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Keeping her hair on the curly side of things

Source: PeopleImages / Getty

It’ll be a cold day in hell before people stop feeling the need to comment on Black women’s bodies.

I don’t say this to discourage little Black girls dealing with insecurities about their appearances, or Black women wanting to alter themselves for approval or confidence.

I say this to say that we should all collectively not give a damn. Anymore. The reigns of unrealistic, fatphobic, colorist, misogynistic beauty standards will hold us back no longer. Because someone will always find something to say anyway.

Cori Broadus, the daughter of Snoop Dogg, posted a message on social media the other day that really sat right with my spirit. In response to a hateful comment about her size, Cori took to her Instagram story to assert, “Oh she 2 big oh she 2 skinny oh she this oh she that … embrace what you got and shut the fuck up.”

Miracle Watts Presents "Beauty Meets Media" In LA

Source: Robin L Marshall / Getty

First off, thank you, sister. Thank you for telling folks to mind their raggedy business. And thank you for saying what I wish I would’ve/could’ve said years ago as an awkward and chubby preteen with starter locs and a boatload of insecurities. There was no convincing me that my weight and body shape – thick thighs and a big behind – were desirable or even acceptable at that point in my life. Not when the (inherently racist) BMI scale at the pediatrician’s office tormented me as I was continually told that I was overweight for my age and height. Not when I was scared to try on clothes in fitting rooms for fear that they wouldn’t fit, again confirming my insecurities. Not when I developed an unhealthy relationship with scales, attempting to avoid them while also obsessing over them to track my weight gain and loss.

Mari Chiles, Then & Now

Source: Mari Chiles

My internalization of fatphobia was swift and unwavering, intertwining with beauty standards that championed a skin tone lighter than mine, a curl pattern straighter than mine, and a hip size smaller than mine.

But could you really blame me for this mindset? Can we really blame our little sisters for subscribing to the beliefs, opinions, and desires of others?

No—not till we confront why body shaming exists, why Black women have always been under an impossible gaze, picked apart and critiqued to no end.

Historically, the dominant culture has shamed us as early as the 14th Century when they first encountered our bodies as they infiltrated the coasts of Africa. They shamed the way Black women’s breasts hung and their behinds protruded far past their backs (they even created a medical condition for big booties – steatopygia).

Illustration of Hottentot Venus

Source: Stefano Bianchetti / Getty

They shamed the way we moved and walked, likening us to monkeys and “savages”. They shamed the way we loved on our children. They shamed our lips, noses, hair – anything differing from their white, thin,able-bodied selves. And, once chattel slavery was well under way, they shamed, critiqued, and harmed any enslaved Black woman who couldn’t fulfill her childbearing duties of creating more babies to enslave. For the sake of productivity, economics, and general abusive power, Black women’s bodies had to be analyzed or transatlantic slavery would have ceased to continue. Period.

Caricature of Englishman and Hottentot Venus

Source: Historical Picture Archive / Getty

So, as we continue to see other races and cultures emulating the same body characteristics that we were shamed for, we begin to realize how arbitrary this whole thing is, right? We can begin to connect the sexual abuse that enslaved Black women experienced to the oversexualization and fetishization of curvier body types today – one of the reasons why I can’t go out in public without receiving unwelcomed stares and advances. We can begin to understand why everyone thinks it is so normal to have access to and influence over a Black woman’s body. This issue of beauty standards is not an internal or voluntary one – it is systemic and has literally altered the ways that we are able to perceive ourselves and others.

I know it can be futile to say “fuck a hater” when there are entire systems in place that discriminate against fat people, darkskin people, hair textures, facial features; etc. It might seem inescapable. But there are steps we can all take to make beauty standards less of an influence in our lives.

This looks like allowing others to embark on their own weight loss or weight gain journeys without opinions, advice or assumptions about their motivations and health—much like the speculation around Brandy Norwood’s daughter Sy’rai and her recent shift in bodily appearance.

Sy'rai Smith

Source: Instagram/@4everBrandy / Instagram/@4EverBrandy

This looks like allowing young Black women, such as the talented rising star Chloe Bailey, to show off and finally be confident in their own bodies instead of insisting it’s all for attention.

BET Awards 2021 - Arrivals

Source: Aaron J. Thornton / Getty

This looks like taking just a little time each day to thank your body, compliment yourself and give your body some grace.

Bodies weren’t meant to be consumed or presented for others’ approval (unless that is your choice or your job, of course). They were meant to be our vessels, to carry us through our individual journeys in this realm.

So, I encourage all young Black women to cherish your vessel in whatever shape or form it comes, admire the evolution as it shape-shifts throughout life. Teach the little sisters in your life to do the same.

Oh, and very much, yes, fuck a hater.

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