An ongoing Washington Post series has been investigating being a black women in America. The Post’s Lonnae O’Neal Parker writes that historically black women were often absent in conversations about beauty, giving them the space to define and affirm their own standards of beauty. The culture rose up to support their own image, praising the distinctly bigger black female aesthetic. For example, the big-legged woman in black culture gets her own tributes and ballads. The Post’s Lonnae O’Neal chose some select highlights over the last nine decades that celebrate black beauty:
1926: Poem by William Waring Cuney
She does not know
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.
If she could dance
under palm trees
and see her image in the river,
she would know.
But there are no palm trees
on the street,
and dish water gives back
1960: Lonnie Johnson “Big-Leg Woman”
Yes, she’s got great big legs, so pleasin’ on the eye
Yes, she’s got those great big legs, so pleasin’ on the eye
And the preacher walked by, turned around and looked, Jack and hollered “My, my, my!”
1972: Freddie King’s “Big-Legged Woman”
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust you mess with my woman I’m gonna hurt you first
‘Cause she’s a big-legged woman with a short short miniskirt
Promise me darlin you’ll never make me feel like dirt
I love my big-legged woman I love my big-legged woman
1977: Commodores’ Brick House
She’s a brick, house
She’s mighty, mighty
Just lettin’ it all hang out
Ow, she’s a brick, house
I like ladys stacked
And that’s a fact
Ain’t holdin’ nothin’ back
1987: Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to my hips”
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
1992: Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”
I’m tired of magazines
Sayin’ flat butts are the thing
Take the average black man and ask him that
She gotta pack much back
So, fellas! (Yeah!) Fellas! (Yeah!)
Has your girlfriend got the butt? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ‘em to shake it! (Shake it!) Shake it! (Shake it!)
Shake that healthy butt!
Baby got back!
2001: De La Soul: Baby Phat
Phat Phat, uh
Ain’t nothing wrong with big broads
It’s a sure bet
When I stare into your dark browns I get
Overwhelmed, overjoyed, overstep
My bounds, on your touchy subject
Your weight, your shape’s not what I date
It’s you, my crew don’t mind it thick (Uh-uh)
Every woman ain’t a video chick (Nah)
Or runway model anorexic
I love what I can hold and grab on
So if you burn it off then keep the flab on
We gonna stay gettin our collab on (Oww)
Girl we gonna stay gettin our collab on (Ooh, ooh)
We gonna stay gettin our collab on
Don’t stuck on the things they say, now you know it’s a nasty world
Tryin to get with ya anyway cause I know you’re a nasty girl
We ain’t never gon’ discriminate so let me compliment your size
Oooh oohh oooooooh oooooh
2005: Anthony Hamilton’s “Sister Big Bone”
Sista Big bone, can a brotha walk you home, look like a plate of neck bones, i’d like to keep
your body warm
Multimedia: Interviews with six black women focus on family life, success and self-esteem, which were identified as major themes in a nationwide survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.