Below is a copy of my article published in the Journal of the Student National Medical Association spring 2004.
The saying goes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, in most cases it's in the eye of the culture. Television and written media are controlled predominately by white America, so the message of beauty is portrayed as a thin body with minimal curves. But, beyond color lines, the messages change.
Growing up as a thin African-American girl, I endured high pressure to gain weight. I was told by my African-American peers and family that I needed to "put on the pounds." It wasn't until my family moved to a mostly white neighborhood that I was envied and told by my white peers that I was beautiful. Twenty-three years and three kids later, I am still thin and I still get jokes from other people in my race about my "flat booty and white girl shape."
As the article, "Sex Roles:A Journal of Research" states, "research has found that African-American females are less concerned with being thin. When asked, sixty-four percent stated that they would rather be a 'little overweight than a little underweight" (Herzberger, Molloy 1998).
The article goes on to expalin that African-American women have better body images than white women, because women base some of their views of themselves from what men in their race prefer. Since, generally speaking, African-American men prefer larger women, African-American women have less of a desire to lose weight. Therefore skinny African-American women are more of an outcast and their bodies are seen as in need of improvement.
Twenty-five year old black woman, Lakeisia Kimbrough and husband Ron feel that there is nothing wrong with her 5 foot 4 inch, 214 pound body. "I think I'm a nice looking woman," says Lakeisia, "I don't feel like I have to be skinny. Skinny girls have issues too," she continues.
When asked if she has ever had pressure to lose weight, she gives an undoubted, "No." She continues to explain that ever since she was a young girl her grandmother, who raised her, put emphasis on her to gain weight. Lakeisia's husband, Ron, adds that he loves her curvaceous body and if she were to suddenly lose a drastic amount of weight, she would be too thin. "I like my women thick and healthy," he says.
Although deadly eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia are practically nonexistent in African-American women, killers such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are prevalent.
"Although obesity contributes to heart disease, certain forms of cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes, black women are continuing to pack on the pounds,"says Chicago obesity specialist Soundrea Hickman, M.D. in a March 2000 Ebony Magazine article. Hickman is founder of the Association for Improving and Maintaining Black Health. The article continues to state, "In 1998 the average clothes size for black women is 18; today it is a size 20," Dr. Hickman asserts. She goes on to say, "I think the mistake that is happening is the 'full figured woman' title-she's no longer considered obese, she's just full figured- it's a death sentence for the black woman...it's killing us, and I'm sick and tired of going to funerals of black women in their 50s."
Not only is it more acceptable for African-American women to be overweight but it is for African women too. The New York Times reports in an October 2002 artcle, "To anyone who has traveled across the continent, especially in West Central Africa...many ethnic groups in this region hold festivals celebrating big women. In Niger many women take livestock feed or vitamins to bulk up."
This is not to say that no women of the black race diet or isn't concerned about the way they look. In fact, being thin but having some extra hip butt, hips, and breasts are more popular then being outright obese. Essence Magazine writer, Afi-Odelia Scruggs, reporter in April 2001, "The New York Times recently cited a study conducted at Northwestern University. Researchers found that white women began complaining about their bodies at a body-mass index (BMI) of 25-which is considered officially overweight. Black women, by contrast, didn't become dissatisfied with their bodies until they approached a BMI of 30, the starting point for obesity." This shows that even though most African-American women do not desire a thin body, they do want a healthy one.
The best thing to do is follow your doctor's advice and to embrace the body God has given you. Although I may still receive "white girl" comments, I no longer rush around trying to eat everything in sight. Instead I eat healthy and accept who I am. Whether you are big or small, black or white looking at yourself as beautiful through your own eyes is most important.