Even though Jackie and me grew up in the same city, I became aware of her awesomeness on the internet after we both had moved away (thank u, tumblr). She has definitely been an inspiration for me as a fat woman of colour navigating whiteness and fat phobia, not just through solidarity, but also because she is unapologetically who she is which has been my biggest struggle, hence this blog project. Jackie is also a co-founder of It Gets Fatter, “a body positivity project started by fat queer people of colour, for fat people of colour!” I would highly recommend checking out their videos on Vimeo.
Joining Jackie on this crush-worthy post is her boyfriend, Berlin Reed. He is a chef who just published a really great book called The Ethical Butcher: How Thoughtful Eating Can Change Your World (it’s on Amazon if you can’t access a local shop.) His bio describes him as “a food warrior and radical food theorist bent on decolonizing cuisine.” SWOON. Catch him on tour right now and follow updates on his tumblr.
On a very personal note: I can’t even tell you how special it was to photograph these two. I have never witnessed brown love like this, queer brown love. The experience made me want to keep searching for brown bodies to project out into the world. This is how we heal.
Big thanks to Berlin and Jackie for sharing all of this with me.
How does being a person of colour and/or a fat person of colour inform your style?
Jackie: both of these identities inform pretty much every aspect of my style. being a fat woc (woman of colour) means i’m hypersexual as well as objectified/exotified all the time by homos and heteros alike. my sexuality gets hidden behind all of those identities as well because there’s no fucking space in the world for one woman to be fat, brown AND a big ol lez.
my clothes reflect the opposite of how fat brown women are supposed to be in the world by actually taking up space in an unapologetic way.
i really like patterns that aren’t “slimming” and clash in a way that draws the eye to what people may call “problem areas”. that mean i’m accentuating these parts instead of hiding them. it’s fun!
Berlin: being a masculine queer poc def informs my style in both the icons and styles i reference and draw inspiration from, and the ways i am able to manipulate how others read me. depending on my mood any given day, i may give queeny fag, dad realness, 90s grunge or hood dandy. i love having access and ownership over the cultures that have completely informed ALL of the fashion and art world: hip-hop and queer culture.
i think reclaiming the adornment of brown male bodies that was taken away by colonizers and labeled “feminine” is subversive daily decolonization.
brown men have always worn flowers, beads, jewels and the like as signs of power and strength, so I really think being a queer black man gives me space to define my full princely self outside of white normative gender standards. having these backgrounds allows me to be defiant in my style and still be deeply rooted in my own history. i definitely also covet that smooth, effortless style that older black men seem to develop as they age. it’s like a glowing aesthetic aura.
Do you find that there are perks to being a person of colour when it comes to fashion?
Jackie: actually karen, i think about something you once said to me (on tumblr maybe?) about being brown. you said something like “qpoc (queer people of colour) can wear whatever they want”! when i asked if two patterns together was “too much”. being brown means you’re already too much so you can add whatever the fuck you want on top of that and literally watch peoples’ minds being blown as you walk by.
Berlin: hells yes!! again, one perk is that i can draw on African, black American, gay and punk styles without being appropriative. there is power in wearing kente cloth with a clashing 90s neon fabric and my bleached topfro. i also totally agree with your statement that qpoc can wear whatever they want. it is so true! most places i go, people stare at me even if i am wearing “normy” clothes and have my hair covered, so why not wear exactly what i want every single day? they’re already watching. give em looks, right?
plus, making white people uncomfortable by pushing my unashamed brown queerness in their faces is THE BEST medicine.
Is there a memorable style phase you had as a kid/teen?
Jackie: i had some definite style moments! i had this all floral outfit that i wore all together when i was like 12 (shirt, leggings and zip up jacket in the same floral!!) i liked wearing really oversize tshirts as dresses (by belting that shit over leggings) when i was like 8 to 10 ish! i also had this sweatshirt that said “fancy nancy” in cursive with a bedazzled cat on it. it was so beautiful and i think that was my faghag root!
Berlin: i guess my style as a kid was basically all about color and patterns. i loved loud floral print dresses, stretch pants with stirrups and slouch socks, color-coordinated and monochromatic looks and these homemade hair clips with like, lots of ribbons and flair. as a kid i was into hiphop style icons like will smith and dwayne wayne as well as the Cali teen shows like 90210, saved by the bell, etc. I was a total rough and outdoorsy northwest kid, so i also have always been into functional fashion that feels good and have never been very nice to my clothes. puberty and gender/body ish kind of stalled my fashion sense during most of my adolescence, but I finished my teens as a devout thrift store shopper, and putting together my own looks from found treasures is still my style.
Jackie: oh god, this is so hard!! how to pick between all those fly fat queer women of colour i see in the media all the time (REPRESENTATION PROBLEMS)!!?? sadly the only fat woman of colour (does purple count?) i had access to as a kid was ursula. she’s fucking amazing though so that’s not the worst thing ever! the only person on tv i saw with wild hair like mine as a teen was darlene from roseanne. she’s pretty cool, and really does that particular hard femme/soft butch thing in an inspiring way! other style/life heroes are vanessa huxtable, nadia aboulhosn, jade fair, missy elliott, ciara, aaliyah, angel haze, marfmellow, lady, juliana huxtable, rihanna, erykah badu, berlin reed and audre lorde.
Berlin: damn, like, so many people! my inspiration comes mostly from brown queers i know and by making references to either 60s or 90s fashion. my number one icon of life is tupac shakur, and his style still makes me swoon. he is absolutely the most beautiful human and his fashion presence was just phenomenal. i also love the father of busy sweaters- Bill Cosby, Andre 3000, Malik Reddd, Spoek Mathambo, Juliana Huxtable and all House of LaDosha, Le1f, Vanessa and Theo Huxtable, Zuzuka Poderosa, my friend Simona Duque and her Pachamamita line, Ramdasha Bikceem and her Klub Kid Vintage store, Sanyu Hunter Nicholas, (AQUA)Marinez, Melanie Magenta, Wiz Khalifa and Tyga (for tattoos), South African fashion blogs and all the hot brown femmes I am so lucky to be around-especially my queen, Jackie Pentium.
You both work in industries that require uniforms (Jackie is a nurse, Berlin is a chef); are you able to express style and personality within those limitations?
Jackie: at first i was gonna say “no” but then i thought about my scrubs and they’re actually femme as fuck! i learned how to sew just so i could make them! i have 6 now, and they’re dresses in lots of patterns/colours from floral to hot pink to leopard print! so yeah i guess i get to express myself a bit!
Berlin: My industry definitely has a uniform standard in the chef coat. As a butcher, I used to really be into this dandy version of traditional French butchers, who wore ties. I’d always have a clashing shirt/tie combo peeking out from my butcher’s coat. Then, when I started off my own food projects, I got a really cute khaki coat with my own emblem on the chest. A year ago or so, I just stopped wanting to wear it though. I just didn’t like the patriarchal formality and elitism it enforced. Since then, I have had a particular kitchen get-up that includes jeans, a loud printed t-shirt with sleeves rolled up and a backwards hat-usually a wild one. It’s the only time I wear hats backwards, it’s where my focus comes from. I also have this thing about wearing my apron folded down and tied above well above my waist. Lately, I’ve been thinking of tie-dyeing and screenprinting some chef’s coats for myself. They are pretty, diners love them, and messing with them like that skews the authority they are supposed to impose. I like that.
Jackie: women’s symbol necklace, gold pyramid earring, women’s symbol earring, triangle ring
Berlin: i basically just always have my tattoos and power necklaces with charms. neither of them come off. though, i have changed charms over the decade ive been wearing these two silver necklaces. right now its a quartz crystal set by my friend and jackie’s other pyramid earring.
It’s obvious from your pictures that you are so in love. I realized throughout the process how this kind of image is usually reserved for white hetero couples’ engagement photos and the like. The shoot felt rare and special. Can you talk a bit about brown love?
Jackie: i think this is the year of brown gay love!!!! i really feel that and see that in a real way! i spent the weekend after this photoshoot in philly and brooklyn with a bunch of brown homos in brown homosexual love and it was so beautiful to behold!
words i’d use to describe brown gay love are: home, healing, nourishing, and radical. and once you’re in brown gay love you just wanna see brown bodies loving up on eachother. is there anything nicer to see than that?
berlin and i have already had so many life changing moments in our relationship. one i remember so vividly is crying one time when he put his hands in my hair and i’d realised no one had ever touched me like that ever before (looked like they really enjoyed running their fingers through my coarse hair). hair that i spent so long hating and wishing so hard would change and be tamer/whiter. hair that i would do so many damaging things to to make more palatable for white folks. this is what i mean about healing!
Berlin: oh jeez, i am way too much of a gushy cancer to answer this in a few sentences! in short: brown gay love heals. and i mean in all forms! the brown gay geniuses i know are the most inspiring people. their love has supported me through so much, and creating spaces for self- and community care has been such an important part of my queer identity. finding all of that in an intimate partner is just, it is something that can’t be described. jackie makes me feel so seen and whole. there’s no compartmentalizing of my personality or politix, we can vent about whiteness as much as we want, explore our identities and let all of our defenses down. brown gay love is revolutionary.
loving a brown body is great, loving a brown african feminist fat femme deep lez is just perfect. plus, as far as lifestyle, i mean- we are ridiculous together. its just wild style, bomb food and QPOC-separatism fantasies all day.
catch us in 20 years, it’ll be a sight to see, I’m sure.
(All photos by Karen Campos)