The Root: Black Beauty Standards Can Be Just as Unhealthy as White Ones

Former dancer + current realty TV star Blac Chyna

Former dancer + current realty TV star Blac Chyna

Last week, there were plenty of reactions to an XO Jane story in which a self-described “skinny white girl” in a yoga class assumed that a “heavyset” black woman, who never said a word to her, coveted her lithe form. Whatever.

That misguided essay launched hundreds of responses, including one of my own, which pointed out that no, white lady, black women in general aren’t sitting around pining for “skinny white girl” bodies. Many reaction stories emphasized that we black women have our own beauty ideals—ones that emphasize curves in all the “right” places and/or a little more “meat on the bones,” as the elders might say. I wondered, though, even as I emphasized the difference between the two ideals, if black women hadn’t bought into a perspective that, while unique from the mainstream standard, was equally as problematic as absolute thinness.

To emphasize my defense of black women who are just minding their business and aren’t thinking about random white women, I posted a picture of video model-turned-fitness advocate Tiara Harris. Harris has a figure that is held up as “ideal” for black women—narrow waist, ample bosom, thick thighs and prominent rear—and many women commented how they would love to look just like her.

“Is that sister in the photo a trainer?” the very first commenter asked. “She is the”

She is. I picked the picture for a reason. But as much as that very curvaceous shape is admired, is it any more realistic for most black women than say, Sarah Jessica Parker—the current cover model for the February issue of InStyle—is for white women? The truth is, it isn’t. And that is one of the reasons that some black women go to extreme lengths, risking their health and their lives, to meet an unrealistic body ideal. It’s the other side of the same coin that plagues some white women.

Over the last few months, there have been several viral stories about black women who have sought illegal butt injections with disastrous results. As an unintentional kickoff to Black History Month, The Root ran a story about Natasha Stewart, who was convicted of culpable negligence manslaughter for her role in helping a woman get silicone butt injections that resulted in her death.

Weeks before that, social media was abuzz over a new documentary, Buttloads of Pain, which featured the disturbing images and stories of women who had used illegal butt injections. One woman described how her backside had ”turned purple” and “peeled like an onion” after she received the shots. Images from the documentary show women with eroding buttocks that sag from their bodies.


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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Very interesting out look but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks a million for sharing.

    • Dawn says:

      White People are very slow and need help with life, I believe they need a black man in their life to help them feel relevant while on the face of this earth, Jealous of black women yes, and always have been, and will be. Very sad but true. They can’t be us, so they feel by getting a black man, and having his kid will some, how bring them close to us, that will never exist. Give up now cause you look like a fool each day if you don’t.

  2. I think there’s a tug-of-war in the Black woman’s psyche when it comes to the ideal body. On one hand, we’re being surrounded by the White standard of beauty — which is obviously more prevalent. The flat tummy, no “thigh gaps”, and Victoria Secret model thin . At the same time, being black women, we’re seeing our men drool over the Beyonces, Blac Chynas, and Kim Kardashians…or even fuller figures like Chrisette Michele or Jill Scott.

    So it’s like Black women are at a place where if they morph their bodies into full-figures, they’re looked down on by those who have “White” ideals of beauty. And if they’re too skinny, they’re bullied and marginalized by the Video-Vixen, big-booty/tiny waist word of Black beauty.

    At the end of the day, we just need to be fit, healthy, and happy with ourselves. Bc there’s no way in hell we’re going to make everyone happy.

  3. I love this post because it’s so true, yet I never really thought about it in this light. I went to a predominantly white high school and most of my best friends are white girls that I went to high school with back in the day. I have one friend who has a shape similar to mine and the rest of my friends are what society would call “typical white girls.” They happen to also have the common white ideals of what their bodies should look like, while my friend with curves like a sista is content with just being fit and tight, as am I. That makes me wonder does it have more to do with the shape God gives us or the environment we’re surrounded by?

  4. Love says:

    Thank you for this post! My co-worker, a Dietician, believes the standard of beauty in our community encourage an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s unfortunate that black women who are naturally the size of an athlete or a yogi are sometimes not considered “real women”. What are real women? Are we not all curvy in some way? Lord help us let go of the harsh judgments—on both sides! Thanks again for the post!

  5. I live in Miami and they are absolutely obsessed with big asses and rap music. It’s become a massive brainwashing cultural lowlight. If you don’t have a big ass you will be ignored by everyone here, men and women. I am not joking when I say that I wouldn’t be surprised if I walked into a church here and they were playing a gospel version of a Trick Daddy or Rick Ross song while the choir twerks to it. And WTH Uncle Luke had an almost successful mayoral campaign here, as well. It’s all about the ass here, even with the old folks. My coworker ‘s 70 something yr old Cuban hairdresser grandma just got her buttjob re-upped and refreshed right before the Christmas holidays. Most of the girls at the fast food drive through have ass jobs because they offer affordable payment plans. Everwhere you go you see young, middle aged, and elderly big butt broads that look like the poor man’s version of JLo, Trina, Kim Kardashian, and of course Blak Chyna. All of the old black ladies here have and proudly flaunt ridiculous donks with no shame. I remember a creepy ass disturbing quote from that @Vice article “Buttloads Of Pain” The plastic surgeon who specialized in ass positively gloated about how “with breasts you have to deal with looking at a woman’s face, yet with the ass they have to turn around and you can fantasize about their face being anything you want!” That’s disgusting and probably explains all of the sexist beliefs and misogyny that is normalized in this big butt idolizing culture. When I lived in Las Vegas asses were literally an optional afterthought, I have a VERY well married several times over wealthy older girlfriend who divides her time between there and Brentwood CA. She has taught me a lot about men and basically gave me lessons about not “wasting your pretty” –BTW she’ll be ecstatic to know that a young woman has written a very smart book on the same subject she’s been preaching about for ages. Anyway her theory was that women who put all of their beauty calling cards into their ass always marry badly (lowly) – or not at all. And get this she is like 5’11 with a much coveted bubble behind but downplays it in favor of accenting her long legs. She says that men who prefer asses are ALWAYS the worst assholes ever. The men who are overly obsessed with breasts have ADD and deep rooted mommy issues and carry a 2 yr old toddler in their pants til the day they die. She told me to always go with the “leg man” because psychologically they have been trained to adore and respect a woman’s beauty and power and will offer more of a relationship between equals. She said also that leg men 9 times out a 10 had more class, breeding, and affluence; regardless of their race or culture and that a woman doesn’t have to be tall to have great legs. I’m sorry but the more I see grown hoodrats arguing about who has the biggest ass, and all of these trifling deadbeat daddies who chase the big asses; the more I’m starting to believe that her statements are true. Yeah that and her Elizabeth Taylor worthy jewel collection and properties that she has accumulated from her own successful business ventures and all of the “leg men” that she married and divorced. So ladies, perhaps we shouldn’t be fooled by thinking that “the (big) ass is always greener”. Lol. –Missy K.

  6. Che says:

    When I think of the standard of beauty ( I am an African-American woman) I def don’t think about a white woman. No way no how!

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