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It's All Relative: Body Issues

 by Lucia Bill  published on Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lucia Bill/issues/arts/695311
Lucia Bill
 

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The big news over winter break: Lindsay Lohan admitted to an eating disorder. Ohmygod. I totally didn't see that coming. Umm, actually, yeah I did. The progressive shrinking of Hollywood's youngest tramp, covered for months by tabloids, was kind of a give away. Good news is that after getting her own Vanity Fair cover and plenty of press coverage, Linds is okay. Now we're just waiting for Nicole Richie to drop the "shocking-shocking!" news on us.

As these, and several other celebrity examples demonstrate, the pressure on women to be skinny is a serious problem. With size zero models gracing magazine covers while the average size worn by an American woman is a 12, it is not surprising to learn that over 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, according to a 2000 poll in People magazine .

This topic has received its share of attention from sensationalist publications as well as serious medical, sociological and feminist researchers. But while we concern ourselves with the record amount of women going to extremes to be thin, it is worth to mentioning that over 90 percent of women in eating disorder clinics are white, according to a 2003 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. So does that mean that African-American women have no body-image problems? Hardly.

As books like commediane Mo'Nique's "Skinny Women are Evil," with their references to "skinny bitches" demonstrate, the time has come to turn our obsessive interest from skeletons in the closet to the junk in the trunk.

A recent study by the University of Missouri has revealed that while African-American women's body images are not significantly influenced by the appearance of Caucasian models, when exposed to attractive African-American models, their self-evaluation lowers considerably.

As you can probably tell from my picture, I'm not an expert on this subject. But just as there is stereotypical pressure on white women to be skinny, there is an equal amount of stress on African-American women to be curvy. From Sir Mix-A-Lot lyrics to Petey Pablo videos, African-American women are bombarded with images of tiny waists, full breasts and large, firm, yet perfectly jigg-able, butts. And if you happen to be an African-American woman whose "lovely lady lumps" aren't the right size, your body is not up to par.

Take Beyonce for example. No one can deny that she is one of the most beautiful women in show business. Her great curves have even overshadowed J. Lo's insured ass. But I doubt that a white woman with the same measurements would be hailed as a sex symbol. More than likely, her picture would appear on magazine covers, red ink around her hips and a blurb about possible relationship problems as a cause of this deviation from clearly set standards. And if Beyonce suddenly became a size 2, I doubt that her current fan base would think it perfectly normal. This is nothing short of de facto racism. If you're a white woman, you should look like this. If you're black, you should look like that.

Racist body image stereotypes also influence men, who often feel like their appreciation for something other than the designated form is in some way deviant (I'd like to think that there are white men who like bigger women and who are not Bill Clinton). I'm going to skip the part about how every body is beautiful, and that you should embrace yourself just the way you are. If you need to hear that, the Vagina Monologues are just around the corner.

As long as people who set out to be public figures perpetuate these stereotypes, escaping them will be harder than getting Mary-Kate Olsen to play Usher's love interest in his next video.

Reach the reporter at lucia.bill@asu.edu.



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