Body bashing or banter– when culture and curves collide

To the chagrin of many black women in the cybersphere, the Huffington Post recently reported that black women tend to be heavier and have higher self-esteem than our white counterparts. This “finding” is hardly new, frequently reported, and remotely interesting when relayed to the public ad nauseam.

Black American communities are not the only groups that have celebrated fleshier physiques. In countries with severe developmental concerns, the ability to afford food and the subsequent accumulation of weight are perceived to be signs of wealth. India is noted among these.

Although America is a decidedly anti-fat nation in many ways, with much of its citizenry currently deemed overweight by BMI standards, it is not just a black thing.

Body image issues transcend nationality and race. They trump socioeconomic status, political identity, organizational affiliation, education level, and so on.

Recent research suggests a correlation between the development of eating disorders and one’s social environment. (Not difficult to predict, eh?) I have been celebrated in some majority settings for being on the slimmer end of healthy weight, while studying at a black university in Louisiana I was offered extra servings.

The issues are complex. There’s identity construction in spite of odds, which many communities of color have to do. There’s cultural perceptions of strength and how the trait is physically qualified. There’s media sensitivity and portrayals of communities of color—especially black people.

This post is not designed to demonize the media as solely created by, perpetuated by and suited for Middle American white audiences. Black people often participate in the stereotypical presentations of the black body.

If only I had a dollar for every “Ooh-ughn-ughn” heavyset sista (or man dressed as a sista) on television, I could buy an island unoccupied by body blues.

The media vacillates between telling profoundly honest stories about women who struggle with and/or overcome self-perception issues and sensationalizing cultural norms.

Admittedly, many women within black communities have unhealthy body weights. But, pounds are not always the biggest indicators of one’s quality of life.

All too often, weight-based stressors trump mental health, career fulfillment and familial relations. Sometimes it is easier to exploit weight because it shows. Other health issues, especially depression, are not so apparent.

I have befriended women across color and geographic lines who struggled with the three numbers (and in rare instances, two) beneath their feet on a scale.

I know women of different backgrounds who fall in different size categories, and bring different frames of reference to those categories. So we can’t paint entire groups as monoliths, but we can be sensitive to the effects of environmental influence on one’s ideas.

Plus, it’s getting hot in herrrre. As winter becomes a memory, Vitamin D levels increase, and all manners of sunnin’ and funnin’ become commonplace, spring often serves as a catalyst for less clothing and more scrutiny.

As award season piques the interest of various audiences, who and what people wear become as interesting as how they wear it. How are ensembles adorned? Which builds are (believed to be) most appropriate for certain outfits? What about spring breakers?

Although I have never been overweight, I understand the struggle and choice to work toward personifying who we want to be. I understand being at odds with myself (I have bangin’ collarbones and no cleavage.), but I now choose to dwell in a happier and more satisfied space.

As the United States and world continue to diversify it is my hope that our beauty perceptions are remixed, too. May the people accept difference, and attain what they seek. Here’s to the pursuit of body peace.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s