Growing up in Texas, I experienced scorching summers that were so hot that you could fry eggs and bacon on the sidewalk. The heat was unbearable, but what was even worse was the fact that in order to survive the heat you had to wear shorts and revealing tank tops. This may not sound like a big deal, but for a young girl with body image issues, summers represented the worst periods of my life. I was not at all excited for what people nowadays call “Sundress Season”.
It seemed to me that every other girl that lived in my neighborhood had no problem showing their skin and were so comfortable doing so that if they could, they would have probably run around naked and not have felt one ounce of shame about doing so.
I on the other hand, felt so ashamed of the light brown stretch marks on my arms and my growing pot belly. As the other children would hang out with each other and enjoy the sun, I would cover myself in awkward sweaters that made me look like a baked potato. It didn’t help that I also had bullies in my neighborhood to remind me how ridiculous I looked with Christmas sweaters on in 90 degree Texas heat.
One boy in particular, Bobby, was the neighborhood heartthrob. He was the Michael B. Jordan of our apartment complex and I had a huge crush on him. Every day of summer when I went out , I hoped to see him alone, but he would always be surrounded by his groupies, who were referred to as “dime pieces,”by the neighborhood boys. These girls all had coke bottle shaped bodies and looked like supermodels. They were all bold and confident and walked around knowing all eyes were on their assets.
Time and time again Bobby and his dimes would roam the neighborhood like Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ video backup dancers. They would gladly point out other girls’ body parts that they felt did not fit their own standards and would huddle around them with pointed fingers like a pack of hyenas and tear the victim apart with their words cutting like sharp teeth.
It is no mystery that I wanted to look like these girls if it meant that I would be accepted by boys (a very important achievement at that age). In an effort to be like these girls, I would fold my shorts all the way up under my butt cheeks and walk around with an ostrich like stride. Sadly this didn’t help me feel better about my body nor did it help me to become one of the ‘dime pieces’.
I would often stand in the bathroom mirror and say negative things to myself like, “You’re too fat,” or “Why can’t you just be like a normal girl.” These words don’t seem so harsh when they come from yourself but imagine saying those words to a friend or family member. Not so mellow is it?
As I was outside one day, the lead bootleg Beyoncé approached me and yelled, “Ew, how many stomachs does she have, she looks pregnant.”
“She needs to go back in the house,” another girl yelled.
My heart immediately began pounding hard as laughter erupted from others including my crush Bobby who was laughing at me the hardest. Instead of dismissing the ridiculous comment, I was crushed and felt as if an 18 wheeler had plowed right through my soul. I had let the opinions of others take my voice away and I felt inadequate.
Years have passed since that incident and over the years I have met other girls who have also experienced having their body be the joke of the day. Having that happen is both painful and detrimental to the growth of young black women.
Recently I started to ask myself, why do we do it? Why do we allow the idea that one look is the way to go and whoever is not built like a cartoon Disney princess (Eurocentric features included) deserves to be thrown away and their feelings ignored. Who made those rules? If we did not make them then why do we desperately feel we must follow them? So what if you have stretch marks on your shoulders, tummy, or legs; who said that is not beautiful? So what if you don’t have legs that resemble a tall supermodel’s, your legs still hold you up just the same as any other woman’s, and it gets you places.
We live in a world where a woman’s body is correlated with how she should be treated. I think it is time for us to take our bodies back from the hands that lack acceptance. It is our right to embrace the body type we were born with, plain and simple. The creator sculpted us to our perfect designs just the way we are now.
Whether your butt is big or small, or you have many stretch marks or none at all, know this black woman, we are the keepers of our own bodies. When we as black women decide to set our own beauty standards other rules that someone else tries to come along and beat us down with will have no effect on us.