After spending many years researching various cultures of Afrikan descent, one thing became very apparent, the philosophy of the size of women was very different than the concept consistently promoted in western civilization. Large women were prized and seen as the personification of beauty. This is very hard to accept when socialized in a culture where thinness is like a religion, supported by an industry that spends millions of dollars convincing women that being thin is the ultimate physical objective.
Anyone who watches television, or is a frequent reader of national magazines, has seen every kind of diet program and pill imaginable to eliminate excess weight. Western civilization is so obsessed with being thin, the promotion of weight reducing products and programs has crossed the line into propaganda campaigns. The power of suggestion is very effective.
For instance, talking with a friend the other day, who is in her early 60s, revealed something very surprising. She said that when she was in her early 20s, she was aware of her size and was very influenced by the fashion icon at the time, Twiggy, who was so thin as to almost appear sickly. Then she said something else only those who keep up with fashion would know, that fashion designers at the time saw a nine year old boy as the ideal size for fashion models. The reasoning, thin models showcase clothes, not the shape of the woman wearing them. Thank God for Ebony Fashion Fair, who was one of the first to break that mold, and began including large black women on the catwalk, or as they are currently called, the ‘plus size’ women.
In the community of Afrikan descent, it has been heard on several occasions how a girl would go home for vacation, struggling to maintain a thin figure, and upon arriving home, one of the elder women would say, ‘Girl, get in here. Let me sit you down and put some meat on your bones.’ The elder women, from their perspective, saw thinness as a sign of unhealthiness.
Traveling around and observing world cultures, seeing documentaries or pictures of women in various cultures, it becomes very clear that large women are part of their cultural mainstream, particularly middle-aged and older women. In some cultures, a woman is fed high starch foods for weeks to increase her size in preparation for marriage; a ritual that has been practiced for hundreds of years. This is done because it is what the men prefer.
That was confirmed while conversing with some brothers, sitting on a hospital ship in Viet Nam, playing bid whist around 2 or 2 a.m. (for those who know the game, that was the first time I bided a 7 and made it). Of course, part of our conversation was about our beautiful black women. The general consensus was that most of the brothers said they like women “with meat on their bones,” i.e., a big woman. That settled that.
The obsession of being thin has gotten to the point of being dangerous. There are some girls who suffer from anorexia, while others have died trying to be thin. In a recent Los Angeles Times article (17 April 2008), the following was cited, “In 2006 the international fashion world was shaken by the deaths of two models, one Uruguayan, the other Brazilian. They had literally starved themselves to death, the Uruguayan by living on a diet of lettuce and soda, the Brazilian by eating only apples and tomatoes for three months.”
As a consequence, France, one of the world centers for fashion, is considering some drastic steps to fight the unhealthy obsession of businesses promoting thinness. “Fines of up to $47,000 and a two-year prison term would be imposed on people who compromise a person’s health by encouraging individuals through advertisements, products or methods of losing weight to aspire to ‘excessive thinness.’” (Los Angeles Times)
The difficulty with this obsession with thinness, or the commonality of being a large woman, becomes problematic when it put ones health at risk. Being too thin or large can both be signs of an unhealthy life style. Most traditional cultures prefer their women, especially in later adulthood, to be large, and no one looks down on those women. It becomes trouble when that largeness gets so out of hand that it becomes a detriment, rather than a symbol of beauty.
One example is how parents can put a child’s life at risk by not controlling their diet, then justifying it. One example is about a young girl who is so grossly overweight, she may never survive her 20s. The worst part is that her mother and grandmother allow her to eat all the junk food and sweets she wants, and then encourages her that she is all right and just to love who she is. One can only imagine the depression and low self-esteem she will feel when she begins to socialize with her peer group.
Whether one chooses to be large, or just the opposite, the main consideration should always be what is the healthiest for one’s body, and not some cultural habit that says you have to be a particular size to be acceptable. After all, a higher level of consciousness is loving oneself, no matter the size, no matter what society tries to convince you of, as long as that size does not threaten your health.
– Dr. Kwaku’s class, Afrikan World Civilizations (Part II), has been extended for an additional five weeks until June 6. The class is conducted on Friday evenings, 7-9 p.m. at Kaos Studios in Leimert Park. You can now pay per individual class. For details go to: