Body Politics…

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“You’re fat, you should lose weight”

“I wish my bum was that big”

“Skinny girls get so much hate”

My reaction to each of those statements that I hear, was “ok”

Now, I am more likely to delve deeper into why you think those things. Because when we get down to it, there are social constructs that influence your beauty ideals.

There is a trend to be ‘thick’/‘hourglass’ people are getting serious surgery to increase their hips or bum. This is not about the acceptance of traditionally black features on non-black women – this is about the double standards that exist for black female bodies.

I am pear shaped, most women in my family are, smaller on top then bigger from the hips down. For many years of my life I was called many things from negative to somewhat positive but essentially, I was not desirable in ‘mainstream’ society. My aim in life is not to be accepted by society, only by Jesus. But as a teenager, it can get into your head when all your slim/skinny friends are getting attention and you are just chilling in the corner reading. Yet now, people are fetishising and idolising my body type. Some people would be glad, but I am not here for that if my body is only acceptable when it is the trend.

I have been having similar conversations with some of my friends recently, ‘the I wish I was thicker’ conversation. As a bigger woman, I really try not to roll my eyes because I’m out here wishing I was that slim. So, I listen, hear it from their point of view and try to understand where they are coming from. One of my friends, she said that ‘when I imagine a woman, I see someone who has hips, especially if it’s a black woman, you are just expected to have curves’. My friend is gorgeous, the type of person who l walks by and you stop and stare – I am not gassing. Though being slim is always in, as a black woman, being ‘skinny’ is not a thing to be joyous about, as we are told.

Black female bodies are overly-sexualised, they are mostly deemed desirable when it fulfils the stereotypical characteristics of what it means to have a black body. If not, they are mocked and ridiculed and this is the paradox that exists in the black community. Fortunately or unfortunately, black women especially are judged on their level of curvaceous. When we see or think of a black woman, if she is not overly curvy then she is deemed less of a black woman. Many images of black women that are intended to be supportive and to increase representation of black women, end up reinforcing these stereotypes of the full chested, small waist, large hips, thick thighs but slim legged black woman (let’s not even get to her skin colour or her hair type).

This dichotomy of either being ‘curvy’ or ‘skinny’ is wholly restricting, as we now attach positive and negatives to different words, instead of them being mere descriptions.

To be skinny or fat should not be an insult, yet these words have been weaponised and used to attack women to their core.

The black community, especially the men within it, love to police, dictate and control what women’s bodies should look like. Comments about the bodies of black female athletes – calling them too masculine, comparing them to men and monkeys shows that some in the black community only celebrate black women’s bodies when it’s for their sexual consumption. Though there are many non-black people who also contribute to this. We cannot deny that most of the ridicule and “banter” occurs within the black community, which stems from white supremacy (what doesn’t stem from white supremacy?). As beauty ideals and body shapes differ within Africa and outside of Africa, but sometimes ideals from some African cultures are applied here and that is why there is a notion of the ‘overly curvy’ black women. When I went to Ghana, the celebrities are more representative of the population, but most of the celebrities you see are still slim. They fit the western trends while having features which are considered to be ‘typically black/African’.

When a woman doesn’t fit a body shape, her womanhood or ‘Africaness’ is questioned.

As a black woman you have the negativity coming from the black community and may try to find solace in the feminist community, that promotes body positivity and loving yourself – yet you are met with exclusion and under representation. When black women, especially darker skinned are nowhere to be seen in feminist campaigns. This is not to bash feminists, as I am one myself, but to highlight the complexities of the intersectionality of being a black woman.

Accepting your body shape, is something that is a journey, it is very normal to be affected by peoples comments, but not to the point where people’s comments on your body dictates our life. Like most things in life, it is easier said than done.

My body was not made for your consumption, my body was not made to be atheistically pleasing to you, my body was not made for you – honestly, it was made to glorify God. Yet the mere shape of my body has now become political.


Leonie Mills
TWN Editor
Twitter: @_LeonieMills


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