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 depressed.
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 of Milan.
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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