Black Women Heavier, Happier With Bodies

66% of overweight or obese black women report having high self-esteem

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 28, 2012 12:46 AM CST | Updated Feb 28, 2012 6:31 AM CST

(Newser) – Hefty can be heavenly. That seems to be the feeling of many black women. While they tend to be heavier than white women, they're significantly happier with their bodies, a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey has discovered. While only 41% of average-sized or thin white women report having high self-esteem, 66% of overweight or obese black women feel the same, the study found. Observers says that black females are particularly adept at shrugging off social expectations that don't fit what they want for themselves. While 90% of black women surveyed said living a healthy lifestyle is important to them, that doesn't mean being tiny. "That's not what I grew up seeing. It's not about trying to identify with somebody else," said a medical technologist working out in a DC-area gym.

Historically, research shows that self-esteem for "black girls and women has always been the highest among all groups," says Princeton Professor Imani Perry. "It’s a powerful statement about our resilience." A 2008 study showed women subjects images of an "ideal" tall, thin, white woman's physique. White women felt badly about themselves afterward, but black women weren't affected. Black women “are just not comparing themselves to these white models,” said the researcher. Identifying with thinner role models may change as more women like Beyonce and Rihanna fill mass media images, but ideas of beauty for black women will likely tend to remain "more elastic," enforced by "positive" phrases for larger women like "full-figured" and "healthy," say observers. That doesn't mean obesity is a good thing. “We’re not saying it's super fly to be super fat. We’ve never said that,” says New York writer Michaela Angela Davis. But, she adds, unlike in white culture, "black women are not criminalized for it."

A smiling Queen Latifah poses at the premiere of Warner Bros. Joyful Noise in Hollywood last month.
A smiling Queen Latifah poses at the premiere of Warner Bros. "Joyful Noise" in Hollywood last month.   (Getty Images)
Cast member Queen Latifah arrives at the premiere of Joyful Noise in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Joyful Noise will be released in theaters Jan. 13, 2012.
Cast member Queen Latifah arrives at the premiere of "Joyful Noise" in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. "Joyful Noise" will be released in theaters Jan. 13, 2012.   (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Queen Latifah gives Dolly Parton a hug at the premiere of Joyful Noise in Los Angeles last month.
Queen Latifah gives Dolly Parton a hug at the premiere of "Joyful Noise" in Los Angeles last month.   (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
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