Today I counsel a young, Black college girl who believes she needs to be skinny for her White boyfriend, no matter how he reassures her.
Help! I’m an eighteen-year-old, Black college freshman who wishes she could be skinny for her White boyfriend. This is the first time I have dated a White guy. We are really good together and compatible and all that. The thing is, I am self-conscious about my body for the first time ever, because I know White guys like skinny girls and I am not skinny. I am curvy, not really thick, but not skinny. All my life I have been ok with my body because I am athletic. I have never dieted until now and I hate it. Thinking about what to eat all the time makes me want to eat more—all the good/bad things, lol!
Unlike me, my boyfriend is not at all critical of my body. He says I am beautiful and says he loves everything about me, but I know all the women in his family are skinny—his mother and sisters who work out all the time and eat steamed kale. I read a survey online that said White guys dating Black girls don’t care about hair or skin color so much, but they do want their women to be thin no matter what. So I am trying to get skinny, but it is not natural for my body type. I am also tall and he’s not. I hate the idea of being bigger than he is!
Also, my boyfriend’s exes are all White and Asian and ALL of them were skinny. I have never felt this bad about myself before! My family has many full-figured women and being bigger has never meant they were not considered beautiful (though long hair and light skin are definitely praised in my family). But now, I am wishing I had different body genes. All I can think is that he’s going to wake up one day and realize I am too big for him to be attracted to anymore.
I cannot help noticing that you never mentioned what YOU find attractive about your boyfriend. All I know about him is that he is White and that you are good together. Since you say you are compatible, I doubt you are only attracted to him because of his Whiteness or because of what he looks like. My guess is that you are attracted to the WHOLE person of him: his sense of humor, his take on life and the way he treats you. In this same way, I am sure he is attracted to the whole person you are, inside and out. What is the obstacle to believing your boyfriend when he says he thinks you are beautiful and that he loves everything about you? It seems that your body image issues are not coming from him, but from other external cultural forces.
External Cultural Forces Convinced Her She Must Be Skinny For Her White Boyfriend
Sadly, you are not the first young, Black woman to do what you are doing: putting Whiteness—White, female physical characteristics, as well as your white boyfriend—on a pedestal at the expense of your own racial pride. From the late 18th century, once American slavery had created the concept of race by linking physical characteristics with socio-political status, White femininity has been held up as an aesthetic ideal, while Black womanhood has been bitterly denigrated. Think of Scarlet O’Hara and Mammy in Gone with the Wind—the extravaganza of entrenched American racial stereotypes.
But we don’t have to go back to a 1939 film to see the contrast at work. In your childhood—unlike mine—it was not unusual to see Black models in magazines, if not on the cover. But these models were identical to their White colleagues in body-type, facial features and hair texture—every aspect except for skin tone. Again, the “beautiful girl” in story books, films and TV shows was—nine times out of ten—White as well. The good news is that, while you were internalizing these images, you were also learning to appreciate the beauty of your Black women relatives and thus yourself. In fact, the words you use to describe your own body today—curvy and athletic—sound admirable in every context I can think of. It is only since beginning to date a White man that “skinny” has become the grail for you. I recommend five steps to shaking this preoccupation before it becomes an intractable obsession.
What Would You Tell a Friend Who Believed She Needed to be Skinny For Her White Boyfriend?
- Stop comparing your body to those of his exes, his sisters and his mother. (Is it possible, by the way, that your boyfriend feels more at ease with a girl who eats something other than steamed kale? Just a thought.) Look around at the range of vastly different beautiful bodies there are out there—in your family, on your college campus, at the store—everywhere, and you will realize that skinny is just one way of being. It’s natural to some, unnatural to others and pointless to strive for, let alone worship.
- Stop looking at your boyfriend as a White guy first and foremost and begin to see him as an individual, the way I imagine he sees you. The truth is that just as Black and White women come in all shapes and sizes (as do Asian and Latinas), White men—and Black men and others—have varied preferences as well.
- Love yourself, love your body and celebrate your health. You are young and at risk for developing body image issues and even disordered eating patterns, so be on guard for this. Be healthy, not restrictive. Focus on whole-ness, not what one body part may look like. Keep moving, not to burn calories, but to relish the sensation of what a healthy body can do. Dance, play, climb—whatever you enjoy. If, however you find that negative thoughts about your body, obsessive thoughts about food and dieting are taking over, it is important for you to seek professional help. Eating disorders are serious and dangerous. They can also be triggered in unexpected ways, including not feeling attractive enough for a partner.
- Spend time around your beautiful, Black woman family members, surrounding yourself with alternative, positive views of Black womanhood. Remember what it felt like to appreciate this piece of your heritage.
- Make a list for yourself of all your finest qualities—your personality, your skills, sense of humor, the light in your eyes when you smile—everything. Any time you find yourself feeling self-conscious or down, take out the list, look at it and remember that this is what makes you beautiful. This is what people who love you most—your boyfriend included—see whenever they look your way.
The last piece of advice I have is to be your own best friend. Imagine what you would tell a friend who believed she needed to be skinny for her White boyfriend. Think of the firm but loving way you would set her straight. You, my dear, deserve that love!
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