How the body positivity movement leaves Black women behind At first glance, the term body positivity seems like a good thing. At the present time, “body positivity” can mean anything from accepting your flaws to being happy with your body to fighting for the visibility and acceptance of larger bodies.
Some corporate brands like Dove have had huge advertising campaigns featuring larger women. And a few celebrities like Amy Schuler are telling women that they don’t have to be a size zero to be accepted. But when one delves deeper into the movement, once you get past the smokescreens, a more insidious pattern emerges. And just as in everything else, Black women and women of color are left to stand on the sidelines. Basically, the face of the body positivity movement is white. Also, many of its visible adherents, like Amy Schuler, really aren’t that heavy. Schuler, unlike many of her Hollywood peers who look practically emaciated, is a size 10 at most. That actually still makes her thinner than the average American woman. Do you know what size the average American woman is? Right now, it’s a size 16. The fact that the body positivity movement is not inclusive of Black women and prominently features women who are still thinner than the average American woman means that it perpetuates toxic, Eurocentric beauty standards where the ideal woman in this society is white, thin, blond and blue eyed. Black women in particular struggle to navigate two different sets of aesthetics-the toxic Eurocentric one previously mentioned and our cultural one where being “thicc” is prized. Yes, that is how it’s spelled in AAVE (African American Vernacular English), which is a valid dialect. That’s a topic for another time. Anyhoo, “thicc” is a state where you are fat in the right places and have appealing curves. Basically, think Beyonce and two or three sizes up from her. That’s thicc. While Black women are ignored or shamed for this aesthetic from the dominant society, they can gain comfort from being accepted for it from our community. However, it’s still a fairly narrow standard as it excludes thinner sisters and those sisters who are far heavier than thicc, which further marginalizes them. Having a cultural aesthetic that is heavier than the dominant society is not body positivity if it excludes those that don’t fit it. For me personally, at my heaviest I was a size 18. That was over 15 years ago. While I was ignored or demonized for my size by white folks, I was rarely criticized for it from my community. At 5’8, I am taller than the average woman by three or four inches, so due to my proportions, I wasn’t overly obese. In my community, some considered me “thicc.” However, when I lost weight and got down to a size 8, some Black people criticized me because to them, I was thinner than our accepted cultural aesthetic. By the same token, white people noticed me more and sometimes took me more seriously because I more closely fit their beauty standard. This dichotomy ends up creating stress and can leave one frustrated or resentful because it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. I didn’t lose the weight in an attempt to achieve whiteness but rather, I wanted to be healthier. Obesity related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension run in my family and I didn’t want to be statistic. Sometimes, if one isn’t white, diet and weight is framed in a binary manner. Either you attempt to conform to whiteness or you conform to what your community deems acceptable but there is no need for such a rigid mindset. I learned early on that it isn’t necessary for me to give up the foods I’d grown up eating such as oxtails, collard greens or banana pudding as doing so would just cause resentment. I still eat those foods but in moderation. I also have rethought my relationship to my weight over the past few years as I’ve read accounts from women that were heavier than I ever was. I wasn’t happy when I was a size 18 but I could still find clothes that fit (albeit frumpy), I didn’t have to worry if most chairs would hold my weight nor did I have to request a seatbelt extension on planes. Even at my personal heaviest weight, I was privileged. I didn’t have a hard time navigating the world. The world mostly catered to my needs. Fat women who can’t find clothes larger than a size 28 and have to worry about chairs holding their weight are marginalized to the extent that many don’t notice. In order for the body positivity movement to be true to its definition means that it has to start including all of those who are currently left out of the movement. That means including Black women and women of color regardless of our size and all of the women who are larger than a size 10. It also means amplifying the voices of those women who are the most marginalized. Unless those things are done, the movement will continue to be a sham. WRITTEN BY Vena Moore Dismantling white, male supremacy one word at a time.