In the majority power race to be rail-thin, Black women have, traditionally, preferred to have a more curvaceous silhouette, with the lower half of their bodies “rounder” than the top — “junk in the trunk” is perhaps the better known nomenclature.

A “big legged” woman has always had a special place of honor in The Blues and in traditional Amerian Black culture — so we were surprised to read about “new research” from a University of Missouri PhD student who is studying the notion that Black women like to have a curvy figure:

Rashanta Bledman, a doctoral student in the department of educational, school and counseling psychology in MU’s College of Education, examined the cultural ideals of body type for black women, changing the focus from weight and thinness to shape in order to better understand black women’s perceptions of attractiveness. Previously, most research has focused primarily on middle to upper class white women and excludes African-American women.

“Historically, the ideal for women is to be thin,” Bledman said. “However, I noticed that within certain communities, thinness was not the most desired shape for women.”

Bledman surveyed 79 African-American women using a questionnaire designed to measure concerns about body image, weight, shape and satisfaction. Her goal was to find out how satisfied African-American women are with their bodies, what the ideal shape is for black women, and whether there is a discrepancy between the ideal and the actual shapes of these women.

The study found that black women are satisfied in general with their bodies but still have certain areas they would like to improve, specifically their mid and lower torsos. Additionally, Bledman found that shape is more important than weight in the African-American community, as most participants believed the most attractive body shape for them was slightly overweight compared to Body Mass Index (BMI) standards.

Is this research really worthy of a university press release and an award from the American Psychological Association?  Are 79 women really enough of a sample size to make any sort of quantitative — or even qualitative — study of weight, perception and sexuality?

790 or 7,900 women in the sample size would have been much more worthwhile and logically convincing scholarship.

The more interesting study starts where this research idea ends.  Black women like curves and they’re more interested in shape than weight — but how does that desire for silhouette translate into long term health issues?

Is it healthy to want to weigh more to be curvier and to fit into a semiotic, but stifling, cultural trope historically celebrated in music, television and the movies — or are these women only using the “Curves are Beautiful” argument as a public cudgel against a private reality to excuse their bad eating habits and their inability to lose weight?

There’s “big legged” and then there’s “big boned” — and one is a dangerous body type celebrated by a narrow values system and the other is a fantastical myth without any scientific data supporting the individual invocation.

We must demand, and then appropriately reward, more vigorous and insightful research from our doctoral students if we ever hope to move beyond recording the obvious and into understanding the real reason why.

2 Comments

  1. Last night my wife Elizabeth and I watched the TV show “Huge” and were struck by how silly it was. The reviews were all glowing and saying that it was great that it is so “fat positive.”

    http://watching-tv.ew.com/2010/06/28/huge-nikki-blonsky-season-1-episode-1/

    “Just when you thought pop culture had fallen in line with the socially-correct stance toward obesity — roughly speaking, that would be “Shed the pounds or be the Biggest Loser!” — along comes Huge to suggest that the so-called “fat acceptance” movement makes a good point.”

    It really does seem silly to make a to do about such a small study group!

    1. It really is amazing to see how the popular mindset is always governed by the power majority. With more and more Americans not just being overweight, but obese, they begin to set the new standard for what is body-silhouette average — but never healthy — and they will protect their fat interests politically and figuratively and in the law. They will, and must, and forever shall, have their carb loads and their granulated sugar highs and their pounds of butter — because it is their God-given right to please every whim and to pack every hole with high fructose corn syrup — all in the name of beauty and curviness.

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