When entertainment writer Sesali Bowen walks into a room, she owns it. Though she thinks before she speaks, she’s not afraid to let you know what’s on her mind — and then put all of that into words. When Bowen was younger, she spent her free time doing one of two things: journaling, or daydreaming about journaling. After she realized her knack of writing could, essentially, write her future, she focused on her innate interests that, too, came from her heart: gender studies, women’s health, race, and more. Following stints at Planned Parenthood and Oxygen, her efforts landed her at Refinery29, where she currently writes about entertainment and pop culture through what she calls her ‘trap feminist’ lens.
What is ‘trap feminism,’ you ask? Well, as Bowen explains to Refinery29’s co-founder and global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich on this week’s UnStyled podcast, it’s her unique feminist sensibility that includes what she calls a “messy feminism,” a mindset that goes beyond hip hop feminism, a theory started by Joan Morgan. “It’s gritty, hood culture that specifically came from listening to trap music. Hip-hop and trap music is always critiqued for being anti-feminist,” she explains. “But there is agency for women there; you just know how to look for it.” And she’s right.
A self-proclaimed “hood girl,” Bowen hails from Chicago, Illinois, which lent her an upbringing that she uses in conjunction with her masters degree to look at aspects within the hip hop and feminist realms in a different way. Take going to the strip club to make it rain: “I think that’s a classic, cliché critique of something like that; that this person only sees women as sexual objects, that they get to go and see and view in a sexual way and throw money at, and you know — that’s that. But what does that say about women who choose to partake in that particular realm of sex work?” Amen.
If we start to focus too much on body positivity, we lose sight of the accountability that people need to not treat fat people like shit.
Believe us when we say Bowen is Refinery29’s expert on all things lit. Get to know her, and her thoughts on the aforementioned topics — including, but not limited to, body image, gender and sexuality, and so much more — on this week’s episode of UnStyled.
You identify as queer. Tell us about what it was like accepting that label for yourself.
Sesali Bowen: “You know, the funny thing is: I’ve always been queer. Even when I was straight I was queer. Because I think that sex with fat women has always been contextualized as so outwardly other. I think the fact that I even had a sex life was so mind-blowing to some people. When they would find out it was almost as if I had outed myself, as if it was outside of the realm of acceptable, heterosexual sexuality. That someone would be a attracted to a fat person, that fat people have desires — I always felt very not straight.”
What are some of your principles on style? What is the role that personal style plays in your life? SB: “I have a bittersweet relationship with style. I’m a fat girl. That is a self-identifier that I use. And I think that a lot of my style gets defined for me because I’m a person who has to wear plus-size clothes. So, I think that the places that I’m able to go to get clothes, the places that I’m able to look to for inspiration — as to the way certain things might look on my body — they’re all very limited in that way.”
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