Black Women, Our Bodies & Perceptions of Beauty: On Self Esteem

Self-esteem is defined as a confidence and satisfaction in oneself. A person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. If you were a stock on wall street, it’d literally be how much you think you should sell for.

If you listen to the national conversation about weight, one would presume that being overweight is a sin. It’s unsightly. It’s “offensive to the nation’s visual sensibilities.” The media regularly perpetuates this notion that if you don’t look anything like “X”, then there is something wrong with you. Never mind the fact that you may not look like “X” because you are simply a beautiful shade of “different.” All that matters is that you do not resemble “X,” and that this is a serious matter.

And we – innocent, unknowing, gullible, naive little us – we simply buy into it. Perhaps its too easy to go with the flow for many of us. Perhaps it takes too much time to challenge these ideas that tell us that we are “less than” because we don’t fit with an American cultural ideal. Perhaps this notion of being “less than” already fits in with perceptions we had of ourselves long before we recognized that the media agrees with us. The bottom line is.. “we” are told that we suck… and “we” agree.

As a woman who came of age around women who didn’t look much like me, I see how this affects everyone. I already wrote about how the young girls who didn’t need diet-anything were sucking down diet sodas for lunch. (Perhaps the corn syrup in the drink counted as a serving of vegetables? Just playing… maybe?) I remember my non-Black girlfriends getting relaxers to tame their curls so that it’d be easier to straighten their hair. I also remember those who refused to participate in the “race to be what they want us to be” being ostracized and mocked and shunned for their choice.

As a woman of color, I see how this affects women like me. We don’t see leading ladies with curly hair. Hell, we don’t even see leading ladies with their own hair anymore. (And please don’t take this as an insult toward individual choice.. it’s a direct critique of the images we see in the media.. not the people we see every day.) Black radio shows are full of advertisements selling weight loss pills, smoothies, shakes, and [insert random quick fix here]. We, as women of color, are often told everything is wrong with us.

It’s rare that you hear a conversation about why, though. Why are we told by the media that something is wrong with us? Why are we always told that we need to lose “that last five pounds?” Why is it so unappealing for people with heritage that doesn’t look like the mainstream image of “ideal” to be different?

Diet, diet, diet.... womp.

If self esteem is the perceived level of satisfaction in oneself, and you have imagery around you every day telling you exactly how “less than” you truly are… how hard is it going to be to develop a healthy sense of self? A healthy understanding of your worth?


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