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Some thoughts on SA/FA Intersectionality: Race and culture

November 14th, 2009     by Julia Horel     Comments

Thanks to a comment from Steve on my last post, I was inspired to write some posts on some of the intersections between size acceptance/fat acceptance and race/culture, class and (dis)ability.

First, I want to acknowledge my position of privilege as an educated, able-bodied middle-class, white woman, born in Canada, of white, upper-middle-class parents also born in Canada. I can discuss these issues from the position of an ally trying to inform herself as much as possible, but I cannot and will not try to speak for people in groups of which I’m not a part. I also acknowledge that I can’t come close to understanding all the issues, and would love to hear from others who’d like to add their perspectives.

Something almost guaranteed to get my back up when discussing size and body image is an assertion that it’s “easier” or “harder” for someone of a certain race to have a larger or smaller body size. As an example, there’s a notion that refuses to die that says black women are exempt from worrying about their weight and that fatness is more accepted among black people, because black men prefer women larger. I have three major issues with this:

1) How can anyone know what all black men prefer in terms of body shape and size, and who says they prefer women at all? 2) Even if it were true: what, black women exist purely as attractive objects for black men? If black men like them “bigger,” they have nothing to worry about? Who says that what black men think about their bodies is black women’s primary concern? The inherent racism (not to mention sexism) in assuming that black men have the only valid opinion about black women’s bodies is appalling. 3) It’s just not true.

See, to look “acceptable” in our society is to look as close to the ideal as possible, and that ideal is not only thin; it is white, tall, perhaps blonde-haired (straight or just wavy, of course) and blue-eyed. Whether some or even many black men prefer larger women is completely irrelevant; white-dominated society at large is telling black women that they must look as close to the white ideal as possible in order to be considered attractive. This applies to all women of colour; black women are just an example.

While individual cultures may have particular body size stereotypes (Asian women are thinner, Hispanic women have larger hips, etc.), it’s important to recognize that these are not universal ideals within cultural groups, and that women of colour are under enormous pressure by virtue of their colour to strive to look as white as possible. Women of colour don’t get a free pass on the body ideal thing. In fact, pressure to conform to an ideal body type only increases, the further from the “ideal” you are. A really great rundown on this topic from a woman of colour (another Julia, not me) can be found at Fatshionista here.

Class and (dis)ability next time.

Tags: body politics

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