Our body image, or self-conception of our body, has been an important part of individual human identity for as long as we’ve been aware of ourselves. Culture, gender and societal expectations can all play an important role in determining how we think we’re “supposed” to look and what traits others draw can be drawn about us from these looks.
Many of these expectations create deep impressions in our psyches from an early age. For example, a young black woman is brought up thinking, whether consciously or subconsciously, that she must have an hourglass figure, with a large posterior and chest to be considered beautiful. Moreover, there is an expectation for women with such a figure to demonstrate their “expected” skills of grinding and twerking on men. Now, neither of these steps are logically obvious: why does being black imply one must have a curvy figure? Why should having a curvy figure be associated with twerking and grinding? And beyond the falseness of these judgments, the norms of appearance they enforce are also dangerous.
In our example of the young black woman, the danger is not only that she is excluded from identifying as a beautiful black woman, but from blackness itself. For example, people assume that a skinny black woman with loose textured hair is mixed because they take her physical attributes to mean that she is lacking in being black.
When we allow such false norms to forge an unreliable mental image of blackness, those of us who do not match up with the image of the curvy black woman feel as if they are somehow lacking and inadequate.
Now, it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with this image of the curvy black woman who twerks, but that it is often times the only image. Repetitive depictions drawn about black women, such as in the media, show us “throwing it back” in booty shorts and a crop top, but this should not be the only image. Black women who are doctors, engineers, or business women are not any less black, compared to curvy black women who are skilled at twerking. The lack of diversity in the way black women are depicted leads to a false one-track mindset, creating a warped image of what black women are.
So, how do we go about fixing this issue, at least from a philosophical standpoint? We have to make ourselves aware of the harm caused by warped conceptions of black femininity. Continuously perpetrating the false image of the black woman who is curvy and twerks well is essentially an act of society misleading itself. Once we rid ourselves of these false judgements, we can begin to correct the impressions that have been forged into our minds from a young age, correcting societal expectations and standards. We can begin to construct a new image of black woman, one that celebrates the multiplicity of the lives we live.