In conversations on body image and eating disorders, black women are often left out of the debate– it’s assumed that by virtue of their skin color, black women are somehow rendered immune to those ubiquitous pressures that plague white women (I would argue that the reverse might also be true: that because of racism, black women are even more conscious of and sensitive to how they present themselves and are perceived by others.) Here’s a round-up of recent news that shows that while no one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on eating disorders and/or body image insecurities, distinct social forces act in altogether different ways in influencing the self-esteem, health and happiness of women of color.
Remember the study from a few months back in which it was found that black girls and girls from low-income families are more likely to develop bulimia than their wealthier white counterparts? Playwright and screenwriter Stephanie Armstrong is helping to fill a gap in the noticeably lacking eating disorder memoirs genre with her new book, Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia. Armstrong — now a recovered, married mother of one in her mid-40s — documents her descent into bulimia in her early 20s and describes her struggles as a black woman with a disorder consistently portrayed as a white woman’s disease, as well as why black women often do not seek traditional therapy for emotional problems. The work is being hailed as the first book by and among black women about eating disorders.
The Boston Herald has some background information on the project here and be sure to check out Armstrong’s website at www.notallblackgirls.com. The book, released Aug. 1, is available online at Amazon.
Check out the trailer below for Chris Rock’s new documentary Good Hair, set for release in U.S. theaters on Oct. 9. The comedian extraordinaire was inspired to take a humorous look at the tangled political web of black women and hair after his daughter Lola came up to him crying and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
For more on the the snarled politics of black hair, check out Dianne Longwood’s awesome post from last month. As she explains:
Few of us are truly at ease with the coarse hair texture that comes courtesy of our African roots. In the beauty spectrum, our natural hair isn’t even on the map. Given the option, most Black girls would gladly wake up with a full, flowing head of hair instead of the short, hard-to-grow variety that is often our birthright.
Men like hair, so women who don’t have much of their own go buy some. To be called fake sends the message: If you’re not born with it, you’re not worth it. This is reinforced when some Black people use now-common terms like “good hair” to describe hair with texture as far from African as possible.
Vogue Italia hoped to piggyback on the success of last year’s Black Issue by featuring a fashion spread of black Barbie dolls in its July magazine. The spread is, no doubt, inspired by Barbie’s 50th anniversary and comes on the heels of the introduction of Mattel’s new line of So In Style African-American Barbies that feature fuller lips, wider noses and curly hair. Vogue’s spread and the new black Barbies are meeting with mixed reactions from some black bloggers.
Writes Loryn Wilson of Change.org:
…I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.
The Root’s Raven L. Hill counters:
Aside from the appearance, the doll’s interests are both fun and scholarly—one doll prefers science and drill team while another one likes art and journalism. The dolls come in pairs of big and little sisters to encourage mentoring relationships.
They may not be mirror-perfect, but they come closer to the fantasy than my childhood playthings… I would want these dolls for my daughter.
Share your own comments, related links and personal experiences in the comments below.