While reading Grogan’s Body Image, all I could do was shake my head. The studies listed in the section of the book are dated back to the 1990s, and here we are in the year of 2018 and these same ideals are still true today. The part of the text that spoke to me was the section on body ideals in relation to age, social class, ethnicity, and sexuality. She addresses the body ideals in relation to ethnicity by looking at a study held by Harris et al. that compared the idea of beauty amongst whites and African Americans (156). Harris found that obese African American women had a more positive body image. As a 22 year old African American woman, this is something that I can attest to and it’s sickening. Overall, there is a general idea that being thin equates to being beautiful in society. While this does hold some truth, this is not the case amongst the African American community.
I have been tall and thin my entire life, even during my freshman year in college I fell victim to the “freshman 15.”. Now this isn’t something that can be seen by the naked eye, no matter how much weight I gain I still maintain my slim figure. Everyone always thinks that life is much easier being thin, but having been this way my entire life I can say that this is far from the truth. No one ever talks about the skinny jokes, or being called a little boy. One of my most embarrassing memories to date is from when I was younger and I was at church with my dad and this man who attended the church called me over to him and said that he had some clothes for me to take home. I had never met this man prior to this, needless to say the man was confused and thought that I was little boy. When I was younger, my mother would dress in ways that she wanted to dress me despite how I felt and the same went for my hair.
That particular day I remember wearing a pink striped button down shirt, a pair of kakis, and maybe 6 straight back braids in my head with no bows. I was taunted and teased by my siblings for so long this day, no one ever stopped to see how I felt about it but this is also common amongst the African American culture. Even at my age now, I am conscience of how I dress and wear my hair only now it isn’t out of fear of anyone mistaking me as a boy. Now I fight an eternal battle every day because of the memories of my childhood and the labels and expectations that society has placed on me as a black woman.
To be black and to be a woman means that you are expected to be this sex symbol, every man’s dirty fantasy. When thinking of black women, many envision the video vixen type: big butt, big breasts, small waist but not too small, oiled up, and half naked. Positive images of black women’s bodies are rare in mainstream western media. (Doy 1996 & Nochlin 1991). The only way to see a black woman in media is either through the hip-hop culture or through pornography. Black women are held to the standards of these images daily. Unfortunately the sexualization of the black woman’s body starts at a very young age. We are taught at young ages to cover up and not dress and act a certain way so that we do no provoke grown men.
Some authors have suggested that the negative portrayal of black bodies in mainstream media may lead to privileging paler skin color within the black community (Nayak 1997). In other words colorism, this is something that has plagued black people for centuries. Colorism is the idea that was instilled in blacks by white people. It dates back to the days of slavery and the concept of house slaves and field slaves. Lighter skinned blacks are deemed as more attractive, especially amongst women. Darker skinned women are forced to be ashamed of the extra pigmentation in our skin. It wasn’t enough to be hated by white people, but we have to hate each other as well.
One thing that I hear almost on a daily basis is how pretty I am, and how I have the perfect body and should take advantage of it while I can. Many of the compliments are often tainted by four little words “for a black girl”. As if beauty isn’t something that belongs to me as a black woman. Because I am thin, and because I am pretty, I am told that I should model. People say this to me as if I can just snap my fingers and end up on a runway or on the cover of a magazine. Sarah Grogan states that there is a noticeable absence of African American and Afro-Caribbean models in cosmetics advertisements (160). This fact alone is the reason why I will never make it as a model. These are dreams that I have always had as a child and even tried to pursue with the help of my mother. The two most popular models with darker skin are the infamous Naomi Campbell and Iman.
Bottom line, there is no winning the game. No one is going to be considered beautiful or attractive in everyone’s eyes. I am living testimony that being thin doesn’t increase the chances either. If I were a thin white girl with blue eyes and blonde hair I may be telling a different story. To be black, to be woman, and to be thin is something that seems to be forbidden amongst my people. As stated before the studies listed in this chapter were conducted in the 1990s and look where we are today.
Reshaé Butler is a 22 year old senior at ODU working toward obtaining her degree in fashion merchandising in Fall 2018. She originally transferred from a private school in NOVA called Marymount University. She currently works at Victoria’s Secret, and is using her time there to learn more about what it takes to be in visual merchandising. Reshaé has spent her entire life in the Hampton Roads area, outside of her one semester at MU and has plans to move much warmer climates soon after graduation.