Who would imagine that actress Viola Davis could cause an Oscar-night stir just by wearing her hair as it grows out of her head? Her co-star in the “The Help,” Octavia Spencer, was more overt in her message to women, telling the weight-obsessed to relax and “be happy in your own skin.”
Spencer would fit right into Lonnae O’Neal Parker’s Washington Post story, headlined “Black women heavier and happier with their bodies than white women, poll finds.” She interviewed women getting their exercise on and feeling the burn; they don’t fit into a size 2 and wouldn’t care to.
But how is it they’ve decided to accept their curves? It’s certainly complicated. Black women were excluded for so long, says a writer quoted in the article, that “we got to judge ourselves,” instead of accepting the harsher judgments of words like “thick” and “big-boned.”
Surveys and studies prod the psyche of black women,, asking why we are or aren’t married and what we really want, when sometimes the answer is as simple as Greta Garbo’s plea to be left alone.
But this story touches on something as personal as what you see when you look in the mirror. So how does a women ignore the standards of beauty blared from the cover of every fashion magazine? So seldom finding ourselves there may make it easier, giving black women a chance to define our own beauty.
The women in the story refuse to use waif-like Hollywood starlets as the template. (Angelina Jolie and Rooney Mara, I’m talking about you.)
They are more than satisfied with the bodies that designers seldom have in mind, bodies they try to keep healthy despite the jobs and other demands that can make a fast-food meal the perfect solution.
Broadening the definition of attractiveness is a positive lesson for girls and women of every race and age. A Princeton professor, no less, says that for black women, the definition of beauty goes beyond the genes to include style, grooming, how you present and carry yourself, and “how you put yourself together.”
There’s something refreshing about the resilience. But while you can be healthy at a larger size, and a lot closer to the average American woman than an air-brushed model, a higher percentage of African American women do slip into obesity, which causes other health issues.
The fit first lady Michelle Obama has, despite jabs from critics, made healthy eating and exercise a priority, and she displays arms that have sent women of every color scurrying to the gym. She has helped set a new standard of beauty and fitness.
Actress Spencer wrote on her Facebook page, “If you are unhealthy start by making small changes to become healthier.” While she says she wants to lose some weight, she says there is no danger she is going to conform to an image. Her universal message: “You are unique, beautiful, and worthy.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter