Hips Don’t Lie

Women Turn Away from the “Thin is Beautiful” Aesthetic and Turn Toward Liking their Curves

By Shayna RuddHoward University News Service

In this age of “Booty -liscious” and people warring to dispel the need to be thin, women of color still suffer from eating disorders, and, according to a recent study, more black women are publicly confronting an affliction that has been perceived as only for white women.

“Black women have been suffering from eating disorders for years, but it is prevalent in our community to cover our pain instead of exposing it. The only difference between white and black women is that white women are getting treated for it,” said Leah Reynolds-Kennedy, a former dancer who conquered an eating disorder, “Black women are choosing to suffer.”

Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeating, and binge eating. The underlying issue of all of these disorders is low-esteem, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Women will turn to obsessive dieting and starvation as a way to control not only their weight, but their feelings that they do not deserve pleasure in life.

There is no reliable count of the number of women of black women with eating disorders. But a 2003 study of 2,000 young black and white women published found that of the 76 women who ever had an eating disorder, 16, or 28 percent of the white women and one, or 5 percent, of the black women reported having received treatment for an eating disorder. The study was conducted by Ruth Striegel-Moore, professor of psychology at Wesleyan University.

What would cause black women to suffer in silence?

The answers may lie in the archetype that defines black woman as unbreakable, aesthetics rooted in white standards of beauty, economics, some women say.

“Yes we are strong, mostly because we have to be. That doesn’t mean that we don’t desire to be aesthetically pleasing in society,” said Reynolds-Kennedy. She said she struggled with her weight when she was a professional dancer. Her weight fluctuated from a healthy 110 pounds down to 85 pounds within a matter of months. At heavier weights, Reynolds-Kennedy said she did not fare as well in competition for leading rolesagainst thinner white women even though she was a stronger dancer. At 85 pounds, she was welcomed with open arms. The price she paid was suffering for two years with anorexia nervosa.

The idea that thin equates with beauty is communicated through popular culture, said Michele Jackson-Ware, a registered nurse and researcher for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“I don’t care how glorified our curves are behind closed doors, the media is exploiting us in public. Look at the movie Norbit. It proves that we are still trying hard to be as beautiful as they will allow us,” Jackson-Ware said.

In the movie Norbit, Eddie Murphy’s lead character constantly disrespects the woman who adores him because she is overweight, however he glorifies the thinner, therefore more attractive female. In addition to this, the overweight woman is depicted stereotypically wearing ill-fitting clothing, displaying a nasty attitude, and a disdain for the thinner woman.

Money matters as well, Jackson-Ware said, in whether women seek treatment for eating disorders.

“Minority women are not getting treated because they don’t have the same resources that white women do. How many times have you heard of physician speaking specifically to women of color about eating disorders?”

Recently, however, popular culture has taken a swing toward promoting an aesthetic that declares that -black women do not have to be thin to be considered beautiful.

Comedian Mo’Nique, actress Queen Latifah, and budding star Jennifer Hudson, are embracing their curves. Photographs of talk show host Tyra Banks were widely circulated accompanied by claims that she had gained over 30 pounds since retiring from modeling. Banks in turn wore a bathing suit on her show saying, “If you call 161 pounds fat, then I don’t know what fat is.” Former eating disorder patient Patricia Easter liked what Banks did. “I appreciated the stand, but it is still painful that my sisters can’t bask in their beauty. …. We need to define ourselves for ourselves, or this disease will crush us. This disease is bigger than starvation; we are starving for love.”