Can Black Women Have Negative Body Image?

“Black women don’t have the same body image problems as white women. They are proud of their bodies. Black men love big butts” – Tyra Banks

From article “Black women and weight: Relocating to the South helped one woman change her self-image and accept her body” on TheGrio.com. Click to read.

I came across the above quote while searching for “negative body image Black women” on Google. My first reaction: “What a load of crap!”  My second reaction: “Really, what utter nonsense.”

Certainly, women of different races/ethnicities/cultures may have different body image issues.  To go so far, however, as to imply that all Black women “are proud of their bodies” is to deny the reality of Black women and girls who struggle on a daily basis with body image issues that may ultimately lead to eating disorders as well as an utterly tanked self-esteem.

I get the point that Banks is trying to make, however.  She is reinforcing a stereotype that Black women are happy with their curves–it’s not a bad stereotype really.  Also, I’m a big fan of being happy with your body no matter its current state–simply work on where you need to go, whether that is up or down some notches on the scale.

On the other hand, this stereotype is one that can work to keep Black women from moving their bodies more and becoming healthier. After all, if we love our curves so much and our “big butts”, then what’s a few extra pounds or 30?

Actually, let’s back that up. Is Banks actually saying that black women “love big butts”?  Not really.  What she is saying is that “Black men love big butts.”  So, in essence, the comfort level that a Black woman feels with her own body is apparently in direct relation to the acceptance of Black men of her body proportions–WHAT?

Well, what if you’re a lesbian, or a feminist, or just a free thinker, or all three rolled up into one ball of fierce loveliness?  Also, why should Black women value their bodies based upon the desires of Black men?  In fact, why should any woman value her body based upon the desires of any man?

Perhaps my lesbian (homoflexible), feminist, free thinking self has just gotten this quote all wrong.  Still, it bothered me.  It bothered me because I was searching for information that would useful to Black women who are struggling with negative body image.

The reality is that It’s easy to find resources for non-Black women.  Absolutely. I know from experience that the majority of young women and girls who are in treatment for eating disorders are non-Black.

It’s not that negative body image does not exist for Black women.  It’s not that eating disorders have no place in a Black woman’s mindset.  It’s simply that it’s not openly discussed.  Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder do not discriminate against Black women.

There is a stereotype that Black women are happy with their bodies in an unhealthy state.  There is a stereotype that Black women don’t care about what they put in their mouths.  There is a stereotype that Black women don’t suffer from eating disorders.

It’s time to clear up this mess. First, let’s do so by balancing the good of the stereotypes with the harsh reality that some Black women face. It’s no joke that the CDC lists heart disease as the number one killer of Black women. Let’s start speaking more mindfully and seeing each other as humans first, capable of both joy and suffering at our own hands.
Until Tomorrow (seriously)

D.

Ugly D…

Unmasked, self-portrait by Diedré M. Blake (October, 2010)

I am not a beautiful woman.  At least, this has been the feedback in one form or another that I have received since the start of the year. You may wonder why I would choose to write about such a topic.  Well, the reason is simple.

I am amazed by 1) the audacity of people to believe that they have the right to give feedback, whether positively or negatively perceived, on other people’s physical appearance, and 2) the ability of men (specifically in this case, Italian men) to reduce a woman’s worth to the rating that they believe they have the right to give her physical appearance.

I have decided to present this image on the right of myself, without make-up and with my face fully exposed as well as others in the posting in order to explore the issue of my physical appearance.  After all, if the point of this blog is self-exploration.  So then let’s have at it.  Indeed I have, time and again, written about my feelings and thoughts, so why not my physical self.

Some say “Ugly…” 

Yes, my nose is wide, and my lips are full, and my forehead is indeed a Tyra Banks four-finger, possibly five, high.  My eyes are almond-shaped and my left is smaller than my right eye.  My right eyebrow is seemingly permanently arched, because I am always arching it in response to something or another.  Of course, my features may have something to do with my mix of African and Asian ancestry.

I have scars…

I have a visible scar on my forehead on the right side.  I have scar marks by my left ear from when I had the chicken pox at age sixteen (a horrifying and mortifying experience, I can tell you ;)).  I have scars under my chin from having fallen as a child and also as a teenager from once when rollerblading.  I even have a small scar on my nose from when I was 18 and felt a need to be rebellious and got a nose ring, which didn’t end up being such a great idea in the end.  I decided to stick with tattoos thereafter.

Imperfect teeth…. oohh and facial hair 

Waiting, photography by April Rivers (Fall, 2010)

If I were to smile, you would see that my top two front teeth have small chips on either sides from when I had fallen during a field trip to the pirate city of Port Royal.  I am predisposed to facial hair and like most women I tweeze my eyebrows–no, they don’t just grow like that!  Thankfully I do not have a moustache like some women do–that would be extra work that I would rather not deal with.

Kinky, Nappy hair… Now short!

Until November 26, 2010, I had very long dred locs, which I had been growing since September 1999.  I cut my hair in mourning the loss of my dog, Petie, who died on Thanksgiving Day 2010.  Being without my hair has made me painfully aware of the existence of a “hair bias” in the world against women with short hair.  I do not believe I had ever really noticed it before.  My hair grew over the course of the past year, but I chose to cut it again on January 1, 2012 to the previous length in order to start the new year fresh.

Tattoos, cellulite, muscles, stretch marks, flat-chested, large thighs, and an ample derriere… I like saving the best for last! 

I am a person who believes in change and in letting go of the past and of that which not longer serves a purpose.  I am also a person who has undergone many changes, some self-imposed, some that have been imposed upon me.  Due to my genetics, age, health, my love for tattoos and changes in my lifestyle (see my c.v.), my body has changed and I have had to adjust  to these changes.  That’s life and I do not make excuses for the way that I have lived it.

The reality is that our bodies will all age.  What “beauty” others may perceive that we possess will change or be perceived as having “faded.”  It is no wonder that cosmetic companies, plastic surgeons, health clubs, diet programs make so much money.  They prey upon the insecurities that have been planted within the minds of women (and men) about their appearance and its relation to their worth as human beings…  Truly, given the onslaught of advertisements in a variety of forms of what one ought to look like, no one really needs to spend their time giving feedback to anyone else about their appearance (unless this person is actually an undercover agent for the ad company, or for the beauty industry, or any of the others already mentioned… then drumming up business by destroying self-esteem makes perfect sense).

D. for dichotomy

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Thus, this body is the canvas upon which I paint everyday… because, in reality, I see dressing oneself as  a process of creating art.  After all, why bother going through the process of dressing if not to make it interesting for oneself?

I call myself “D.”  One of my professors says that I am a minimalist.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  “D, ” however, is a construction of myself.  It is an aspect of who I am and not my entirety, because it is only recently (in the last 8 years) I began calling myself “D.”  It has been an evolution (see pictures below).  One that has resulted on an image of myself that is to my liking and which I find most representative of who I am.  It is unfortunate that it is hard for some people to balance the seemingly dichotomous images of “D.” and “Diedré.”

Constructing D.

Self-portrait, Winter 2011, photography by Diedré M Blake

But who or what is “D?”  Simply “D” is my expression of happiness, whether felt or not.  I dress in bright colours to bring a smile to my face when I feel like doing anything but smiling.  I put on make-up to remind myself that even the bleakest of days can improve.  I wrap my hair in bold scarves, shape them in intricate fashions and wear them like a crown to remind myself to hold my head high with self-pride throughout the day.

Every article of clothing I choose, from my undergarments to my dress, or my skirt, my shirt, or my pants, is chosen with care and consideration for the body with which I have been blessed.  Some people have been endowed with an ample bosom, I was not.  This is why there are stores like Victoria’s Secret and things like the miracle bra and the wonder bra, etc.  Some people have been granted rock hard and narrow legs and can wear freely the short skirts and shorts that are craze of modern fashion, I was not.  This is why I wear vintage clothing from the 1930s to the 1980s.  Some people have small feet, I do not.  I wear an Italian 39, US 9.5.  Thus, it is typically harder to find shoes in my size and also in the styles of my liking (typically vintage-styled).  Constructing “D.” is an act of self-love and care, and an expression of joy as well as celebration of my body.

Learning to love and laugh at myself and life in general…

The journey of my life has been the process of learning to love myself through learning how to accept myself in all aspects, from physically to emotionally to psychologically.  I believe each day that I take a step closer to achieving this.  At the very least, at this point I am quite happy with who and how I am, imperfections and all.  So, for those people out there who find me either ugly or beautiful (some have even said “spooky”), truly there is no need to offer me feedback as I am quite aware of what I look like and of who and how I am.  If you do choose to give me feedback, please think about from where within you and your own “stuff” your feedback is coming, and consider well if your judgement is wise and your feedback constructive enough to share.

Images from starting from top left to bottom right, ages 16 to 33.

“My idea of the perfect woman is… A) she’s gotta be hot!…”

(from the documentary “America the Beautiful”)

— Please, visit the link.  Unfortunately, I could not embed the video…

and please notice the man making this comment!

Until next time!

Best,

D.