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‘Fat Off, Fat On’ Author Clarkisha Kent on Why Her Younger Self Would Be Scandalized

Clarkisha Kent

Culture critic Clarkisha Kent has been blowing up the internet for years, and her reach seems to grow by the moment.

Kent is the creator of “The Kent Test”, a media litmus test for determining whether something thoughtfully represents Black women and/or women of color, as well as the co-creator of “The Kelli & Kat Test” with Sydneysky G, which lays out criteria to determine whether a piece of media thoughtfully represents specifically fat Black women and/or non-men. In addition, Kent has gone viral multiple times for her cutting remarks (perhaps most famously for her “Groupon peen” tweet of 2019) and established herself as a prolific, candid writer whose experiences as a dark-skinned, Black, fat, disabled, bisexual, demisexual woman inform every word she pens.

Now, Kent’s debut memoir from Feminist Press, Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto, has officially hit shelves. We named it one of our most anticipated books of 2023 and it’s one of our March Book Club picks. It’s also Kent’s most personal work to date.

“It’s definitely surreal, ’cause I’ve always wanted to write a book,” Kent tells The Mary Sue. “It’s been a goal since I was very tiny, so it’s always weird to reach what some of my favorite gamers on the Internet—Simmers [people who play The Sims]—always call our ‘Little Big Sim Aspiration.’ Like your big life goal. After that, you’re like, ‘Man, what do I do next?’ So that’s where I’m at now. I did the thing. So now, I can either take a second and breathe or find a new thing to do/work towards.”

That thing, Kent says, is finally writing a western, which she had hoped to do before writing a memoir. However, when Claire Draper of the Bent Agency slid into Kent’s DMs, she took their advice and agreed to write the memoir first.

Kent wrote the majority of Fat Off, Fat On between early 2021 (after she survived a house fire) and mid-to-late-2022. She says it significantly altered her relationship with herself, especially in regard to the eating disorder she describes in the book and how she looks at her body.

“I think the pandemic was really what—I don’t wanna say ‘put my fatphobic issues to rest,’ but it definitely gave me a clear message: ‘Listen, girl. Listen up! This is societal programming that you keep fighting. Some of it you just need to kill with fire and be over it.’ Right?” she tells us.

“In the pandemic, seeing people still be fatphobic even though a) your body is trying to protect you through this shit, and b) you have whole athletes—like Olympian-trained people—who are dropping dead from this illness and you’re still worried about being fat … is just cartoonish. Like, y’all are not serious.

“That was really it for me. So when that happened I was like, ‘Yeah, fuck it. I’m really not gonna care about this shit.’ Obviously, there are gonna be days when I still feel a way ’cause of the programming. Sure. But I really was like, ‘This shit is wack. Y’all are wack. I don’t like this shit,'” Kent continues. “So as a result of that, I got rid of my scale. That’s helped tremendously because I’m not obsessed with this number and how many pounds I’ve lost or gained or whatever.”

For her book cover, Kent says she wanted to show how arbitrary scales can be. The photo on Fat Off, Fat On shows Kent in a crown of golden laurels and a white dress, sitting at a table next to a golden scale. On one side of the scale, red-frosted cupcakes sit high in the air. On the other side, fruits sit low and heavy. Kent props her chin on one hand and holds one of the cupcakes in the other; the latter is “chained” to the scale with a measuring tape.

Fat Off, Fat On by Clarkisha Kent book cover
(Feminist Press)

Although Fat Off, Fat On dives deep into Kent’s past, there are some things she refuses to put up for public consumption. For example, she speaks in-depth about growing up with her Nigerian family and her decision to cut off contact with them, as well as some of the abuse she and her siblings experienced from their parents. She also draws the line at explaining an apparent inciting event she calls “The Terrible Thing That No One Talked About™.”

Coming from the digital media sphere, where non-men are often asked to mine their trauma for clicks, Kent says she wanted to balance talking about her trauma with talking about the good parts of her life.

“There were a lot of fucked-up things that happened in my life. Would I have liked them to happen? No. I don’t think I needed that type of character development, but you know, outta my hands,” Kent says. “But those weren’t the only things that happened to me, so especially if you’re someone like me who is fat, let’s really talk about the range of our lives, how good it can be and how terrible it can be. Humanizing us, essentially.”

Kent admits to feeling some pressure to educate her readers, though that isn’t her primary goal. “I’m a Black person, there’s always gonna be this—I don’t wanna say ‘responsibility,’ but that’s how it feels if I’m being transparent. A lot of reason for that is a lot of these media portrayals of us are very fucking racist, among other things. And then when you start adding being a woman and being fat, it just gets worse,” she explains.

“For me, I was like, ‘I gotta set out and do this thing. I gotta do it for us.’ There’s still an element of that to my work always. No matter what, it is what it is. But making sure that I’m also doing this for myself is what helps me avoid a lot of the other BS.”

To that end, there’s a reason Fat Off, Fat On is called a manifesto. Kent talks about leaving Christianity, becoming disabled, falling in and out of love, being ghosted by her hot physical therapist, and having sex for the first time—all without ever straying from the sharp candor on which she’s built her writing career. She approaches each of these topics through the lens of a woman who exists unapologetically at several identity intersections, making for an especially powerful read.

“I definitely think [my younger self would] be scandalized. I think she’d be like, ‘What the fuck? Like, you really put our shit out here. Like, what?'” Kent says. “My younger self was a dick. I’m still kind of a dick, but I think after sitting with the work, she’d be like, ‘You know what? I did actually need to write this, ’cause seeing this all out on paper, things start to make sense.’ It probably would’ve been very helpful to her in terms of finding her way away from the toxicity that I describe in the book.”

At the very least, Kent says she was able to re-process events as she wrote about them for Fat Off, Fat On. “I feel very much like, yeah, you really did that shit. You’re here and you’re still standing and it still sucks,” Kent says. “It makes me feel a lot better about how I handled certain things, not to say that I handled all the things perfectly, but definitely in a way that I can look back sometimes and be like, ‘OK, I’m satisfied with how this turned out.’ Or look back and laugh at something [because] it doesn’t consume me with as much anger and resentment.”

There are also events and feelings she now realizes were not as serious as her younger self believed them to be, even if they were all-consuming in the moment. “I really did think that I was wack for not having as much experience [sexually],” she says with a laugh. “I was really upset by that shit and now I don’t think I would’ve died if I had waited even longer. But also because of my upbringing, I had that belief and approach at that time. It was one of those things where I really had to reconcile my relationship with sex for me to properly drop off the programming that happened when I was younger.”

With Fat Off, Fat On officially on shelves, Kent says she hopes to continue being more selective with her writing rather than pushing herself to produce hundreds of pieces a year just to survive. In addition to the western mentioned above, which she says will be a massive research endeavor, she also wants to return to some previously tabled TV scripts.

“I find myself revisiting the same pieces of media, ’cause some of this ‘content’ they’re just kind of pumping out to fill the platform is very mid. So I want to get some of these cool ideas outta my head,” Kent tells us. “When you start questioning some of this content, especially as a marginalized person, people’s thing is always like, ‘OK, well if you don’t like it, you can make your own.’ And I’m like, ‘Alright!’ So that’s what’s gonna happen! But understand that when I make my own, you need to shut the fuck up because you told me to make my own and I did it.”

Fat Off, Fat On is available everywhere books are sold. To keep up with Clarkisha Kent, follow her on Twitter @IWriteAllDay_ or on Instagram @clarkishakent.

(featured image: Feminist Press / The Mary Sue)

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Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and streamer whose work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture. Their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.