Most women, and men, are more obsessed with their physical appearance that they would like to concede. The rational is clear. It has been thoroughly demonstrated that attractive people are more popular, tend to earn more and in courts are even found not guilty more often than their unattractive counterparts. We are then justifiable in being concerned with and being obsessed with the way we look.
But studies have found that the degree of concern varies depending on ethnicity. It has been said that Black and Asian women generally have a more positive body image than Caucasian women. Furthermore researchers have revealed that black girls tend to be more satisfied with their body weight than girls from other ethnicities.
Even though I have found that to be somewhat true in my own life and experience, I think that it would be a mistake to generalize, as evidenced by the stories told in class about the pressures faced by non-Caucasian women to be skinny.
However if this is true, what could account for such a disparity between black and white women? When does an overly sense of feeling comfortable in your own skin be detrimental? Could we learn from the white woman’s skinny obsession?
I think that the disparity in body size obsession between blacks and whites can be explained by several factors. For starters, I believe that many black women have accepted and come to the realization that they could never look like Barbie. Even if I was a size O with humongous breasts, I will never be blond with blue eyes. Funny enough, this takes that attainable ideal off the table. I could never look like that, so why even try? Caucasian women on the other hand, might not find it so far fetched to look like Barbie. After all, they already have the skin tone or perhaps the same hair color, if not, it is only a few shampoo rinses away. In other words, it may be that Barbie is a more “reachable” goal for white women than it is for any sane black woman.
In addition, as mentioned in class, I think that culturally what is considered the norm and attractive can vary by ethnicity. I have read studies that showed that on average college aged black men tend to overwhelmingly prefer larger ideal female silhouettes and prefer a significantly heavier ideal female body size than whites. This is also evident in the shape and bodies of the video vixens in hip hop and rap videos.
Lastly, fat can only also be interpreted as a sign of resistance in the black community, a resistance from the Anglo-Saxon beauty ideal. In the same way, Le’a Kent and Bergam both recognize that a fat body can be used as a weapon, “a weapon, a site of political comedy, and an erotic object all in one” (Le’a Kent, 2001). Bergam is grateful for fat when she wants the world to see her as a man (Bergman, 2009). Similarly, black women sometimes treat fat as a weapon and as resistance against the West’s upholding slenderness as an aesthetic ideal.
But before we, black women, pat ourselves on the back for escaping the skinny trap, I would like us to consider the implications that such a positive image of self, regardless of our size might have.
It’s been interesting to notice that whereas white women celebrities proudly display their bodies after a dramatic weight loss, black women in the limelight act ashamed, lie about how and why they lost the weight and are even apologetic. Monique the comedian for example, who dropped almost 100 pounds, is quick to reiterate in every interview that the weight loss was strictly due to health reasons. She later admitted that she’d receive many letters from fat black women accusing her of betraying them and of conforming to the white beauty standard.
Star Jones, another prominent black celebrity who lost a great deal of weight, also was on the receiving end of a severe backlash from the black community for not being proud of “who she really was”. Star’s answer, similar to Monique’s, was that she had developed heart problems and was diabetic.
Why would carrying extra weight be ever associated with being a proud black woman!! I find black women’s overly positive attitude with being full figured rather troubling. This may be a barrier for many women to live healthy lives (i.e.: exercise, eat well balanced diets, etc.…), as there is no social incentive to worry about weight. I worry and find it dangerous to want to reclaim our fat bodies for the sake of resisting the whites’ obsession with slenderness. The fact is that compared to the general population, blacks are disproportionately affected by heart disease and diabetes, two conditions directly linked to weight. Let’s not fall into the “I Am So F****ing Beautiful” trap (Kent, 2001). So as crazy as it may sound, perhaps we could learn from the white girl’s obsession, perhaps it could save our life.