By Jeannine DeHoney
Reprinted from the Fall 1997 issue of Radiance
I am an African-American woman who comes from a long line of women who
are well endowed below the waist. Our broad hips, our big behinds, and our full thighs
have never represented mainstream America's idea of the body beautiful, but in our
culture, this ampleness below the waist is part of our attractiveness.
Growing up, I was always very self-conscious about my big hips and
behind. I went to a predominantly white junior high school, and I often listened to my
Barbie-doll-shaped friends and classmates talk about being too fat. Although they never
said anything to me directly, I always felt as if they probably made fun of me behind my
back. These thoughts often caused me to lapse into a state of depression. I would go on
secret starvation diets and exercise to excess, hoping that my voluptuous hips would
become slim hips. When they didn't, I usually ended up sick and even more
As I entered adulthood and became more aware of the beauty in my
heritage, I slowly began to understand that my ampleness below the waist was not a curse.
I began to appreciate my African ancestors, who had draped their hippy bodies in the
finest fabrics and walked their land with a regal dignity. I remembered the good-natured,
humorous stories I had been told about how my great-aunts would put their hands on their
strong, wide hips when they were upset, letting others know that they were women to be
reckoned with. But it wasn't until I began to remember the cushiony warmth that came from
sitting on the ample laps of my female kin that I really began to think of this fullness I
had inherited as a blessing.
The lineage of hippy women I come from helped me to realize that size
has nothing to do with having style, having class, having aspirations, reaching goals,
and, most of all, living life to its fullest. These women adorned their bodies in the most
exotic colors and were never afraid to display the curves of their hips.
I especially loved to see these women at church on Sunday morning. There
they would be, in all of their finery: in blooming flowers, polka dots, and stripes. They
defied all the stereotypes of what ample-sized women were supposed to wear, and they did
so with elegance. I also loved watching them show off their hippy beauty in community
fashion shows, for many of them moved as professionally as the models who walk the runways
These hippy women also helped me learn about true sexuality. As I
watched them with the men they loved and who loved them back, I saw that their
self-assurance was a big part of what made them so hard to resist.
The positive attitude of the outgoing, hippy women in my culture has
been a balm for my soul. Their love for themselves and others has helped me to know that
my large hips, behind, and thighs are as much a part of me as my dark skin and my African
features. I also know that I must continually bathe my hips, behind, and thighs with
affirming thoughts, in spite of what others may say.
I also no longer use this society's mirror to judge my body shape. For
in this society's mirror, there is rarely a true reflection of me as a woman of color. Now
I feel outraged when big-hipped women like me are ridiculed in comedy shows that grossly
exaggerate our body parts.
At family gatherings in my culture, it is often taboo to utter the word
diet. And if you somehow slip and forget, you can always count on some loving family
member to remind you that your body is gorgeous with some meat on your bones and to fix
you a plate with everything on it. We African Americans have a high rate of heart disease,
so we must be careful not to eat soul food to excess, while still appreciating that part
of our culture. And our sweet, loving acceptance of our bodies is something that women of
all cultures need to pass on to their daughters and other females they cross paths with.
To many women in my culture, Oprah Winfrey was beautiful in all of her
voluptuousness. And although our feelings about her have not changed since she lost
weight, we rooted for her even more when she was large because she was breaking down
barriers. She was not only a woman of color with a successful talk show, she was an
alluring woman who wasn't a size 6.
It's taken a long time, but finally I can describe my ampleness below
the waist in a voice full of sunshine instead of gray clouds. It's a voice that accepts
and loves my differences as a woman of color, a voice that is confident enough to proclaim
myself as not only being well endowed below the waist, but being wonderfully endowed above
the feet. ©
JEANINE DEHONEY is a freelance writer, and has had work published in
Black Secrets and Black Romance, Essence , Upscale, and Sisters in Style. She still has
her well-loved wide hips.
Illustration by PAUL DELACROIX
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