

Destiny Adeyemi is lying on their side, sandwiched between the kitchen work top and the cabinets installed above, their body draped in a heavy red velvet curtain. Gazing towards the viewer, their face is relaxed, subdued. There are small movements – a stretch of a leg, a hand pulling tighter around the plush material, the blinking of eyes – but Adeyemi remains like this for the film’s two-minute duration. Even as the image of Adeyemi cuts to black, there is the sense that they will stay there for much longer than we did.

“I am fat,” begins Adeyemi’s poem, “Fat, Black, & Sad”, unveiled in a new short film exploring fatphobia, healthism, and the artist’s own experiences as a fat, Black person, commissioned by the Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning’s Subject to Change: New Horizons programme. “My fat gets up for tea and doughnuts in the morning / It clouds eyes with pity,” they continue, traversing experiences of bullying, unsolicited advice – such as receiving an obesity certificate in year six – unnecessary comments, and the sexualisation of their body.

With their short film now streaming online (and in this article), we speak with Adeyemi about what conversations they hope the poem will open up, the creative direction of the short film, and how, as a society, we can shift the language and perceptions around fatness, Blackness, and mental health.

“When has the right been given to people to talk about my body as is if it a physical object solely occupying space, and not actually a representation of me, in their lives?” – Destiny Adeyemi

Can you tell us about the experiences that led to the formation of this poem and short film?

Destiny Adeyemi: I was connecting my personal everyday experiences of fatphobia – things like people grabbing my belly; using fat as an insult; pretending to care about my health; giving me unsolicited weight-loss tips; being made fun of for being around food, exercise, and clothes – with the public image of fatness and what reinforces this. For instance, I remember being weighed at the end of year six and a letter being sent home that I was obese which quickly changed how my parents treated me. Or it’s the shared experiences of fat people going to the doctor and the response to any ailment being to lose weight. 

These experiences fed into the topic of my work when I saw a big ad for Better Health with a fat, Black woman doing the splits and then started to see other ads for it around London. It was interesting as a diversion from the government's failures surrounding their handling of the COVID-19 crisis, but also the way fat people are portrayed in relation to exercise as comedic, almost absurd.

Can you speak about the concept behind the film’s visuals, like the red draping, and the decision to lay on the kitchen bench?

Destiny Adeyemi: My best friend and camera person, Sumayyah Wong, helped me in experimenting with different shots and provided a comfortable, friendly eye. Our trial shoots involved lots of climbing on top of things and cramming into corners, but eventually we decided to use the kitchen counter. It’s a site we normally have control over, right? Something we look down on as we prepare food or do daily tasks. Kitchens and home/‘private’ spaces aren’t exactly perceived as political epicentres, but I think there is a lot to explore regarding the relationship between these sites, in relation to fatphobia and anti-Blackness.

The red draping is actually my bedroom curtain! Location options being limited due to COVID-19 meant making the best possible use of my flat. Our main aim was to create a set of visuals that would add to, but not subtract from, my personal poem. Sumayyah describes it as ‘a minimalistic, yet engaging self-portrait – the red cloth subverting the power dynamics of the space and aiding with the themes of comfort and discomfort prevalent in the poem.’

There’s a soundscape in the background which sounds like city traffic. Is this sound intentional? What does it symbolise in the context of this piece?

Destiny Adeyemi: We could hear the city traffic pretty clearly from outside the window. We made two versions, with and without the city sounds, and the inclusion of the city tied into the questions of the public/private spheres, of consent and intrusion, and the constants of everyday life fitting nicely with the piece. Sumayyah noticed moments in the poem that ‘call for some sort of metamorphosis.’ Lines like, ‘I scroll to my marks that reflect a / three year old’s drawing of the sea / Imagine myself motorbike sides protrude / into silicone handlebar soft to touch.’ They made a really good observation on there being no clear distinction between a public and private affair for marginalised people.

Can you tell us about the decision to use the title Fat, Black & Sad, and the relationship these words have with one another in this context?

Destiny Adeyemi: Selecting the title of the piece was a hard part, the words in that sequence came from a joke I made to my partner on the poem: ‘I think the poem is too sad, I don’t just wake up fat, Black and sad’, to which he said, ‘fat, black AND sad, god no.’ As two fat, Black people with mental health issues, we do often wake up sad and that wasn't something I wanted to centre the piece on. I ended up choosing this title because it felt like I was running away from the perceptions other people had of my fatness, Blackness and mental health, rather than the words themselves.

“I (chose) this title because it felt like I was running away from the perceptions other people had of my fatness, Blackness and mental health, rather than the words themselves” – Destiny Adeyemi

I’m aware the film has just debuted, but can you tell us anything about how the poem and film have been received? What conversations do you hope they start?

Destiny Adeyemi: It has been received positively by people, especially fat people. People have told me they've been able to empathise with the content of my poem and that they've been able to understand a feeling they've had for a long time but have been unable to put into words. Although it is still early days, I hope to open up a discussion about how fatphobia works through anti-Blackness and racism in medicine – an unsolicited device often used against the Black community; a community that is specifically at risk from medical malpractice.

What do you hope people take away from this poem?

Destiny Adeyemi: If people take anything away from this poem, I hope it is that fat people are trying to live their lives separate from the ‘well meaning’ advice they receive. If someone is fat, they are aware of it – it intercepts everyday life and how they navigate the world, and to bring it to their attention repeatedly does not improve their health.

How, as a society and as individuals, can we actively shift the language and perceptions around fatness? 

Destiny Adeyemi: In essence this is a question about consent: when is it appropriate? When has the right been given to people to talk about my body as is if it a physical object solely occupying space, and not actually a representation of me, in their lives? In order to shift the narrative away from ‘fat equals bad’, people will have to change how they use fat as a derogatory term and fear its use in casual conversation.

I'm fat. I'm a fat person. Calling me ‘husky’ or ‘larger’ or ‘full-figured’ does not change how I feel about myself. It only reflects how you feel about me and exposes how you feel about fat people in general. I believe if people felt open to talk about their bodies, fat people would be less fearful of opening up about concerns and specific issues only to have people parrot back a line about weight-loss, when they do not have fat people’s best interests at heart; it operates as a ‘quick fix’ for a wider issue.

Fat, Black, & Sad is commissioned by the Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning’s Subject to Change: New Horizons programme. Each month, for 12 months, it will be commissioning a different young creative to produce new artistic work – ranging from poetry to music, visual arts, and moving image – responding to the uncertain times we are living in. Destiny’s piece is the third of the 12 creative responses