Black Women: Heavier and Happier?

I’d like to begin by saying that the creation of this article is in no way meant to express my personal opinion on my ideal woman. That discussion is best left off the blog. This post is merely in response to the recently-published Washington Post article that coveys the results of a survey focused on the attitudes of various women. The Kaiser Family foundation conducted the survey. In it, the response that formed the basis of the article, and the basis of this post, was the response that Black Women are on average larger than white women [Big Surprise there] but that they are on average more ok with being bigger. This was evidence by the response outlined in the following statistic.

Although 41 percent of average-sized or thin white women report having high self-esteem, that figure was 66 percent among black women considered by government standards to be overweight or obese.

I decided to write this article in many ways to examine this statistic. I plan to challenge some the assumptions, make a few of my own, and point to anecdotal, statistical, and historical reasons that may support, or may undermine, this statistic. Objectivity is my goal. I encourage responses in the comments section. Lord knows there is ample fodder for debate here. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way. We can dive right in.

The Washington Post article itself can be found here. Read it, then come back. The thrust of the article is centered around the above-quoted statistics. The logic goes: Black women tend to be bigger on average, but even those Black women who are bigger report higher levels of self-esteem when compared with White women who are average or thin. The implicit question is “Why on Earth would a woman who is bigger be happier about herself?” Again, what is implicit in that question is that weight is inversely proportional to self-esteem for most women. Get it? Good.

You social scientists out there may raise some of the following questions: What was the sample size? [no pun intended] Did the women self-identify as “average” or “thin” or were they weighed and then their responses grouped into categories? If they did self-identify, how did the researchers correct for cultural influences that would tend to influence what a woman would consider as “average” in one culture but “overweight” in another? I don’t have the answers to these questions. What I can do is direct you to the poll itself. It can be found here. The responses are quite interesting, and you should take a look at all of them and not just the ones regarding body image of women. Back to the topic at hand though: Black Women and body image.

The Post article continues with some incendiary remarks by a Japanese researcher that I have actually run across before. His name: Satoshi Kanazawa. Some gems from this fella include:

“It is very interesting to note that even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others . . .

and

“What accounts for the markedly lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women? Black women are, on average, much heavier than non-black women.”

SHIT!

Black don't crack? Fuck that.

Again, we see the implicit assumptions that were raised in the Post article, albeit in a less offending way. You see the supposed link between women and self-esteem, as if wieight is the only metric that accounts for, or should account for self-esteem. This also raises the issue of cultural bias that will be explained later. Perhaps this researcher is basing his conclusions on his own cultural bias.  Japanese women and Asian women tend to be more petite, both in height and weight, than even European women.Except, of course, for these Asian women.
Either way, it’s remarks like these which might add to the tacit connection between skinniness and beauty amongst women.
The biggest interplay in this entire article is the contrast the writer seems to be drawing between Black Women and White Women. What the article does well is use the anecdotes of the Black, female trainer who accurately describes what I think  might be the experience of most Black women when it comes to body shape and the value they should place on their own shape. Let’s be honest, Black folk of both genders tend to find physically attractive a curvier woman. I am here using all the catch-words that were used in the article: curvy, thick, bigger, etc. I think the fear here is calling any woman fat. This is a word I personally do not agree with calling anyone, man or woman. A few anecdotes of my own will illustrate the cultural differences I was speaking of.
One anecdote begins in the men’s locker room. The scene involves two of my Black male friends who are overhearing the discussion of some White male undergraduate students. The statement that sticks out is this:
I want a thick girl, bro, you know . . . like Scarlett Johanson.

Dumps like a truck . . .

Let that marinate for a moment. When this story was related to me, a Black male, I naturally laughed out loud like many of you may be doing as you read this. What is more telling is the reaction of my female friend, whom I told this same anecdote to. I won’t mention her name, but she is a slim, female of European descent. Specifically she is Peruvian and Irish, but that doesn’t matter much in relation to her response, which was:
but . . . Scarlett Johanson is thick, Dom.

Wow. Her thighs are touching.

Oh.
The next anecdote was related to me by a Black woman. There was a white male in her class with whom she was discussing body types and preferences and things. The White male related to her his desire to feel the pelvic and hip bone digging into his own when he was engaging in intercourse with a woman. That was his ideal. He wanted to feel the bones. My Black female friend obviously got the point that this was this guy’s standard of sexual attraction. She wasn’t interested in him, but she naturally said to me as she was relating the story that she could have only imagined what the guy felt about her own, curvy, body type.

Im sure Angelina can oblige that fella in the bone department.

These two anecdotes seem to underscore a pervasive idea of what is “attractive” to Whites . . . in a general sense. I’ll take a moment to say that I am out of necessity speaking in overall tendencies and trends. There appears to be an implicit connection between low weight and beauty among the White Americans, both male and female. If they live in a world where Scarlett Johanson is thick, what on Earth do they think of Jennifer Hudson. Or Serena Williams.
This now brings us to Black men and women’s ideas of the “ideal” or “attractive” Black female body. The anecdotes in the article paint the picture that larger sizes seem to be more acceptable. Is this a result of genetic predispositions? Is this a result of the influence of American Chattel slavery and what masters felt were best for the production of more slaves, i.e. larger hips and fuller figures? Or a third possibility, and one which I managed to theorize about as I was explaining this article’s premise to my white, slim, female roommate. It goes like this: as of now, Black women tend to be more happy with larger body sizes. As of now, despite inroads being made, there still aren’t many black female mega movie stars or Supermodels.
But, perhaps if there were more Black, female images in the media, it’s fair to assume that they would tend to skew to the European aesthetic. I remember watching one short documentary about Black women breaking into high fashion, and one Black model remarking that the designers, if they even want Black models, want them to be essentially White women who are dipped in chocolate. Or who got a really nice, mocha spray tan. I’d offer the proposition that this is generally true about the biggest Black female stars we’ve seen in recent years, both in fashion and in movies. See Below
Halle

Zoe

Tyra
My argument, based on my assessment of the Black, female stars that are out there at the highest levels, is that even they skew more European-looking. In both face and body size. The argument proceeds that assuming there were more images of Black women in the media, they also would skew European and smaller, and then maybe Black women’s opinion of what is a “healthy” or “attractive” weight or body type would also skew more European. Maybe it is because there aren’t many Black women in the media that Black women have been free to value their own body types. I’m now wading waist deep into the realm of the hypothetical, but I think that proceeding assumption makes at least a little sense.
I was originally gonna end this post with actual obesity statistics of women of varying ethnicities. I was gonna attempt to see just how large the difference was across females of varying races, but then I thought better of it. The first reason I won’t do this is because I don’t think it would tell you very much. There are certain lifestyle choices that are objectively health and unhealthy, but there is a lot of grey area in the middle. Much of the hazy middle ground is occupied by what body-type or weight would be best for you as an individual. Even Body Mass Index, one of the metrics the article uses to distinguish those “healthy” from those “unhealthy” is not an end-all-be-all indicator of health. What I like about the article is the positive note it ends on. The experience of this Black, female, personal trainer was that health and fitness is what matters more than size. I’m inclined to agree. Adult, and especially child, obesity is a major issue in this country, and one that the First Lady has championed. So at the very least, people of all ethnicities are moving in the right direction.
If writing this post has taught me anything it’s that there is a complex interplay between genetics, lifestyle, cultural and sociological influences, and history that has led us to our present state. We can all agree that the psyche of young girls in particular, both Black and White, are what matters here. Self esteem is important to emotional and psychological well-being.
At the end of the day, Be Healthy, and Be Happy.
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Comments
2 Responses to “Black Women: Heavier and Happier?”
  1. More & Again says:

    I think something else that should be considered is, the Black models who are held up as meeting an aesthetic standard for Black beauty are the ones who have bigger butts and breasts. For the most part, Black women aren’t interested in interracial dating. It’s the gaze of Black men (not the mainstream), that we’re using to gauge our own beauty. Just look at how many Black women are getting booty implants and injections to try to meet this standard. So, Black women not being distraught just because we’re not the same size as Scarlett Johansson isn’t surprising at all.

    I think, as you implied, the researchers asked the wrong question. It was framed as if Black women would have the same perspective on weight as White women do. They would’ve gotten a different answer had they asked Black women how we feel about our derrieres. . . Or, our hair.

    • djonesmhc says:

      My sentiments exactly. Self-esteem isn’t inversely proportional to weight. Nor is weight the only metric that comprises how a woman evaluates herself and her self-worth. When these things are conflated, you get offensive and, I think, condescending implicit question of “How could a Black woman POSSIBLY be so happy while being so big?” That’s essentially what is being asked.

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