What It’s Like To Be A Skinny Black Girl

Like many women, my weight is something I’ve been cautious about from a young age. Yet while I know a lot of women who would do anything to lose weight, I’ve always longed to be a bit bigger.
Growing up in the supermodel era of the early noughties, being thin was glorified but I hated how skinny I was. In Black communities, being skinny isn’t something that’s praised. In fact, it can make you stick out like a sore thumb. Both my mum and sister have naturally curvy figures, which made me think that something was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I able to gain weight in the same way they did?
My weight was often the topic of discussion with my friends and family. One time at school, a friend of mine saw me getting changed before PE and said, "Wow, you’re so thin, you look anorexic." I was heartbroken – was I that thin that it looked like I wasn’t eating? This one small insecurity soon became an obsession. I started wearing two pairs of tights to school to make myself appear bigger and two bras to make my boobs bigger. I’d use my lunch money to buy protein shakes so I could put on weight.

One time at school, a friend of mine saw me getting changed before PE and said, 'Wow, you're so thin, you look anorexic.' I was heartbroken – was I that thin that it looked like I wasn't eating?

Twenty-three-year-old Sabrina from London, who is originally from the Caribbean, can relate. She became aware of her weight around the age of 7. She recalls having a funny relationship with food and would often eat quite slowly. Family members grew concerned and would comment on her weight. "A lot of my family and friends would tease me for being skinny. I had no bum and no boobs whereas my grandma and my mum have big boobs. I used to think, Where did mine go?" Sabrina tells me.
Funmi*, 21, who grew up in Scotland, noticed a difference when she moved back to Nigeria at the age of 11. "When I lived in Scotland, the concept of beauty that I followed was the Western concept of beauty," she tells me. "I knew that being skinny was nice or palatable." When she moved to Nigeria, she noticed a difference in the way beauty was perceived. "The beauty standards changed, especially as I became more attracted to Black men. I realised that being thin isn’t it."
There was a similar experience for 21-year-old Liz from Kent, who was raised in a Nigerian household. "I would go to parties or family events and I was just known as the 'skinny one'. And even though I didn't consider myself to be skinny per se, when I got to my teenagehood I realised that all my friends were bigger than me," Liz says.

I feel like I'm not living up to the expectations that people have with my body and almost feeling like a disappointment as a Black woman.

Liz, 21
Undoubtedly comments like these can affect your self-esteem but for thin Black girls, these words can also affect your relationship with your Blackness. Funmi tells me that her body makes her feel less feminine in a way. "My mum and both of my sisters are curvy whereas I have a very athletic frame which affects my perception of femininity a lot. It feels like there’s nothing that makes me feel womanly," Funmi adds.
Liz echoes this and says that being thin makes her feel less of a Black woman. "I feel like I’m not living up to the actual expectations that people have with my body and almost feeling like a disappointment as a Black woman," Liz adds.
Although there’s pressure for naturally thin Black women to be bigger, fatphobia still exists in the Black community, which adds nuance to the conversation. Funmi says: "I know that being slim is still seen as being more desirable as fatphobia is still rampant but it seems like being curvy is the default look for Black women." There’s an expectation for Black women to have the perfect curvy frame, neither too big or too thin.
This expectation could be part of the reason why more Black women are opting for a BBL, or Brazilian butt lift. According to a survey by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there has been a 77.6% uptick in BBL procedures since 2015. Some popular influencers, such as Miss R Fabulous and Shani Jamilah, have undergone the procedure.
Before social media, plastic surgery was seen as taboo, especially in various Black communities. Now, getting a BBL is seen as a viable option for Black women who are naturally thin. Liz says she’s become infatuated with plastic surgery but hasn’t seriously contemplated getting anything done. Sabrina has heard too many horror stories about plastic surgery and wouldn’t consider going under the knife. Funmi, on the other hand, has thought about having work done. "I’m an older sister and because of that, I wouldn’t want my younger sister to feel like there’s any part of her body that needs amending. But if I had it my way, I would get a boob job and go up a size or two," Funmi adds.
I’m way too worried about the risks of plastic surgery so I don’t see myself getting any work done. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve naturally put on weight and I’m pretty content with my body now. That being said, social media does often make me feel like I need to be curvier. When I start to feel this way I try to remind myself that most of the things we see on Instagram aren’t real.
Liz says that as she got more into fashion she realised there are tons of slim Black girls out there. "It made me stop being so concerned with trying to gain weight. The Black women around me are bigger than me but that doesn't mean that skinny Black women don't exist," Liz says.
Over the years I’ve had to tell myself that my weight doesn’t define my Blackness or my femininity. My weight doesn’t make me less of a Black woman and the idea that all Black women should be curvy is problematic. The Black community isn’t a monolith; we come in all different shapes and sizes, all of which are beautiful and should be accepted.
*Name has been changed

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