How Ebony Mag Brought Intersectionality Into The Body Image Convo With These 4 Cover Girls

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While we continue to slow clap on a regular basis about the body positivity movement that is infiltrating mainstream fashion and advertising, we’re adding a standing ovation to this particular move. Ebony Magazine’s March 2016 issue has exposed an issue within the body image discussion that doesn’t always get top billing in media headlines.

The cover featured 4 well known faces – ‘Orange Is The New Black’ actress Danielle Brooks, plus size fashion blogger Gabi Gregg, Grammy winner Chrisette Michele and R&B chart topper Jazmine Sullivan. The statement is clear – curves celebrated here!

But one aspect that has been missing within the body image conversation is the racial breakdown. Call it body image intersectionality, if you will. The same way intersectionality has enabled us to come to a greater understanding of how inequality affects different groups of people, it would give us a more insightful view of how body image is tackled among different ethnicities.

For the most part, the standard of beauty in America pushed upon us is Caucasian, thin, and pretty. But among African-American women, it’s not necessarily so, which is why this magazine issue is important.

“To be a “brick house” or “thick” has never been a sin in Black America, and not surprisingly, overweight Black women are also reported to be happier with their bodies than White women across the weight scale. The perceived White women’s coveted “skinny” status is not a universal goal for their Black counterparts; some of us who wear size 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and up actually like ourselves as we are,” writes Tomika Anderson for Ebony.

She points out the data that 80% of black women are considered obese, compared with 63% of white women. For men, the numbers are 70% and 71% respectively.

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Of course Tomika does not ignore the issue of health related to excessive weight gain, and that is a vital part of this discussion. What we like about the higher level of positivity among black men and women is the acknowledgment that you don’t have to hate yourself at the same time. Loving your body the way it is does not mean you are working to lose weight or get healthy, and THAT is what is so profound.

If we hate our bodies while we are losing weight or on a journey to implement more healthy habits, the assumption you will one day wake up and love your body is not automatic. As part of the body positivity movement, we would love to see more emphasis places on being happy as you are DURING the journey, without it meaning you are neglecting your health in any way.

A great example of this is Tess Holliday, who has become the first plus size woman in the world (she is a US size 22) to be signed to a major modeling agency. She regularly gets criticized for being an “unhealthy role model”, most recently by an Australian model who openly slammed her on Instagram without knowing anything about Tess or the bigger implications of having someone like her disrupt the mainstream beauty standards so well.

Tess, as well as her army of supporters, responded by saying it is unfair to comment so specifically on a size 22 woman without knowing anything about her personal health. Tess, who is about to give birth to her second child, regularly posts images of her at the gym, among her fashion shoots and family pics. The point is that it is not wrong to be concerned about health, but erring on the side of making sweeping claims about larger women being “unhealthy” already sets a very negative tone for those who are looking to media role models for inspiration.

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Tomika Anderson confronts this negative mindset in her piece for Ebony.

“What would be evoked in you, readers, if I said said the women photographed here and I were sitting around a steakhouse table selecting from family-style options including filet mignon, roasted chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, creamy spinach, salad and, eff it, cheesecake? Would you frown in disgust? Shake your head? Cheer us on? Think nothing of it?” she asks.

“The five of us are dining on just what I mentioned above; I left out only the wine. We are all Black women who have had varying struggles with weight, food and body acceptance…In this exclusive conversation…you will learn how critical, complicated, contradictory and sometimes completely satisfying the relationship between big Black women and their bodies is, she concludes about the magazine feature.

She talks about arguably the most well-known black woman who has been open about her struggles with weight – Oprah Winfrey. Her recent partnership with Weight Watchers and 2015 advertisement has angered many women. The video showed a montage of her fluctuating weight throughout the years and then cuts to an image of Oprah hiking, saying “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be”.

The problem with this, said some media personalities including former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, was that she completely failed to ignore all the other major successes in her life and other origins of happiness in favor of the stereotypical mantra that success and happiness only begin with looking a certain way.

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“The questions persist: Does Winfrey set a good example by wanting to be thinner or a bad one for implying there is something wrong with the way she looks now? Does having issues with your weight mean you don’t love yourself?” asks Tomika Anderson.

In another pop culture zeitgeist moment, President Obama commented to Time magazine about the need for body positive role models for his daughters, and pointed to his wife as one great example.

“The fact that they’ve got a tall, gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful,” he said.

The women on the cover have weighed in on the issue of loving your body wherever it is as, even if you are on a weight loss journey.

“Being a woman of curves, I really find that it’s very important to talk about loving your body where you are. People’s beauty standards [are] something I’ve definitely struggled with in my life. And I’m just so grateful to be on a show where people love me, Taystee, for who she is – and they’ve come to love Danielle for who I am, and it’s not because I’m a size 2 and it’s not because I’m light-skinned with long hair,” People magazine reports Danielle Brooks said at a panel discussion about body image in 2015.

“I’m way more than the physical,” Chrisette Michele says in the Ebony feature.

It should go without saying that self-love should be part of every aspect of a person’s body image journey. Perhaps there is something we can learn from these amazing, successful, talented and confident black women who are part of a community where hate isn’t the motivating factor to body acceptance. Well done Ebony for addressing this and we hope to see it have an impact on everyone who sees this.

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