Before proceeding with my critical comments, first let me say that I laud the main point of this New York Times article, which is that there is an obesity epidemic among black women which should be addressed. Second, not being black myself, it is with trepidation and caution that I question the sexual preferences of black men.
That said, what I question is not the propriety of preferring overweight women, but rather the author’s claim of fact that black men prefer ”seriously overweight” women, even women over 200 pounds. The photo that accompanies the article does not support this claim. It shows a woman who is supposed to “embod[y] a curvier form of the ideal black woman.” This woman is clearly not close to 200 pounds. It’s possible that she is slightly “curvier” than, say, a Marilyn Monroe, but her body is much closer to what might be the “ideal white woman” than a 200 pound woman. Beyonce seems to be the current embodiment of a sexy “curvier” woman. My cursory Google searching judges her weight to be approximately 140 pounds.
The main evidence the author cites in support of her claim that 200 pound women are most attractive to black men is that her husband and her friend’s husband insist that they prefer such women. Given that the author was likely that big when she and her husband tied the knot, I’d argue that selection effects here are strong and her husband’s preferences should not be assumed to be representative of black men everywhere.
There is remarkable consistency in what men consider the ideal waist-to-hip ratio across cultures. While not identical across cultures, the number is always between 0.6 and 0.8. I find it hard to believe that a woman weighing 200 pounds or more could be even close to this range unless she were close to six feet tall, which most women are not. One recent study concluded that “African-American did not choose heavier females as ideal.” Although some previous studies do indicate that blacks prefer bigger women than whites, none indicate that blacks prefer overweight (BMI>25) women.
The image of black men preferring overweight women and white men preferring “Twiggy”-types seem to me, at the very least, greatly exaggerated. On both counts. I have discussed above why I think the myth the author of the NYT article perpetuates is exaggerated.
So, too, is the myth that white men prefer anorexic models like those seen on fashion runways. A well-cited study argues that men prefer heavier women than women think they prefer (say that three times fast). Fashion shows are mostly for WOMEN. Women chase after skinniness as a status symbol. The women that men find sexy are not twiggy. They are not fat, but they have curves. It’s Scarlett Johansson, not Kate Moss.
I hope that women will realize that there is no tension between pursuing good health and sexual attractiveness. Evolution has designed men to view healthy women as sexually attractive. Whether you’re starving yourself in attempt to become Twiggy-like or gorging yourself in attempt to become overly voluminous, you almost certainly aren’t going to become more sexually attractive to men in the process.
I have always believed that what is uncomfortable and unnatural cannot be stylish. In this case I find the axiom to hold with particular force.