You know, the Black female perception of beauty is a peculiar one to me. I know, I know that I say that in a way that implies that I’m on the outside looking in… but for this one, I think that I am. I literally feel like an outsider on this one, because there are contradicting philosophies that – while they tickle me a little… okay, a lot – I just cannot co-sign.
When my family left Cleveland, we moved to a predominately white city in central Indiana. Approximately 2% of the student population at my high school was Black. All of my dearest friends were white.
I remember going to lunch and always having a full plate on my tray, and at my table I’d see nothing but salads.. poorly made ones, at that. I’d see the single, solitary, lone bag of fries and a bottle of water. I saw girls chugging the diet soda, but nothing else in front of them. I rarely saw anyone with as much food on their plate as me, but then again… I was a size 18.
I suspect those girls were always told “you need to watch your figure,” but were never quite taught exactly what that meant. ‘Cause I know now, it certainly doesn’t mean “have a diet soda for lunch.”
Either way, “you need to watch your figure” was never a message I received. For me, it was genuinely harmful and catty statements something like “If you don’t quit eating all that crap, you’re going to be big as an elephant.” Well, seeing as how that “crap” was making me feel better about life (though it would be another ten years before I could understand why), and seeing as how hearing statements like that only made me miserable… you can imagine what being told “you’re going to be big as an elephant” did to a young girl who already thought she was “big as an elephant.” Not only did I not learn anything from the dialogue, but it ran me right back into a bowl of some-stuff-I-had-no-business-eating.
I bring this up to say that I am, interestingly enough, familiar with and can now recognize the philosophy of curtailing your eating and watching your figure at a young age because of those girls… even though I never embraced it myself (ironically enough.) Because those girls were white, I never really felt a need to adopt it for myself. To be fair, I never felt the need to dye my hair blond every month, either.
I get it. This healthy eating thing is hard. It requires a lot. But for some reason, eating healthy is often brushed off and regarded as a “white people thing.” You have no idea how often I hear “Um, naw – that’s white people food.” And I can’t help but think of really rude and snarky responses to this… because that kind of assertion often comes from the mouth of someone with a thin and bone straight haired weave on their head, or faux colored contacts, or someone fawning over “light” skin, or… whatever. I suppose that if I asserted that those were “white people things” as well, that would’ve ended the conversation. Quickly.
Using the excuse of “eating healthy is a white girl thing” makes me giggle that much more, because I think of those girls in high school who, apparently, didn’t know how to eat healthy, either. And sure, they were in high school… but one would think that if their mothers taught them enough for them to know to watch their figures, they would at least have shown them how to do so, as well. It also makes me laugh again because as 68% of America is overweight, 12% of America is Black and 60% of Black America is supposedly overweight. That means that 60% of 12% is roughly 8% of the overweight population. Black America contributes a whopping 8% to that overweight population… leaving about 60% unaccounted for. But “eating healthy” is a “white girl thing.”
Back to where I started, though. The Black female standard of beauty is so peculiar to me. For example… even the most unhealthy of us get “passes” because we have long (straight) hair, impeccable makeup, freshly finished nails and amazing shoes. We get a “pass” from our peers for being unhealthy if we have a fat booty. We don’t even call it “fat” anymore. We call it “phat.”
For some reason, we as women of color have allowed ourselves to embrace American culture’s (read: capitalist culture’s) materialism and Europe’s hair… but we’re doling out passes left and right when it comes to our bodies. What do I mean by “pass?” Simple. I mean ignoring and excusing the poor health of our loved ones because they’re “still pretty,” which should be an extremely insulting compliment, but ironically isn’t seen as such. I mean we allow ourselves to accept poor health because we can hide it by dressing to the nines or by having a mean shoe game.
So what keeps us from embracing an un-Black standard for figures, but embracing un-Black standards elsewhere? Questionably, everywhere else? That’s a question that, for every answer I can think up… still leads me to wonder why we don’t dole out passes for every other superficial concept we cling to and judge others by. For goodness sakes, we’re still judging people by the shade of their skin. If that’s not painfully European, I don’t know what is.
I was one of those girls with the perfect hair – spent every Saturday in the shop – perfect nails, perfect shoes, kept my clothing appropriate. Every girl should, no matter her size. But using those as justifications – “I don’t want to lose weight… I’m not trying to have to give up my wardrobe!”/”Why do I need to lose weight? I look good!” – to not pursue better health is more than likely what’s killing us.
I’m not even done… but there’s always tomorrow.