The following is an exclusive excerpt from the “Body Image” chapter of Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century. For complete information and resources, we recommend that you consult the chapter and the book in its entirety.
BODY IMAGE, WEIGHT, AND SIZE
In many cultures and historical periods women have been proud to be large–being fat was a sign of fertility, of prosperity, of the ability to survive. Even in the U.S. today, where fear of fat reigns in most sectors of the culture, some racial and ethnic groups love and enjoy large women. For example, Hawaiians often consider very large women quite beautiful, and studies show that some black women experience more body satisfaction and are less concerned with dieting, fatness, and weight fluctuations than are white women. However, the weight loss, medical, and advertising industries have an enormous impact on women across racial and ethnic boundaries. These industries all insist that white and thin is beautiful and that fatness is always a dangerous problem in need of correction. The popular notion that some communities are less influenced than others has meant that women of color in particular have a hard time being taken seriously when they have eating disorders. A black woman suffering from an eating disorder says:
After all, don’t black people prize wide hips and fleshy bodies? Isn’t obesity so prevalent in our communities because it is actually accepted? Don’t black women have very positive body images?…Anorexia and its kin supposedly strike only adolescent, middle- and upper-middle-class white girls…Women like me are winging it, seeking out other sisters with the same concerns, wondering if we are alone on this journey.