I’m a writer. I’m also a big girl.
Medical professionals say I’m “obese”. My boyfriend reports that I’m “thick.” Ruthlessly blunt children call me “fat”. The scale in my bathroom doesn’t compute what I am in numerical value but gives me an “error” notification instead. I guess you can call me a “big fat error.”
As depressing as it sounds, I believed this once. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I became truly comfortable with who I am.
Having a negative body image is a familiar dilemma for both sexes, especially women. According to DoSomething.org, nearly 91 percent of women do not like their body and have dieted to become their ideal body type.
Body image is also an issue the black community faces. A 2011 Washington Post poll found that 28 percent of African-American women feel being physically attractive is very important.
“Slim,” “thick,” “junk in the trunk,” “average,” “lean,” “athletic” and “plus-size” are just a few common descriptions of body types.
Alongside these various categories, there has been an undeniable division on what the ideal body type looks like. Some members of the African-American community root for a slim physique like Victoria Secret model Chanel Iman, while others root for curves like tennis star Serena Williams.
In the spirit of self-appreciation, 4cHairChick felt it was time to discuss body image. Three awesome naturals gave us their take on body image, from beauty queens to curvy fashionistas.
Laquisha Hall, The Beauty Queen
Laquisha Hall, a slim 33-year-old beauty queen and educator, knows body image all too well. The writer behind CornerCurlGirl describes her body type as a “tree with long branches.”
Although the media perpetuates the idea that thin is ideal, the reigning Miss Essence beauty queen informed 4cHairChick that she has felt pressure to be the opposite.
The naturally thin beauty queen proudly admits to a previous struggle with body image during her adolescence years.
“In my youth, I used to wear several pairs of pants to make my legs appear thicker and I would stuff my bra and wear multiple, oversized tops,” said Hall. “I felt a pressure to look curvy because I was constantly ridiculed for being thin.”
Despite the ridicule, Hall entered the pageantry world, a multi-billion industry known for extreme dieting and eating disorders.
Since 2008, Hall has won 5 pageants, 3 national titles and 2 regional titles. Recalling her Mrs. Galaxy first runner up win, Hall explains that not everyone was happy for her.
“The people who genuinely loved and cared for me were elated,” said Hall. “The insincere and duplicitous people around me criticized me for being ‘skinny as a rail’ and ‘too thin’.”
Many people also questioned why and how Hall’s thin physique placed high in the competition. Hall notes a simple explanation.
“I showed confidence on stage after accepting who I am,” Hall said.
Today, Hall believes her slim is figure is what God created it to be. She reports that her figure has remained relatively the same since high school.
“Clearly, it wasn’t in the cards for me to be any heavier than 110 pounds at 5”9, despite what I eat and I do eat healthy.”
Over the years, Hall has become a professional at handling ridicule. As an educator, Hall reports that the youth have played a major role in her growth.
“I want them to see true confidence and how to handle ridicule with grace because it does not matter how perfect or imperfect your body is, you will be ridiculed,” said Hall. “You know the saying, ‘you can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.’”
In a world where the media’s often narrow idea of beauty is highly influential, Hall believes that beauty is simply relative.
“Beauty correlates with personal beliefs and what is taught to us through culture,” said Hall. The overused saying ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’ is so true.”
ShaRea DelSol, the Curvy Fashionista
Despite the precedent of thin models blazing the fashion runways, plus-size representatives have begun to take the fashion world by storm.
ShaRea DelSol, a 22-year-old fine arts graduate student and naturalista, has actively participated in the plus-size revolution as a curvy vlogger and social media guru at MyThriftedCloset. On various platforms intertwined with thrifty fashion advice, DelSol aims to inspire.
“My purpose as blogger and vlogger is to inspire and empower young woman to feel confident, beautiful and successful regardless of their size or hair texture.”
DelSol considers herself “layers upon layers of luscious caramel,” in contrast to the term plus-size. The curvy Fashionista prefers to steer clear of labels.
“I think plus-size, like the hair typing system, is another way to label and categorize,” said DelSol. “Who I am is not defined by my size, whether I am a 2 or 22.”
Although DelSol is delighted about the camaraderie of the plus-size revolution and the growing pride within the title, she notes that labels often come with a price.
”I am all for embracing who you are and loving yourself,” said DelSol. “However, it [labels] can also place you in a box and create unwarranted expectations.”
Many women have often heard the phrases, “plus-size women should do this” and “plus-size woman shouldn’t wear that.”
“I guess, one day, I want to live in a world where there are no labels,” DelSol said.
When asked about the growing trend of plus-size bloggers, DelSol enthusiastically praised it.
“Let’s be real now, everyone will not be skinny,” said DelSol. “There are little chubby girls out there who need role models and there are women out here who need inspiration.”
DelSol explains that fashion and style isn’t limited to thinner figures.
“The world needs to know that no matter your size, you can be fashionable, stylish, sexy, elegant, show stopping, and the list goes on,” DelSol said.
Despite the positive vibes of the plus-size revolution, the movement still has its critics. Case-in-point, a popular plus-size blogger named GabiFresh defended her posted bikini photos in 2012 on the Today Show after being slammed by critics for glamorizing an unhealthy lifestyle.
When asked about whether health plays a role in beauty, DelSol expressed that health is important for everyone.
“I think we should all strive to be healthy, but that’s easier said than done,” said Delsol. “I want to say that we shouldn’t assume every plus-size person is unhealthy and every thin person is healthy.”
According to DelSol, health isn’t simply physical. It’s psychological too. She supports a holistic approach that includes mind, body, and soul.
“You can have a body like Beyoncé and a heart like Freddy and Jason, and you will be butt ugly,” said DelSol. “We have to keep beautiful thoughts and do beautiful things.”
Chioma Brown, the Style Blogger
Chioma Brown, a twenty something, self-acclaimed “tall glass of milk chocolate milk” also agrees that health plays a major role in body image.
“When you feel good, you can’t help but to look good,” said Brown. “Everyone should strive to be healthy on the inside and watch what they are consuming into their bodies because your skin and hair usually reflects what’s on the inside.”
Contrary to popular belief, the teacher and brains behind the style blog Chioma’s Evolution of Style also stresses that beauty does not correlate with physical size.
“Beauty stems from confidence in who you are and what you love about yourself,” Brown said.
Brown learned early that self-love is critical. To maintain a positive body image, she advises people to focus on the positive.
“We all have flaws or parts of ourselves that we wish we could change,” said Brown. “If you have negative body image, stand in front of the mirror and admire what you love about yourself.”
As her last piece of advice, the style blogger also encouraged those struggling with body image to pay close attention to their social circles. Undoubtedly, this advice is for everyone regardless of size.
“Surround yourself with those that love you, support you, and encourage you.”