One undercurrent to the recent hyper-focus on black women’s bodies has been the idea that while the majority culture has strict beauty standards, black folks just don’t give a damn. In our own communities, black women’s bodies–whatever they look like–are A-OK.
Not sharing the majority culture’s beauty standards is not the same as not having any at all. The black community has its own standard for what women should look like. It’s not more relaxed and it can be just as oppressive as the more mainstream standard.
Flip through King or any black-targeted lad-style magazine and there is no doubt you will see a standard at play. (Standards for women’s bodies are generally predicated on the male gaze.) It is, for sure, a standard that is different from the Eurocentric mainstream, but it is a standard: small waist, round booty, juicy thighs, boobies optional.
And just so we get this clear, round and juicy do not equal fat. In fact, many black women work out in order to achieve this standard. On Buffy the Body’s fitness website, b.Nomics, on an article about exercises that yield a more ample and rounded rear, a woman named Kristina asks:
I recently started working out. I already have a big butt but want it bigger and more “bubbly.” How can I work out, not lose the booty I already have, get a bigger booty and NOT a bigger waist? I’m so confused. Please help, Buffy!!
Compare the fitness aesthetic at b.Nomics to that in this video by Howcast on how to get a smaller behind:
Different standards, but two, clear standards, nonetheless.
And just like the mainstream standard, there are women dying or harming themselves to fit the popular black aesthetic. From Rolling Out:
“The quest to have a perfect posterior was almost deadly for a California woman who became a multiple amputee after the botched procedure. April Brown of Los Angeles had multiple limbs removed after living for five years in “excruciating pain” from silicone butt injections. The mother and former cosmetologist had her legs and part of her arms removed to save her life after doctors reported that she had multiple infections from the substance she placed into her body. “They call it butt injections,” she told a local NBC news station. “These things are done at pumping parties. They call it medical grade silicone, but a lot of it is industrial grade silicone.”
The problem with the current narrative about black bodies is two-fold. One, in our hyper-body conscious and fat-phobic culture, the meme that black people have no standards is used to otherize and denigrate black culture. And two, as long we pretend that there is no black beauty standard, then women, like April Brown, will continue to be oppressed by the thing we claim doesn’t exist. If we don’t acknowledge the black aesthetic, then we cannot move–as the mainstream should also move–toward celebrating a diversity of natural, healthy bodies as beautiful–big booties, little booties and everything in between.