I posed this question on a social networking site recently. The aftermath was like watching people running from a burning building as if their hair were on fire. Most of the responses were of the “good luck with that” variety, as if the next move was to wait for a last minute pardon from the governor before the firing squad commenced to carry out the sentence.
The reason for some of my own hesitation in weighing in on a subject like this is obvious. Just as the black women come in a variety of hues and hair types, they also are a mix of skinny and voluptuous – the thin and the thick – not so easily or quickly defined.
Nor can the dating or marrying preferences of African-American men be easily placed into a nice neat box. Poll a brother on the street and he might be just as likely to prefer a slim sister as one with, as they say, some junk in her trunk.
Still, there’s no question that the average African-American woman is likely to adopt India.Arie’s credo that she just “ain’t built like a supermodel.” And if the biggest part of sexiness is self-confidence, then the black woman’s allure to the black man needs no explanation. The black woman exudes self-assuredness.
Since her arrival here from Africa centuries ago, the black woman has been comfortable in her skin, content to live her life large, usually more literally than figuratively. In many cases, because the African-American woman bore the responsibility – often alone – for keeping her family intact, she had little time to take care of herself.
Even if that lifestyle wasn’t – or nowadays, isn’t – a choice, we’re nonetheless seeing the effects in higher reported incidents of obesity and related complications, including diabetes and heart disease, within the black community. This week’s news that the American Heart Association added sugar, along with salt and cholesterol, to the list of things to watch out for will not go over well in many black kitchens.
While there are legitimate health reasons for wondering if bigger is really better over the long term, those concerns haven’t kept many black women from straying from the ideal European-American body aesthetic that is widely portrayed in the media circles.
You need only look at the way two of the world’s top female tennis players, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, are viewed to get a feel for the chasm of difference in how body beauty is perceived in the black and white communities. Sharapova, a Russian émigré and winner of three Grand Slam singles titles, is 6-foot-2, thin and blonde. Twice, she was the most searched for athlete in the world through Yahoo! and she is a favorite of the overwhelmingly white fanboy sports blogosphere.
Williams is likewise tall, at 5ft 10”, but as author Marita Golden points out in her book, “Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex,” “Serena is compact, muscular [and] built for the game she dominates.”
“And,” continues Golden, “any discussion of Serena Williams has to begin with her backside, her black, her African, derriere. That’s my backside, that’s the backside of so many black women, and Serena ain’t trying to hide it, camouflage it or do anything but flaunt it.”
Serena’s not alone, nor should she be. You won’t catch women like Tyra Banks or Oprah Winfrey or Queen Latifah squeezing into size 2 or 4 dresses. Yet their visibility and beauty are unquestioned.
Indeed, I appreciate the fact that my wife not only isn’t built like a supermodel, but loves me, a man who not only has junk in the trunk, but groceries all over the car.