Sunday, March 4, 2012

To Hip or Not to Hip?

The Washington Post printed an article entitled, “Black women heavier and happier with their bodies than white women, poll finds” on Monday, February 27. In it, it provides the following information:  “The poll found that although black women are heavier than their white counterparts, they report having appreciably higher levels of self-esteem. Although 41 percent of average-sized or thin white women report having high self-esteem, that figure was 66 percent among black women considered by government standards to be overweight or obese.” I have had many African-American friends over the years (and still do), and I can say from my personal experiences with them and our random discussions about our bodies, with comments here and there about things we like or dislike, that the poll does have some truth in it. It seems that black women do embrace their bodies, they take it as is, and actually like the curvy nuances and accentuations that come naturally. By naturally, I mean body parts that are not honed to angular perfection and interminably smaller and smaller proportions. As a certified gym rat, I have seen and worked out with many black women, and have inferred from either observation or from conversation, that the workout serves a few purposes: 1) for a healthy lifestyle, 2) for pleasure and stress release, and 3) to maintain but not change that healthy curve of the hips and backside. A few times, I have caught myself looking down over my shoulder to note my not-so-curvy backside and boy-figure hips, thinking ironically how I often put myself in a psychological conundrum: To hip or not to hip?

On one side, beautifully curvy women, such as Selma Hayek, Queen Latifah, and yes, Kim Kardashian are praised for just that—they look womanly, and carry those curves so well. But then you flip the page in the magazine, and you see Heidi Klum or Angelina Jolie looking impeccably thin and well contained…and you may think to yourself, “Well, she’s beautiful too! Which do I like? And which one can I try to mold my body to be like?” I cannot make a blanket statement, because perhaps not all women look at their bodies with a critical angle, or sigh heavily while saying or thinking, “I need to work on my…” Or think to themselves after an indulgent meal, “Tomorrow…diet!!!” I can say that I have said it. I have thought it.

I have had conversations with not only women, but also with men, and men and women together about bodies, body types, and what women like versus men. One of the points that come up often is that women do not dress or try to look good for men, but for other women. Other women notice a curvy bulge of a women’s stomach over her skinny jeans, or a butt that looks like it belongs in anything but skinny jeans. And women also notice when a woman that can pull off those super tight leggings and a tight tank top (as opposed to the flowy top that can disguise a week of bad eating, a very common pairing with the leggings, just an FYI). Just like we notice the girl with the LV bag who just walked in, or notice the Burberry collar of her jacket as she swings it over the back of the chair. Men, on the other hand, just notice if the woman looks good, and looks good to whatever standard that personally appeals to them. They want a woman to look feminine—to look like a woman. If this means to them hips or no hips, so be it.  Again, this is just what I’ve inferred from my friends over the years.

But my point isn’t just to call attention to that social paradox presented daily to all women. But the study got me thinking: Why do some cultures embrace curvaceous-ness and others not? In Middle-Eastern cultures, historically, the curvy woman represented a healthy, well taken care of body that is feminine and sexy. One summer when I went to visit family in Syria, with my calves strong from running and my arms purposefully toned, I was constantly having food shoved in my face by smiling, encouraging family members who couldn’t imagine that I wanted my body to hard as opposed to soft and inviting. I remember before my wedding, one of my aunts from overseas was visiting, and when I was getting my makeup done, I heard her ask aloud to whomever was there, “Her legs have muscle, does she want them like that?”

If there weren’t gyms on every corner serving as constant reminders of what we should be doing at the crack of dawn before work, on our lunch break, or after work, would we still instinctively feel the need to train our bodies? What if the back of our pants didn’t have a number indicating the size, would we care what size we really are? If there was no number system within which we fall into, where there is always a number lower (and lighter) and a number higher (and heavier), would we have that piece of cake when the craving strikes, and would we still have the urge to go on a morning run just because it feels good?

Definitely some food for thought…

Does the poll ring true? Please, I’d love to read your comments!


  1. Very well written Mais! Man, being a woman is definitely hard! Especially nowadays when you can't turn on the TV or look at a magazine cover without a Kardashian on it or another beautiful and well dressed woman being displayed. I think it's interesting how you said African Americans tend to have a greater acceptance of their bodies and curves. Being an Asian-American woman,I find that we don't have hips, boobs, or butts! No matter what race or ethnicity, there will always be some feature that is lacked and other features that blessed (eg., lips, hips, complexion, etc). No matter our size, shape, or number on the inside of our jeans, everyone is beautiful in their own shape and form and it's all about having a high physical self-concept! xoxo, hong nguyen

  2. "To Hip" I often think...but just a little bit more :) Then again, I am heavily influenced by African culture, and funny enough, too tiny by most African standards. My personal opinion is that women, in their different shapes and sizes, represent a unique kind of beauty that complements the opposite sex, and caters to all tastes and preferences. Funny enough, I too find that I appreciate the beauty that women represent, both physical and non-physical! Whether one has boyish hips, a "figure-8" or coke-bottle physique, it is the feminine energy and one's attitude that ultimately enhance physical beauty. As another certified gym rat who constantly monitors the size of her back side...lest it get any smaller, I firmly stand by those who "embrace" their beauty, no matter what size or shape it comes in, and strive to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Mind you, I have been warned not to go back to my motherland until I put on a few extra pounds all around. Yes, my father was worried he would lose most of the dowry from any potential suitors...."She's too tiny"!...they would apparently say! How often is that a bad thing in this part of the world? "To Embrace" I say!