Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thicky Thick Girls

[Image courtesy of Clutch]

The media, it seems, will never tire of dissecting women's bodies. They claim that women think about their bodies all the time. They claim that so-called real women look to celebrities for body inspiration. They claim that our body image effects the way that we carry ourselves and prompts us to sometimes engage in not-so-great behavior.

Frankly, it's a little annoying. The only discussions about body that I ever seem to have are between some web story and the comments section. Two of my favorite websites, Jezebel and Clutch, both recently ran stories about body image, from two decidedly different angles.

Jezzie hypothesized the world's new acceptance of curvier figures, like Coke bottle Joan Holloway from "Mad Men." Hortense argued that we aren't really beginning to accept new body types, but rather just replacing one unrealistic expectation with another. Good point, as the ultra-sensual, tiny waist/big breast/round ass combo doesn't present itself naturally for many women.

One thing that's always really weird for me when white media types talk about "curvy" is the fact that most of the women don't actually have curves. Curvy, at least in my mind, denotes a roundness in some desirable place, like your breasts or hips. It urks me when it's slapped on someone just because they're overweight. Like Queen Latifah or Adele. I have lots of curves in my stomach; they are called rolls. And no, I don't consider myself curvy. Humph.

Along those same lines, I really wish black people would stop calling fat people thick. Clutch explores the fairly recent phenomenon here. I blame that damn Mo'Nique. I don't know if it's the desire to take a word with a positive connotation and apply it to a body that the world doesn't view as positive or even attractive, or something else. But it's just misleading, annoying and inaccurate. Furthermore, what are you saying about yourself if you have to lie and describe yourself untruthfully?

Which also brings up a wider question. Is acceptance of our nation's growing waistlines even healthy? Five years ago I would have said yes. We are all unique individuals and have a right to live our lives the way we want to. No one should judge you solely by how you look anyway. Today, the answer is pretty gray for me. I wrote a story about a new scientific study that literally scared the pizza out of my hands. The gist: Black folks have horrible heart health and we die prematurely because of it. The sad part is that I shouldn't have had to read it; I've lived it.

My grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt and another aunt all passed away within just a few years (my uncle and aunt died just three weeks apart), and all to preventable disorders like heart failure, obesity and stroke. One of my aunts had been overweight nearly her whole life and, growing up in the South, hadn't wanted for male attention. In fact, my mother (who has always been scrawny), used to wish that she had the big legs and full boobs of her older sister.

I'm not placing the blame of anyone's health on our culture; I think it's amazing that Black people have created our own standard of beauty. But over half of my entire immediate family was wiped out my freshman year of high school, and the cause was essentially a horrible (albeit very typical for Southern Blacks) lifestyle. And that lifestyle, which sometimes produces beautiful thickey thick girls, is what I am afraid we glorify when we denounce someone who is obese as just thick.

Does anyone out there hear me? Do you feel me?

-- Whitney


Britt said...

Indeed. I love that Queen Latifah is a healthy, toned woman who isn't stick thin or sloppy fat.

I think Mo'Nique is a beautiful woman, but I wouldn't have her chins. Sorry I wouldn't, just like I wouldn't have that Rican chick from ANTM's ribs.

At the end of the day we need to simplify our lifestyles. Move more, eat less, and eliminate stress as much as possible.

Marvelous post!

Nicole said...

Hear Hear!! I feel you.

I totally agree with the pitfalls of trying to mollify a word, or it's connotation, so that the sting is less sharp. The danger in doing such a thing is also covering up the truth, which causes more harm than good. Writing a health concern off as a cute catch phrase is not safe.

Heart disease and high cholesterol are serious concerns among the Black community. Dr. Ian Smith has a really great initiative as I'm sure you know called the 50 Million Pound Challenge, and communities are taking steps towards getting their members active. Like Britt said, it's a lifestyle shift (Hi Britt!)

Really great post, Whit!

Kjen said...

I'm not crazy about trying to tell people if they're thick or fat. Mostly, because I feel as if its just a way for us to police how people should look.
Also, it seems as if this topic has been popping up in black media or about black women in mainstream media more and more lately. The general gist is that "these people don't know how fat i.e. how unhealthy they are - we should tell them and then they will change and be thin". Except no. Calling people fat is not an effective diet.
As far as glorifying a lifestyle, hmm, I'm not sure its that simple. I think tradition, habit and access play a definitive part, but how much I'm not sure.