Thick and Other Essays 1-6


The first essay starts with a story about Tessie Mcmillan Cottom and she discusses how a man had said to her “Your hair thick, your nose thick, your lips thick, the whole thing about just thick” (p. 7). She mentions how people have always made her feel as if she was too much and that she should have been a thing or have less of everything. She mentions how this more so happened with white people and for a long time she tried to change the way she looked. She then decided to stop changing how she looked, which she believed truly helped her express herself through her writing.

In the Name of Beauty:

In this essay, Mcmillan Cottom discusses what it means to be “beautiful.” She emphasizes on how black women are usually thought of less beautiful than white women. In this section of the book, she discusses beauty standards and how in sixth grade her white teacher told her, her breast were distracting (p. 41). She elaborates how white women have an advantage because society views their bodies and looks as ideal. She states “beauty isn’t actually what you look like; beauty is the preferences that produce the existing social” (p. 45). Mcmillan Cottom discusses how beauty is expressed through culture as well. She continues to mention and argue “when I say that I am unattractive or ugly, I am not internalizing the dominant culture’s assessment of me. I am naming what has been done to me. And signaling who did it” (p. 60). In addition, she argues how the desire to beautiful becomes a demand and a market. She argues it is a form of capital and white women control this capital. She argues that self-love and the desire to beautiful is a marketing tactic and way of marketing beauty as a product.

Dying to Be Competent:

            In this essay, Mcmillan Cottom discusses how people are not judged based on their earnings and or occupation. She argues that social class, gender, and race, are factors that people judge. She states, “For black women, racism, sexism, and classism have always made us structurally incompetent” (p. 81). She elaborates on pregnancy in the medical system invalidating her pain and feelings. Her story about her miscarriage really stood out to me. Many women who go into their doctor have their feelings dismissed and she emphasizes the problem with how the medical field invalidates neglect black women’s feelings. They told her they couldn’t do anything because she didn’t tell them she was in labor, but she kept telling them something was wrong. No one listened.

Know Your Whites:

            In this essay, she discusses how when she attended a fundraising event and how her mother told her “White people are crazy” and how she went to this event listening to how white people She mentions how knowing how white people think and react in certain situations. She discusses how there is a difference between white people believing in the idea of a white president and faith in Obama.

Black is over (Or, Special Black):

            This essay discusses the gap and unease between black people who are rich and the average working black individual. She discusses how there is a hierarchy within black communities. She states, “My social status necessitated that I perform or at least desire a different kind of blackness” (p. 146). She also states how when Obama left office “black was over” (p. 150).

The Price of Fabulousness:

            This essay discusses the stereotypes and stigma that poor black females experience and how black women from poor lifestyles and families experience discrimination more often and are treated differently than so-called higher-class black women. She discusses the societal belief and idea of poverty. She discusses no matter how smart or talented these black girls are they fail to be successful because of their backgrounds and their disadvantages. In this chapter, she talks about watching her grandmother helping others to make ends meet. She mentions how “status symbols..become keys to unlock these gates” (p. 168). Although this chapter is short, she elaborates on how black people from poor backgrounds experience hardships.

Overall, these chapters go into her personal experience as a black woman and an intellectual black women’s perspective. She experienced hardships that all women do face, but her feelings were invalidated by white women. She was treated differently for the way she looked and her thickness which influenced her perspectives on sexual abuse, beauty, and even politics.

My optional question for you all is when was a time when your feelings were invalidated by a man, or a doctor or when was a time when you have seen a black woman be treated differently or even heard a story when a black woman was treated less than by a white person?

This is a common issue and debate topic in society today. I believe her perspective gives white people an opportunity to hear from personal experience.

My other question, how do you feel about social status impacts your political beliefs?


This video was very insightful, and I thought I would share. It is a sit down with Tressie Mcmillian Cottom to discuss her book.

Feminist and Sociology Professor Tressie McMillan Cottom




  1. Christina Farmer

    Dear Brianna,
    Thank you for such a great analysis of the first six chapters of Thick. The video you posted was very informative.

    This book continues the thesis we have been discussing this entire semester that black women feel as if there is no space in the US for them.

    Reading about Ms. Cotton’s birthing experience was extremely difficult and I needed to put the book down for a few days. As a person that has lost a pregnancy, it was triggering to hear about her suffering labor for days and delivering her daughter stillborn. The callous words of the nurse were horrific. That no help was given for her daughter is incredible to me. I wondered if Ms. Cotton believed she would have had a better outcome in a hospital with black doctors and nurses. Richmond has a group called Birth in Color to address this topic.

    I watched the 2014 SNL skit with Leslie Jones when Lupita Nyong’o was named most beautiful person in People Magazine. I understood why Ms. Cotton said the segment was rooted in pain. It was painful to watch as it understood deep-seated self-esteem issues about beauty, race and “usefulness”.

    The essays Know Your Whites and Black is Over are both about how to separate people into palatable groups so you do not have to know individual people and possibly learn your own prejudices are wrong.

    In 1996, I kept having severe abdomen pain. I saw a series of doctors over a month. The tests were inconclusive. I had a male gynecologist tell me “You are suffering from mild depression. Go home and have your husband baby you until you feel better.” It turned out I had endometriosis. This was diagnosed by a different (female) gynecologist but it took me about 3 months to go see her since the first doctor said the pain was all in my head. I think back now and if I did have depression there were options he could have offered more than being “babied”. I had surgery in February 1997 to correct the issue and delivered healthy babies in February 1998 and June 2020. It was NOT in my head and if I had followed the male doctor’s advice, I could have done irreparable damage to my body and never had my sons.

    • Brianna Reyes


      First, I would like to say I’m sorry for your experience. As a female it angers me that this is the way women are treated. Although we have experienced these encounters with our doctors, it angers me that Black women like Cottom are treated differently by white physicians. Like I said I have had some surprising encounters with doctors and I can only imagine what black women feel when their feelings are invalidated. Men tend to think they know more than women and it’s sad that male doctors don’t listen, like in your case. Cottoms experiences as a black women really bring this issue to light. It opens a door for a topic that I would’ve never thought about outside this class. Also, I had no idea about the Birth in Color group in Richmond. Very interesting. I strongly believe that it is hard to relate to Black women experiences as a white women but I try my best. I may not have experienced the same encounters but I have had similar experiences. It just goes to show how women have been treated and how Black women struggle to find their place because of white men and even white women. The comment the teacher made to Cottom really stuck with me because teachers are supposed to be influencers. They are supposed to help you reach your fullest potential. All that teacher did was criticize her and make her feel uncomfortable. Again, Christy I’m sorry for the experience you have had with male doctors. Like Profsi said, it angers me.

      Thank you for sharing!

  2. Emily Hobbs


    Great summary of the content and great key points about important aspects in the readings. In response to your question about a time when my personal feelings were invalidated by a man or doctor, I have not personally experienced this yet. However, I have witnessed many conversations with men surrounding women that indirectly undermined their abilities, feelings and voice because they were women. It is a common misconception of women by men that they are inferior and not as capable. This is completely and utterly false and references an aged view of women that has no place in modern society.
    Although I haven’t personally experienced the scenarios you are referencing, I think it is still a problem that the experiences and feelings of black women are invalidated by white women. I think the upper classes of white women who have very little contact with the black community are inherently ignorant of the feelings of other classes and races of women. Not all women in this demographic are this way, but I believe it is impossible to relate as a white woman and individual unless you have stopped to listen, form friendships and try to understand the experiences of black women. It’s so important that their voices be heard and experiences be acknowledged in our world so that we can break the racial and class barriers between women.
    In regards to your second question on my political views relative to my social status, I think class is definitely a key player in the difference of political views. I personally am not big into politics, but I do have my own opinions and beliefs that hold true. I don’t believe in the online warzone on politics. I believe everyone is entitled to their belief and it’s not ‘wrong” because it doesn’t match your beliefs. Class contributes to political views by addressing certain issues and problems from a personal perspective that may be different from another class.

    • Brianna Reyes

      Emily ,
      I have seen the way some health care professionals act and I am not sure if it is just the way things are, or if they are just bad at having some compassion. I have heard some stories that make me worry because after reading about Cottoms experiences it really worry’s me. I wonder about all these experiences women may have had.
      Further, I agree that white women must stop and listen to the black women and like you said not everyone is that way. However, because we still have people like this in our society, we still have these issues. I really like what you had to say about politics. I’m not big on politics either but I wanted to hear what you all had to say. I like how you mention how everyone is entitled to their opinion because some people today do not know how to treat others with respect if they don’t share the same opinion. It’s very common now more than ever. Also, I like that you acknowledge the gap between white women who have little communication or interaction with women in the black community or minorities in general. To your response about politics views, I think they play a huge role in who people vote for and sometimes people’s social status get in the way of their true beliefs. I think people must remind themselves of their true morals and values rather than just their social status. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough response!

      • ProfSi

        You both are making the mistake of thinking of racism as individual attributes. It is not. It is structural. Her experiences are NOT the same as all other women. This is the entire point of writing the book! There are tons of articles, and I will research them and put them up, about the unequal treatment of White physicians, across the board, of Black somen.

  3. Gina Flanagan

    Thank you for your curation of Chapters 1-6 of Thick. It was insightful to hear Cottom relay her story about what being “thick” means to her. It is true that people can take one look at you and try to place you in a box by the way you look. And truly unfortunate the she was made to feel less than by those around her, especially white people. Obviously she has a very strong sense of self today and is an excellent writer who doesn’t care what people think of her.
    I cannot even believe that a teacher told Cottom that her breasts were distracting. I have heard though, of the way in which people discriminate on another level according to one’s skin tone. Recently I heard something about the term “brown bag” and how it’s an example of “colorism-discrimination based on skin color.” You can read about it here. When Cottom says, “I am naming what has been done to me. And signaling who did it” (p. 60), I was floored. I’ve never thought about beauty in that way or from that perspective and it really made an impact on me.
    Cottom’s story of losing her baby was deeply disturbing. I know the medical community does invalidate women’s health as I recently experienced this myself. I have stage 3 osteoarthritis, man that makes me feel old just saying it, and there have been doctors who dismiss me because they say, “I’m a young woman” and will be ok. Well, I’ve had arthritis for over 10 years now and I don’t consider 47 young anymore. I cannot say what this is like from a black women’s perspective but I imagine it to be much harder, to be black and to be a woman.
    I agree with Cottom’s Mom when she says, “White people are crazy.” I mean, Donald Trump, right.
    I assisted former UR Professor Cory Walker in putting together the program “Wyatt Tee Walker and the Politics of Black Religion” last February. It was truly interesting to hear about the connections between religion and black social culture. How within the black community it is generally not accepted if you are gay as well as the stigma associated with non-Christian attitudes.
    My other question, how do you feel social status impacts your political beliefs? Everyone’s social status, whatever your definition of that may be, impacts the way they view the world, including politics. As a moderate, I vote on specific issues rather than for a particular party.

    • Brianna Reyes


      You are so right about how people can take one look at you and make assumptions. It is really disturbing to see how people don’t realize that their comments can be destructive to someone’s self esteem. When people called her thick, or when her teacher told her, her breast were distracting; all played into how she felt. I loved reading about her comeback though and how when she stopped trying to change herself, she was able to really express herself. However, although their words and comments to her didn’t impact her entire life, it’s not the same for some people. I also agree with you about the teacher situation. I was so surprised and saddened because some young women develop faster than others and as someone who promotes body positivity, that teacher did nothing but single her out and make her feel uncomfortable. Also, the connection you made about her quote from page 60, I had the same feeling. That quote really opened my eyes and had an impact on me as well. I really found her experience with her miscarriage very upsetting. The doctors acted like she didn’t come to them. They invalidated her feelings and I’m so sorry to hear about your stage 3 Osteoarthritis. I personally have been telling my doctors my body is telling me something isn’t right from how I feel and I get the same answer. “You’re young.” Which could be the case, but they don’t even run any tests to say otherwise. They just assume. I think that is a big issue in the medical field and the way Cottom was treated by her doctors disgust me. In addition, I agree with you about voting based on specific issues rather than social status. However, some people beg to differ and don’t pay attention to the details, but just the party they identify with. Thank you for sharing

    • ProfSi

      Excellent post here, Gina. Of course our social status influences our political ideology! The difference is that even high-status Blacks usually vote Democratic due to something we call the Black identity heuristic. Maybe we can talk about this in class.

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