Full figured and filled with pride

April 10, 2003, midnight | By Colby Chapman | 17 years, 9 months ago

Self-confident Blazers spurn the stick-thin stereotype of the perfect American female

Cheerio-sized waists, washboard stomachs and hourglass curves are all senior Didi Otigbuo sees as she glances up from her homework to catch the newest music videos. Comparing her own 5'5", 170-pound figure to that of the video girls, she turns off the television while she thinks one thought: "I'm beautiful."

Unlike the many females in America who try to emulate the thin bodies that appear on television, Otigbuo and other Blazers have learned to accept their full shapes. "I like who I am. I'm not going to strive to be like Halle Barry or Vivica Fox," says senior Cordelia Abrokwah. "I'm going to strive to be Cordelia."

The atypical body build

Although Abrokwah never considered herself overweight, her size did frustrate her at times. "All the cutest clothes were in the smallest sizes," says Abrokwah, remembering her attempts in middle school to find an outfit a friend had, only to realize that the store didn't have a size to accommodate her body type.

Throughout middle school, both Abrokwah and Otigbuo felt that they needed to look thinner in order to be beautiful. Such a perception is common among young American girls. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, and 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner. And in an informal Silver Chips poll of 100 female students, 61 percent said they would prefer to be thinner.

Otigbuo recalls that females' "perfect image"—slender, tall and busty—made her uncomfortable and caused her peers to call her names in reference to her weight. "A lot of big girls did not dress the way skinny girls did, which made me feel ugly because that's what everybody wore," says Otigbuo.

She also cites male opinions as a cause of her self-consciousness. "If you were a big girl, none of the boys wanted to talk to you," she says.

However, clinical psychologist Carole Hoage says males' perceptions about girls' body types are not as particular as females think. "Guys don't have the same prejudices as women. In fact, we're our own worst enemy," she says.

Gaining confidence

Otigbuo's first step in accepting herself came this past summer while working at a camp. All her coworkers were skinny girls who wore little shorts every day, and Otigbuo, uncomfortable in this atmosphere, shut off her vibrant, outgoing personality and took a silent backseat in most of the staff meetings.

Then a stranger noticed Otigbuo's insecure behavior and pulled her aside. "She told me that beauty is within and that I needed to stop worrying about my weight," says Otigbuo.

Bolstered by helpful words of friends and family, Otigbuo now has gained -full confidence in herself and feels people are hurting themselves by viewing beauty solely as a physical trait. "Once you get older, people will begin to see beneath your flaws. Also, beauty does not last, and in the end it's our souls that matter," she says.

Although Otigbuo says she has lost some of her friends on her search for self-confidence, she does not regret the progress she has made. In fact, she embraces it. "We all come in different shapes and sizes; that's what makes us different. We just have to focus on our good attributes," she says.

Watching weight

Weight obsession is not a modern phenomenon, Hoage says. Women have been preoccupied with their looks for hundreds of years. In the 1800s, women used to drink vinegar to make their skin fairer, and they wore binding corsets to make their bodies look more shapely. "It's the fantasy that if we look right, everything else will fall into place," says Hoage.

Hoage cites a girl's need for control over her body and her need for positive attention as reasons why girls become so concerned with their body weight. However, she feels that one of the biggest reasons is psychological in nature.

As girls transition through school, Hoage says, they sometimes don't feel good about themselves and project blame on something they can control, such as their physical appearance. "Sometimes it's easier to focus on the body instead of facing those higher issues," says Hoage.

Abrokwah and Otigbuo are not the only ones trying to promote the idea that big is beautiful; the media is joining in as well. Now more plus-sized woman are featured as models on television and in catalogs, says Hoage.

Abrokwah is extremely happy with the efforts to break down the stereotypical slender image of females. "If I can look at Queen Latifah and think she's a Cover Girl, I feel good about myself. I can be big and beautiful, too," she says.

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Colby Chapman. Colby Chapman is a junior page editor and sports writer for Silver Chips. She plays basketball and runs track for Blair, and she plays the piano as well. She is very committed to her academics but takes great pride in her athletics. More »

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