I was always as skinny as a rail when I was a kid. Then, around ten years old, I started to get a little pudgy. By middle school, I was getting progressively chubbier. I remained that way into my high school years. I thinned out a little my freshman year, but I still wasn’t “skinny.” My junior year arrived and I began working at Dunkin’ Donuts. I ate donuts and hash browns, chugged coffees loaded with sugar, and gained about fifteen pounds in a short amount of time. My clothes were all super snug and that’s when I started to hate myself. I couldn’t believe I had let myself get so bad.
I started working out. I would leave work at nine at night, and head straight to the gym and workout for about an hour. I lost some weight, and people noticed. It felt good that people noticed a change in my appearance. By the end of my senior year, I was eating much healthier, and I had lost around twenty pounds. I received many compliments about my weight loss, and people started to pay more attention to me. I, of course, loved this attention.
Looking at it now, I’m angry that people didn’t really compliment me or talk to me before I lost weight. I was still the same person, just a couple pants sizes smaller. Sirena J. Riley went through a similar experience. “All of a sudden I was pretty. No one had ever told me that I was pretty before. So if I was pretty now, then I must have been ugly then,” she said. This screwed up her self-esteem issues even further. I, and I know so many other women, can relate.
I stayed home for my first two years of college and then transferred to where I currently am. I maintained my weight fairly well until I transferred. After transferring, I struggled to eat as healthy as I did before, and I didn’t have as much free time for the gym. I stressed about eating and stressed over when I would workout. I gained weight, lost it, and gained a little more. My wonderful boyfriend, who is super into fitness, has always supported me no matter what. I can say I am now at a place where I am my happy and healthiest, though I do still stress a little over a healthy diet and gym time. I’m slowly learning it’s okay to miss the gym for a day if I have a lot of schoolwork to do and that it’s okay to eat a bagel once in a while.
I don’t believe I’ve ever had an eating disorder, just body image issues. Riley realized something was wrong her junior year of college, and she sought some help. In her therapy group, she was the only black woman. As a women’s studies major, Riley realized black women were “barely a footnote” when it came to body image research.
“Again,” she said,”many white feminists had failed to step out of their reality and see beyond their own experiences to understand the different ways in which women of color experience sexism and the unattainable beauty ideals that society sets for women.” I’m sure we’ve all heard comments like “she’s pretty, for a black girl.” I know I have. Well, that’s rude. How would we (white women) like to be told we’re “pretty for a white girl?” Probably not so much. I just don’t understand why we still categorize body parts by race.
“She has a big black booty for a white girl.”
No, she just has a big butt.
“She’s too thin for a black girl. Where are her curves?”
No, she’s just thin. And beautiful.
I think we are progressing, slowly, in terms of portraying all types of women’s bodies in a positive way. Aerie, for example, has spokeswomen such as Iskra Lawerence, a curvy, beautiful white woman, and Dana Isabella, a curvy Latina woman. Aerie does not retouch their models, and they include all races and body types. Although I think they could for sure portray more women of color in their ads, they are progressing more than competitors such as Victoria’s Secret.
“Even though young black women slip through the cracks from time to time, I still believe that feminism is about understanding the intersections of all forms of oppression” Riley states. That’s one of the main reasons I am a feminist: I recognize that the efforts of white women in society are progressive, like Iskra Lawerence as an advocate for body positivity for ALL women; however, I also acknowledge that we can put more effort into portraying more black women, Hispanic women, Asian women, etc. in this wave of body positivity and self-loving.