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I am a black woman and I wear a size 4. My five feet, nine inch, 125-pound frame is a bit of an anomaly in the black community –- no Beyonce body here. Think Cameron Diaz, dipped in rich chocolate.
(And for the record, my slim frame is hereditary, not something gained by unhealthy means. A lot of the women in my family were also very thin when they were my age.)
Because of my slender body frame and proportion, I have been asked about my weight more times than I care to remember. It is usually peppered with positive or negative overtones, depending on the woman asking. White women tend to envy my size, whereas black women tend to pity me for it. It’s as if I straddle two different worlds –- praised by white and mainstream culture but enduring ridicule and countless cruel jokes from the black community for the same reason –- being thin.
And quite frankly, I am tired of the praises and criticisms I’ve received from both sides, finding these comments about my weight intrusive and downright rude.
Although mainstream America praises my slender figure, my people celebrate the curvier body type as beautiful. Just look at the covers of King or Black Men Magazine, graced with photos of rapper Nicki Minaj or actress LisaRaye turned around and poppin’ it out. Heck, even Coco, rapper Ice T’s wife, has a Thong Thursday photo posted via Twitter each week and Kim K’s famous curves are everywhere you turn. I mean, any time a white girl is thicker than you are….. I’m just sayin’.
The message is clear: If you are a black woman, or if you want to be with a black man, this is what your body should look like. Subsequently, there is a lot of pressure for thinner black women to have a fuller shape.
When I was younger, everywhere I went -– church, school, the hair salon –- other black women felt the need to comment on my weight. “Guuurrrlll, you look like a toothpick! Dontcha know no one wants a bone but a dog?” In restaurants, other black women would press me to eat more food, order dessert or ask me if I had an eating disorder. I would drop my head in shame, mumbling some reply about how I had tried to gain weight, and silently pray they would stop discussing my body openly like some sort of salacious celebrity gossip.
Today, I accept my body the way it is, but I would be lying if I said I have never wanted fuller hips or plump backside. In the past, I spent hours in the gym on the Stairmaster, doing lunges and leg presses -– the very exercises that fitness magazines promised would fill out my flat fanny. I wolfed down tons of sugary snacks and fast food, enough double grease burgers to make a competitive eater sick, all in an effort to pack on the pounds.
I even found myself at a nutritional store, eyeing the weight gainer that a friend had recommended to me.(For the record, I left the store empty-handed after someone told me it all went to her belly instead of her backside; the last thing I wanted was to be a skinny girl with a gut.) Sometimes when a stranger in class or at the mall would ask me how much I weighed, I would change the subject or lie about my weight, adding 10 or so pounds to the actual number.
And I know that I am not alone: recently, I read that black market plastic surgery is on the rise among women of color, particularly buttock enhancement injections. In the book "Shot Girls," author Vanity Wonder writes about receiving "shots" or illegal buttock injections in a motel room in Detroit; she also describes how the practitioner used cotton balls and super glue to close the injection site. "I had always wanted a better body and, on top of that, I liked the compliments that I'd got when I was a little thicker," Wonder wrote.
Although I would never put my health at risk in this way, I understand the desire to fill out those Apple Bottom jeans and be considered desirable by the vast majority of black men everywhere. But after the Stairmaster and lunges failed to work, I began to examine the definition of beauty in black and white culture. Why do I, or any other woman for that matter, have to subscribe to someone else’s idea of what is beautiful? And why was I trying to force my body into a mold it obviously wasn’t naturally designed to fit into?
I thought of the white women I had seen on television or featured in magazines who starved themselves or purged after every meal, all in an effort to be thin, to be considered beautiful. Wasn’t I doing the same thing, just in reverse?
I decided that it was high time for me to define beauty for myself. I started focusing on all the things I liked about my body –- the shape of my legs, the fullness of my lips and most importantly, my health –- instead of what I didn’t. Soon, I noticed the fellas sittin’ up and taking notice; see, I discovered that although there are a lot of men like curves, all men love confidence. Feeling good in the skin you’re in is the ultimate definition of beauty. It’s all in the way you carry yourself, whether you are a size 2 or 22.