Romance with Voluptuousness: Caribbean Women and Thick Bodies in the United States

Romance with Voluptuousness: Caribbean Women and Thick Bodies in the United States

Romance with Voluptuousness: Caribbean Women and Thick Bodies in the United States

Romance with Voluptuousness: Caribbean Women and Thick Bodies in the United States

Synopsis

Offering a unique vantage point from which to view black women's body image and Caribbean migration, Romance with Voluptuousness illuminates how first- and second-generation immigrant black Caribbean women engage with a thick body aesthetic while living in the United States.

Using personal accounts, Romance with Voluptuousness examines the ways in which black women with heritage in the English-speaking Caribbean participate in, perpetuate, and struggle with the voluptuous beauty standard of the black Caribbean while living in the hegemony of thinness cultivated in the United States. It highlights how black Caribbean women negotiate issues of body image deriving from both Caribbean and American pressures to maintain a particular body shape and contend with discourses and practices surrounding the body that aim to marginalize and exclude them from economic, social, and political spaces. By focusing on diasporic Caribbean women's "romance" with voluptuousness, Kamille Gentles-Peart explores the transnational flow of beauty ideals and examines how ideas about beauty in the Caribbean diaspora help to shape the experiences of Caribbean black women in the United States.

Excerpt

I always ate at least three meals a day. Being a graduate student with little disposable income, these meals were neither remarkable nor sophisticated; my daily diet usually consisted of oatmeal for breakfast, cheap fast food for lunch, and chicken with rice for dinner. Regardless of the simplicity and lack of variety of these dishes, I did not want to miss meals, because that would risk me hearing the dreaded words from my mother when I returned home between semesters: “You lose weight!” Many women would welcome these words and deem them a positive assessment of their bodies. However, as a woman from Jamaica, those words were distressing. It was important for me to “keep on some weight”; I did not want to be skinny. I had to “have shape”; I had to have thick hips and round buttocks. So I was careful to eat.

This relationship with my body did not begin with graduate school in the United States; I was always petite and always desired to be as big and voluptuous—and thus as attractive—as my relatives and peers. I was also accustomed to having the deviance of my body being the topic of conversation at family gatherings and being highlighted by members of my community, particularly, but not limited to, females. Aunts, cousins, and girlfriends surveiled my body, liberally and jovially making comments about its small size and shape. Commentary also came indirectly . . .

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