This week, fashion designer Tom Ford was quoted in Time Out Hong Kong as saying:
“Americans are too fat. And in London they are starting to get fat too. I find it refreshing that everyone Chinese is slim.”
When I first read his statement on a fashion blog, I was sure readers would be outraged. Instead, I was shocked to find many people in agreement.
“Maybe incorrect usage of words but he is right & WE Americans need to take responsibility for our horrible weight/obesity issues & stop crying foul play every time someone calls us out for it. Enough is enough. Michelle Obama & all those behind her obesity/exercise campaign are doing it…maybe just in a more tactful way. We eat too dang on much and/or are lazy but want to play the victim when called out….thus the reason why we have such high obesity rates & poor/non-existent exercise habits,” one reader said.
It made me think about the attitude toward curves in the black community and the recent more mainstream “curvy revolution.” People of color have always seemed to laud a voluptuous figure. Women with wide hips, a shapely rear and full breasts are desired by men and praised by women for the “extra meat on their bones.”
While fat around the hips, thighs and butt has long been the body ideal in these communities, mainstream culture has only recently caught on. Last week, we featured a story on the booty craze and the various ways women are striving to achieve the look. Celebrity sex symbols from Nicki Minaj to Jennifer Lopez flaunt their curves with confidence. It’s so widely revered as the ideal now that even Beyonce, with her gorgeous figure, was recently criticized for getting too skinny.
I was elated to see curvy figures finally put on a pedestal since the idealized thin figure never reflected the beautiful, voluptuous women I saw everyday. Also, I personally witnessed many women go to dangerous lengths, including eating disorders, to be thin. It was painful and terrifying to watch.
I considered anyone in the public space who embraced thin and criticized fat to be the enemy. Real women have curves and should never be made to feel negative about them. And in many cases, those curves are genetic and not a result of “eating chips on the couch” like Karl Lagerfeld once said. I was so elated about the curvy revolution, in fact, I didn’t see the inherent problem in it; it didn’t celebrate healthy bodies just shapely ones.
To be sure, plus-size is not synonymous with being unhealthy. In fact, there are plenty of plus-size women in great physical shape and conversely, thinner women with horrible dieting and exercise habits. But in celebrating curves, like society once celebrated thinness, we are still focusing on size and shape over health.
I desired curves long before they were accepted by the mainstream. To achieve them, I ate pasta everyday for months. When fat started to accumulate around my thighs and butt, I felt beautiful and desired. My friends, family, co-workers and the men I dated noticed too. My curves were a topic of conversation—positive conversation—among everyone in my life.
During that time, I went to the gym to tone but never embraced any exercise that would result in losing the fat I had gained (i.e. running). As far as my diet, I gravitated toward the food that would help me pack on the pounds: pasta, chicken, ribs, steak, etc. Not only did I lack energy and feel sluggish daily but my digestive system was a wreck. I filled out my dresses and felt womanly and sexy but at the expense of being truly healthy.
That all changed for me recently. I met with a doctor and started to see the terrible error in my ways. I now pay attention to my diet, exercise regularly and (try to) get as much sleep as possible. I may have lost some of my curves, but I feel healthier than ever and shouldn’t that be ideal?
We all saw how dangerous the thin body standard was but the curvy obsession could be just as hurtful if we don’t introduce health into the conversation. According to The LA Times:
“in the last 15 years, adult obesity rates have doubled or nearly doubled in 17 states. Two decades ago, not a single state had an obesity rate above 15%. Now all states do. […] Meanwhile, cases of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure that health experts have long warned would result from the nation’s broadening girth and sedentary ways are becoming increasingly widespread.”
The increase is linked to a number of social causes including the recession which the author claims makes people gravitate toward fast-food, high-calorie diets. Though the curvy revolution isn’t necessarily to blame for higher obesity rates, the line between curvy (“thick”) and unhealthy (“fat”) is still much too blurry. Rather than idealizing curvy or thin, we should celebrate healthy body types of all sizes.
-Jessica C. Andrews