For Curvy Girls: On the Circumstantial Acceptability of Black Women's Bodies

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The sounds and sights of my girlhood materialized in the outskirts of Louisiana’s capital. Coasting somewhere in between the swamps and sugar cane fields, I’ve lived out “Laissez les bon temps rouler.” I’ve known good food and even better culture. I’ve heard the resounding praise for the fullness of my lips, the ampleness of my breasts, the flatness of my stomach, the natural curve of my hips, the thickness of my thighs, and the arch in my back.

Large portions of my inner sense of self draw from my socialization within this context; the values, beliefs, and ideals of this particular subset of mainstream culture largely define my interpretations of the woman in the mirror and those around. Imagine my surprise at the bursting of this cultural bubble!

When the above picture began to circulate throughout “Black Twitter” – a space where being naturally “thick” isn’t necessarily “the thing,” nor is it the normative presentation of a Black woman – the pushback by young, Black males astounded me. Featured here, is a curvy, Black woman with a breathtaking face, weighing in at 135 lbs – the kind of girl that guys pause to take a second look at on the sidewalk, but also the kind of girl they ridicule in the social web sphere. This discrepancy intrigues me, especially when tying it back to my cultural bubble. The entire idea of a naturally curvy, Black woman being some sort of loss, some sort of compromise, some sort of source of shame, a burden, is strange to me.   

During the same week, an image of Nicki Minaj in a two-piece, coral bikini was released, and the twitter sphere went ballistic. I ponder the polarized reactions. I ponder the tolerance for the very handiwork of nature. I ponder just when the imitation became more desirable, more acceptable, and more valuable than that which it imitates.

The sometime acceptability of Black women’s bodies is a historical continuum, haunting our trails and bends in the road since the institutionalization of slavery. In this context birthed a paradoxical fascination with the policing of Black women’s bodies. Deemed inherently erotic and sexual in nature, inexplicably desirable yet rarely respectable or acceptable, Black women’s bodies have been and remain on display and up for debate.

Perhaps in response to or as a form of rather submissive adaptation, Black women recurrently engage respectability politics – the notion of subscribing behavior, speech, dress, and overall navigation of life to Eurocentric standards of respectability. Pushing against the tides of our “otherness,” we’ve enlisted hot combs, whitening creams, diet pills, and the likes in desperate attempts to right the wrongness of our being.

The debate surrounding Black women’s bodies contemporarily manifests in incidents such as these, though not necessarily initiated from outside but within the borders of our communities. Today’s body shaming is no different than the historical and public ostracizing of Sarah Baartman, placed on stage as spectators strolled by in amusement. However, now spectators contemplate our humanity from the very comfort of their homes, scrolling through newsfeeds and timelines, and have faces and hues quite similar to our own.

Contemporary body shaming pits Black women not only against our white counterparts but additionally against each other, and always against generally unattainable and unrealistic expectations. We see this in the critical conversation regarding the body of the young woman above and the succeeding praise of Nicki Minaj.

Though it can be argued that both women are attractive in their own respective rights, the differing reactions pit them against each other, clearly defining what is acceptable and that which is not. The idolization of bodies such as that of Nicki Minaj and the denigration of very realistic portrayals of feminine Black bodies by the male gaze further perpetuates notions regarding the wrongness and circumstantial rightness of Black women’s bodies.

As previously mentioned, the policing of Black women’s bodies exists as a historical continuum and must therefore be applied and discussed in its appropriate context. The modern day shaming of Black women’s bodies draws from the centuries old, male imposed competition between the bodies of Black and White women, which placed greater value upon White bodies. However, contemporary body shaming places greater value upon bodies that mimic not only those of White women, but incorporate attributes stereotypical of Black women.

Herein, I believe, lies the root cause of the polarized reactions to the young woman pictured above and the image of Nicki Minaj. Though well known for her backside, the remaining portions of Nicki Minaj’s body, with the exception of her hips, are relatively thin. And though this specific type of handiwork is generally unrealistic and unattainable to the average Black woman, it still remains a male (and to an extent, female) imposed standard.

In assigning ideal and expected images to the physical aesthetics of Black womanhood, there falls a weight on those women outside of the line; failure to comply with these standards can have serious repercussions. Whether it be social ostracizing or internal conflicts working under the umbrella of self-esteem issues, the latent functions of body shaming clouds the road to body positivity for curvy, Black women, a right of all individuals.

Promotion of body positivity would, in a perfect world, take the place of body shaming. The notion of teaching and instilling in little Black girls an understanding of their body as natural and whole, rather than "other" and only acceptable in pieces is a powerful one, one that would dramatically alter the conversation surrounding the acceptability of Black women's bodies. 

I thought to challenge you to ponder, only to realize that you may have already been doing so your entire life. Maybe in the mirror, or behind your contours and highlights; or when you suck it in and poke it out because you’ve been ashamed into believing your curves, little woman, are only acceptable circumstantially and in pieces.  

But you are whole; you are complete; and you are acceptable.

You are as natural as the universe in which you trod. You are as full and sweet as the richest of berries. You are as ample as a tomato, just right for picking. You are as smooth as the Louisiana countryside. You are as thick as the sap flowing through the trunks of heaven’s whisperers. Your hips intimidate the deepest bends in the road; and the arch in your back, Queen, challenges the curve of even the steepest of hills.

You are dangerous and untamable, unattainable by those unworthy.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Krislyn Domingue is a rising sophomore, Sociology & Anthropology and Comparative Women’s Studies double major at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys reading, writing, and sipping Chai Tea. Email:; Twitter: @krislynsd.   

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