Is The Black Standard of Beauty Giving You Low Self-Esteem?

March 5, 2012  |  

On Saturday I decided to hit up a belly dancing Zumba class to supplement my new workout routine, which I’ve started about a month ago. I’m trying to keep to my New Year’s resolution of losing a couple of pounds, okay 20 pounds, and getting fit and healthy. Anyway, I’m in class, which was held in the top room of a day care center, sweating through a funky mix of Afro-Brazilian beats, Soca music, Whitney Houston and Beyoncé tracks when several things stuck out in my mind:

First, who says that Black women don’t work out? The class I was in was filled to capacity with women of varying hues of the brown scale and sizes. Oh and yes, big women work out too. It may be hard for some to believe but Black women can carry more weight than what is acceptable by body mass index and still be considered healthy. In fact, our instructor, who was a heavy-set brown skinned woman with huge hips, thighs and an even bigger derriere, worked through the routine like it was nothing while the rest of us grunted and gasped to catch our collective breaths.  Which brings me to my final somewhat random but thought-provoking observation: not every Black woman has a big butt.

As a black woman who is lacking the approved standard of the Black woman backside, I can tell you that it was frustrating during the portion of the routine when the big behind instructor told us to shake our money makers and mine wouldn’t budge enough to even produce change.  Once again, by virtue of bad luck and probably some “Massa” late night trips to the slave quarters, I have been cheated out of my genetic birthright. And no matter how many hip extensions, squats and lunges I do, while I may firm the backside, I will never gain the big, shakable ghetto booty I always wanted.

I’ve always been insecure about my behind – or lack thereof.  Growing up it wasn’t easy being the black girl without a big butt. I remember having a boyfriend frankly tell me one time that my big breasts, thick thighs and hips were nice but I would “look better” if I had a bigger behind. He wasn’t the only one who told me that. Even my closest girlfriends chide me about my “white girl” shape. I like to think that over the years, I have come to accept my body for the way it is. However I still don’t leave the house without a long shirt to distract away from what I don’t have dragging behind me.

There is nothing more potentially damaging to a Black woman’s ego than having to explain why she has not been blessed with traditionally defined Black girl features and assets. And explain we must: to the guys we date, to the close friends, family and yes even strangers, who offer up “helpful” advice to help you achieve the standard. We tell skinny Black girls who lack curves to eat more sandwiches. We ridicule Black women with smaller breast into push up bras and surgery, and we tell women with lighter complexions to use darker bronzers and advise darker skinned women to stay out of the sun.  Sure, most of us can readily discuss how disconnected we feel from the European standard of beauty, however for Black women, who lack the “right” skin tone and certain curvaceous video vixen shape, which some have grown to associate with blackness, there is little dialog on how our own pedestal of beauty has become a cage.

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