Usher's Herpes Lawsuit Was Supposed to Be About Consent — Now it's About Fatphobia

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Usher photo by Kevin C. Cox/ Getty Images

Editor's Note: Use of the word "fat" in this article is in the spirit of body-positive campaigners working to reclaim the word, and is not intended as a negative descriptor or insult.

It's difficult to imagine that tracking the STD-related misadventures of celebrities would ever be a particularly appetizing prospect for, well, anyone, but Usher's herpes-related lawsuit apparently defies imagination. Not because a famous man allegedly had sexual intercourse with multiple partners without first informing them of his health status -- but because one of the women bringing the lawsuit against him is plus-sized.

On Monday, Quantasia Sharpton held a press conference in which she stated that, several years ago, she and Usher had "engaged in sexual contact. He never warned me about any STDs. It was just after my 19th birthday... When I first heard reports that he had herpes I couldn't believe it... Although I [have tested] negative [for the virus], I was upset by the reports because I would never have consented if I would have known... I feel that my rights were violated... I am doing this so that [Usher] does not do this to anyone else."

Most single, sexually active adults would agree that being unwittingly exposed to an incurable sexually-transmitted disease is decidedly not a party. Sharpton and two other as-yet-unnamed plaintiffs could, by filing this lawsuit, bring important issues around sexual health and consent into public discourse. But the response to Sharpton's press conference shows that much of the public is less concerned with the serious matters at hand, and more obsessed with Sharpton's dress size.

This week, Twitter showed how fat people are treated, judged, and discriminated against in America. It was both a stark eye-opener and a demonstration that, even in 2017, fat jokes are deemed perfectly acceptable -- as is suggesting that people over a certain size are incapable of being physically attractive or sexually active.


To make matters worse, some people indulging in online fat-shaming seem to be under the impression that they're not actually fat-shaming.

Then Snoop Dogg joined in (because: Snoop Dogg).

It would seem that a sizeable portion of America thinks being fat is worse than knowingly misleading sexual partners about something that could potentially give them a health problem that would persist for life.

Some even suggested that Sharpton should be grateful that anyone wanted to sleep with her at all, regardless of whether or not she contracted a disease as a result:

The level of misogyny and fatphobia involved here is jaw-dropping.

While others have expressed disgust at how Sharpton is being treated online, there is also an overwhelming sense that she has no right to sue Usher when she never actually contracted herpes, thereby ignoring the important consent-related issues at hand.

Predictably, it's also suggested that Sharpton is simply in hot pursuit of Usher's cash. TMZ dug up a very recent Facebook post in which Sharpton said "I need some money," while other sites simply call her a scammer.

In fact, every takeaway from this entire situation is pretty awful. To summarize, according to Twitter: it is impossible to find fat people sexually attractive; laughing at non-thin individuals is fair game; issues of consent don't matter if the guy is famous; and fat people should be grateful for any and all attention they get, even if it endangers them.

It's also disappointing because, in the last few years, very real strides forward have been made in body positivity — the term having been around since 1996, when it was coined by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott. Their organization TheBodyPositive is still going strong, bringing attention to issues around body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

Their foundation has been built upon by influential body positive campaigners -- such as model Tess Holiday, feminist author Roxanne Gay and writer Jes Baker -- as well as a hugely popular grassroots movement on social media. All of them have illuminated how individuals torture themselves in the pursuit of thinness, as well as the ways society punishes those who don't. America does have a much better idea in 2017 about just how prevalent fat-shaming and fat-prejudice is.

However, as Everyday Feminism noted back in May: "Once a movement hits the mainstream, it runs the risk of being diluted -- or worse, capitalized upon -- and that’s exactly what’s happened to body positivity… The definition was effectively diluted and distorted because it looks good on a T-shirt -- and now that T-shirt only fits bodies of a certain size."

As a result, body positivity for some simply means supporting Rihanna when she's put on a few extra pounds, or being excited that more ample derrières (à la Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj) are more accepted by mainstream beauty standards now. And while those are positive steps away from mainstream beauty's obsession with the ultra-thin, they largely miss the main points of the movement.

Herpes-related legal cases are nothing new -- turns out, a whole bunch of people with that infection have lied to their sexual partners about it -- but if anything groundbreaking is to be taken away from Quantasia Sharpton's abuse, it should be a fresh understanding of how prevalent fatphobia is, as well as the idea that it deserves to be treated as odiously as homophobia, racism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination.