A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

By African Magazine Staff Writer
BMI and Black Women's Beauty

Dear Auntie Chambu:

I just moved to Missouri from Tanzania about two years ago to attend college. I feel pretty isolated- sometimes it seems like I'm the only Black person for miles around. I don't go out much let alone date. It's started to affect how I feel about myself -back home I was considered beautiful. I'm a full-figured woman and African men appreciate that. The women I see on television, sitting in my small dorm room alone on Friday nights, are all so thin. They look nothing like me. Should I go on a diet?

Springfield, Missouri

Dear Anna:

I am sorry that you feel the way you do. It is an accurate, though sad, observation you made about the standard of beauty being quite different for African women south of the Sahara than it is for American women. For some time the emphasis has been on Americans becoming thinner and thinner. Images of bony fashion models and emaciated Hollywood stars are everywhere. This trend has cost women in the U.S dearly- as more and more women succumb to eating disorders like bulimia and anorexic.

Fortunately, our African men prefer women with a little meat on their bones (smile). Being robust in Africa is usually equated with good health and a well built body can even signify wealth, status and good living. For instance, friends and family members of a newlywed woman expect her to gain weight in marriage as a sign that she is being well cared for by her husband.

Relax. Love -don't starve-yourself. As long as you are healthy the weight is fine. You can figure out your optimal weight by calculating your body mass index (BMI). It provides a simple, baseline measurement of your body fat using your height and weight. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are always essential.

As far as what others think-well currently there is a backlash against the Twiggy look. Last year some fashion models were barred from participating in runway shows in Milan, Italy because they were too thin. Fashion icon Tyra Banks is garnering wide spread support for her stand for healthier body images. Dove beauty products ad campaign featured "real women with real curves" like fashion design student Lindsey Stokes (pictured).

I think all this will push the media to better represent the average American and African woman in all of their bountiful beauty. And if not, I have always believed that black women all over the world have a lot to offer when it comes to their body type. God has blessed us with abundance from full lips to curvy hips. Most black women don't need to have breast enlargements, lip injections or wear pants with padded derrieres. I say if you have it, flaunt it, Girl! Show off your natural beauty. As my Jamaican girl friend used to say, a black woman's behind is her "African beauty mark." Enjoy yours!

Auntie Chambu, 52, was born and raised in the grasslands of Cameroon. This sheltered nineteen year old, boarding school girl came to a rebellious 60's United States to pursue a college degree and her dreams. She garnered degrees in social work and counseling, got married, and had four kids who constantly put her education and home spun wisdom to the test. After over twenty years of living on the two continents, her advice has a great mixture of traditional African insights with a spirited American independent thinker streak.

Need answers to a problem? Send your question to Auntie Chambu at askauntie@africanmag.com. Only letters selected for publication will be answered