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Wed May 11, 2016, 10:03 AM

Challenge Everything: Eight Black Women Talk About Body Image

To be a black woman is to receive uniquely targeted messages about one’s body. The black female body is hypersexual or hypermasculine or both, but it is never our own. It is too obscene to be treated with respect but too alluring not to emulate. We are hip-hop vixens or mammies or (starving?) Africans. Black American women eat unhealthily, we are told, and so our happiness makes no sense. Our bodies do not deserve to celebrate, to move, to occupy space.

Exact statistics on the prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating among women of color are often unavailable, but the National Eating Disorders Association notes that reports are on the rise. Most media discussion of disordered eating revolves around a single narrative: the experiences of primarily (upper) middle-class, heterosexual white girls and young women. When eating disorders — and body image struggles more generally — are dismissed as “white-girl problems,” black women have trouble finding both social recognition and helpful care.
What follows is an online conversation between eight black women about the messages we receive about our bodies, the ways they change, and how being black women complicates it all.

How are black women’s bodies talked about within (y)our own communities?

Driadonna Roland: I feel like the only body that is talked about favorably is a Nicki Minaj body — the exaggerated Coke-bottle, video-girl look that is literally not real life. So if men in my community discuss black women’s bodies, they only celebrate a specific ideal that is often unattainable. They don’t mean me. They don’t mean the majority of black women you see in your daily life.
Essence Gant: I’m from the South, so the conversations I’m used to hearing about our bodies are generally positive. Maybe it’s because comfort and soul food tends to make us thicker, and that’s something we’re taught to celebrate; “fat” or “plus-size” in New York would be “thick” and “curvy” in the community I grew up in. I feel like black Southern beauty standards have given more women more leeway and opportunity to be included in the beauty conversation. We love Jill Scott’s curves just as much as we love Naomi Campbell’s long legs.

Very interesting interview


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