There is something that has both haunted me and provided me with a bit of privilege throughout my life: being naturally thin. Growing up in the larger society where" thin is in" and simultaneously being African American where thickness is put on a pedestal, growing up was tough and confusing at times.
Blessed with a nuclear and extended family that told me early and often that I was beautiful was a life saver. My earliest memory of someone outside of the family talking about my appearance was my upstairs neighbor, an overweight girl, that used to tell me regularly that I looked like a skeleton and was sure to die any day from anorexia. I was around six or seven years old and there was just an after school special or maybe it was the weekly movie that discussed that topic and armed my bullies with new ammunition. My older brother was at the time a bit heavy and was often accused by the neighborhood kids of stealing my food and that's why I was so emaciated.
Fast forward to sixth grade where I earned the nicknames Scarecrow and Knot Knees. Let me explain what "knot knees" meant: my legs were so skinny that they looked like strings and and the knots in the strings formed my knees. And this name was given to me by a boy that swore his undying love to me! I didn't where a skirt or shorts that showed my knees to school until the 10th grade! And even then, I was highly defensive about any comment about my legs, good or bad. Also, high school is where I learned that big butts and thick thighs were the most desirable thing that a woman could have. And although I was and am far from having a flat butt, I fall short of having a juicy butt or thick thighs. And with my current metabolism and frame, I probably never will.
After four grueling years of high school, I was finally off to college and decided to attend Howard University in Washington DC. Howard is the largest and most well-known HBCU (Historically Black College University) and I was excited to go there. Howard was the first majority Black place that I experienced full appreciation for my body -- well sort of.... What I was told by male associates sophomore year was this: "I'm glad you put on a little weight and filled out this year. You look much better, you were cute last year but way too skinny." First, why they thought that this was ok to express to me is beyond my understanding. Second, the food in the cafeteria was horrible and walking uphill to all of my classes did take off some pounds, but I didn't feel like I looked bad until these comments were made. Third, it wasn't all bad. I was asked on several occasions to tryout for the Homecoming and Spring fashion shows (vehicles to instant popularity) and for the first time, started getting compliments about my legs. Both the skirts and the shorts got shorter as a result!
As an adult I am extremely happy with the vehicle that I am in. I would still be considered thin, I think, I am a size 4 although the butt is bigger and the legs are a tiny bit thicker. It is mostly due to being a full time yoga teacher and all of those Warrior poses build a lot of muscle in those areas. I like my proportions, my hip to waist ratio and the size of my breasts which are far from being large or even full but provide a decent curve in the chest area, I think. In other words, I have the body of a woman. A real woman.
And because of this, I often wonder why we are bombarded with the notion. that "real women" are plus-sized and plus sized only. Every time I see this in an ad or said by a so-called expert (most recently from a judge on the latest iteration of Project Runway) I get triggered and pulled back into the world of the little girl and teen that was relentlessly teased for being thin. Why do some believe that the only way to uplift a marginalized group is to belittle the group that is perceived to be non-marginalized? Why does the size and shape of a woman determine her level of "realness" for her gender?
My suggestion is that the term "real woman" be permanently removed from the lexicon. We are all real women: tall, short, fat, thin, young, old. To say otherwise is to divide and eventually conquer us. Let's instead stand together and promote womanhood as a whole.