Beauty and Butt Shots: Black Women Battle for Body Acceptance

Butt Injections
After I read this blog post from a woman who regrets the $700 butt shots she received, I couldn't help but think through my own  journey to body acceptance.  The blog post reminded me that in recent years, black folks have been our own worst enemy in perpetuating body image issues among black women and girls. In our efforts to defy white supremacy, we adopted an equally unattainable aesthetic ideal. Large breasts, tiny waists, and humongous behinds are the desired anatomy of a substantial segment of Black and brown people. Normal women with 9 to 5s aspire to the video girl dimensions we've deemed most attractive. Now those women are dying, and it's time to rethink our preferences.

Many women of African descent are born with naturally round behinds and supple thighs; however, many are not. Placing this one type of body on a pedestal has cost us dearly. There's a new generation of women caught between mainstream beauty standards and those of the culture they wish to be validated within. These women have nowhere to turn. They can't be beautiful because they are not white, and they can't be sexy because they are not thick.

“Thick” being the current body descriptor used to terrorize Black women. It singles us out and shames us. We all know shame is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It drives even the most level-headed among us to pursue illogical courses of action. But some of us, by constitution or circumstance, are more vulnerable, and we succumb to the whims of an unforgiving culture.

 In order to embody “thick” some Black women began injecting themselves with all manner of toxic sludge. They made themselves attractions. I see these women as attempting to reclaim control of their bodies and the way they will be viewed. Inverting the plight of the Hottentot Venus, they, themselves, put their outlandishly large body parts on display. Trading the white gaze for black leers, these women don't realize that once you have been reduced to the sum of your body parts, you've lost your power.

I, too, lost ownership of my body for a time. I'm still trying to regain it. My lower body has attracted unwanted attention from both sexes and all races since I hit puberty. At around 9, I began to “fill out,” and the comments began. My adolescence is marked by the horrors of shopping for jeans. Each excursion ended in similar bouts of self-loathing. The well-meaning encouragement and compliments only deepen the despair.

Then, of course, there are the not-so-well meaning comments. While exiting a hot tub at 14 or 15 a white teenage boy caught a glimpse of my behind. He unashamedly asked me if all Black girls have “ghettos.” I assume he meant ghetto booties. I laughed nervously, but I wanted to cry. Those moments happened to me often in all-white spaces. The stares and jokes were particularly devastating as I was often the only black girl. They were constant reminders that my body was an oddity. I'd never be like “them.”

The rise booty magazines and butt shots brought a shift in the kind of attention my body attracted. I grew up as well. As I began to pursue adult romantic and sexual relationships, the thing that was once a  liability became an asset. It drew men's attention. I took pride in having fatty, a donk, a booty, an ass.  They wanted it, and I wanted...affection. But it seems certain type of men can sense when a woman thinks all she's worth is poking out of her skintight dress. Those of the type of men who don't call you the next morning. They don't take you out for your birthday. They don't show up to family functions.

Disappointment is a great teacher. It taught me that I'd have to find a new way to cope with trauma of growing up with a tattered body image. Even as a feminist, well-educated woman I fall victim to the lures of male validation. Everyone wants to be wanted. Through personal growth, I understand that being fetishized, even for a personal attribute I used to hate, is not a compliment. But that took work, and it takes time. I can't fault other women who haven't started the journey.

Cracking jokes at the expense of women with slim bodies once felt like retribution for years of torment, but I can't laugh anymore. All women are victims. Black women are losing. All of us. We can only hope to win by resisting boldly those who taught us to hate ourselves.

The [Black Girl] Skinny: On Beauty Standards and Black Culture
Stop Wasting Your Time Telling Me I'm an Unattractive Black Woman
Unpretty: My Personal Battle with Vanity and Insecurity

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Tweet her.

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