Thursday, February 24, 2011

I too am fearfully and wonderfully sculpted: The Hypocrisy and the Hatred of Black Women’s Bodies

     Recently Rush Limbaugh accused Michelle Obama of being a hypocrite stating that she eats ribs and does not look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and yet she has the audacity to promote a healthy lifestyle for our children.  Well, it’s no secret that most of the women who model for Sports Illustrated do not in reality look like the covers that bear their images.  Many likely starve themselves leading up to the photo shoot and even then their photos are professionally airbrushed, never mind the professional makeup applied prior to the airbrushing. 

     To suggest that Michelle Obama cannot eat ribs and be healthy is ludicrous. To suggest that Michelle Obama or any woman is not healthy unless they are a size 2, regardless of height or bone structure is irrational and constitutes an intentional attempt to discredit based on a knowingly mythical (as in fictional) standard.  To be sure Michelle Obama has born a lot of criticism since becoming First Lady of the United States of America some of which certainly has to do with race.  We also cannot deny that First Ladies prior have been scrutinized and criticized based on their physical appearance. For example, Hillary Clinton was censured for having thick ankles or cankles and accused of wearing pants suits to hide them.
     But still Michelle Obama is a tall woman with a relatively large bone structure; she would definitely not look or be healthy at a size 2.  But I can’t help but believe that what we see in Limbaugh’s comments is the age-old disdain for black women’s bodies, still.  Still in a society where women, white and black, purchase padded pants to increase the size of their derrieres and even resort to plastic surgery to make their butts larger and rounder to resemble the average black woman’s behind.  Black women sported voluptuous behinds long before Jennifer Lopez or Beyoncé.  The only ostensible difference between JLo or Beyoncé’s behind and that of Janet Jackson, Angela Bassett or Elise Neal’s is the level of pigmentation in the skin covering their derrieres (and the rest of their bodies, of course).  Many dark skinned ethnic minority women have always had beautiful, shapely derrieres. It is safe to idolize and/or covet the behinds of fair-skinned black or other ethnic minority women who have more Anglo or Caucasoid features. And I am certainly not faulting these women. No one has control over the skin they were born in.   
     I could also mention the collagen and fat that women are injecting into their lips to make them fuller.  The paradox is that black women have been and continue to be aesthetically devalued or ridiculed for having large lips.  And I won’t go into the browning of white (and yellow) skin and the proliferation of the use of tanning beds.  America has a love, hate attitude toward black women’s (and other women of color) bodies.
     The other unfortunate effect of derogatory contentions propagated by folks like Limbaugh is that some black girl somewhere will internalize, consciously and/or unconsciously, this hatred of black women’s bodies. I love that Michelle Obama is encouraging our children and other women and men to live healthy lives.  I love it because Michelle Obama is an intelligent woman of faith who exercises regularly; practices and promotes healthy eating and thinking; sometimes eats unhealthy foods and admits it, but does not let those moments interfere with a general determination to practice a healthy life style; and that Michelle Obama wears clothing that tastefully and unapologetically accentuates all the beautiful, sexy curves she inherited from her black ancestresses.  And I hope (and am sure) that Michelle Obama will continue to, in moderation, eat her ribs and ice cream when she feels like it without a second thought about other people’s disdain for and hang ups about her black body. And I hope all women–black, white, yellow, brown, red, pink–will live their healthiest lives and unapologetically love, with a haughty strut, their own bodies.  
     Reportedly the years of criticism of Hillary Clinton’s ankles led to many women’s fixation with their own “cankles” to the point of an increase in plastic surgery or targeted exercise regimes to narrow their ankles.  Just because someone or a group of people determine that “thick ankles” are unattractive does not make it so. We give power and virtual verity to such devaluing judgments by ordering our lives (and expecting others to follow suit) according to such arbitrary and self-serving opinions. Hatred of dark skin of course has led to a billion dollar skin lightening industry. Who benefits from black people’s internalization of others’ hatred of their dark skin and distinctive features? Certainly, not black women or the black community. I hope my sisters and I will not allow those who hate our bodies to compel us to change our bodies to please our haters because (1) we will never please our haters. Those who hate us because of our black bodies will always and only see us as black bodies and will find something else to hate about us; (2) such misplaced energy and money detracts from finding and living to the fullest our God-given purposes;  (3) failure to accept and love the bodies we were born with nurtures an unhealthy self-image, a self-hatred, and a distorted self-confidence, which we unwittingly and often in greater intensity pass on to our daughters and sons; and (4) when we hate ourselves, our body image, it is easier to hate another person because her body image does not fit the mold.  It is up to us to counter-culturally resist and reject the devaluing of our dark skin and bodies because they do not conform to others’ pre-judgments and attempts to knock us off our game through superficial diversions.  As Anna Julia Cooper stated in A Voice from the South, “only the black woman can [and should] say when and where she enters.”   

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