Drawing a line from pathologising Black bodies to lindy hop

What if Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss?

Women, and particularly women of colour, are less likely to have their health concerns addressed by medical professionals. Doctors and health care workers are more likely to emphasise weight loss as a ‘cure’ for various ailments than any other therapy.

This interesting article discusses how medical discourse pathologises fat or unskinny bodies, and works to control the appearance of women. If we go a step further and think about how this ‘ideal’ female body is marked by race and presented as ‘healthy’, we can also see how Black women’s bodies are therefore positioned as unhealthy. And of course, a woman who doesn’t fit this skinny white ideal is also branded lazy, weak-willed, even amoral.

If we think about Grey’s brilliant piece about vintage wear in the jazz dance world, we can see how an emphasis on ‘vintage aesthetics’ (which aren’t vintage at all, but contemporary bodily values mapped onto an imaginary past) not only penalises Black women’s bodies, but punishes Black women’s pride and joy in their embodies Blackness. In other words, a Black woman who feels happy and good when she’s dancing is punished for this joy by modern lindy hop culture. Her ‘weight’ is seen as a moral failing, and her body shape literally doesn’t fit into the ‘acceptable’ costumes (and choreography) of ‘popular’ white lindy hop.

Most importantly, she’s taught to mistrust her own joy and pride. She is told that her body is proof of a moral failing. That pleasure she finds in her body is misplaced. She is encouraged to doubt herself and her body, and to punish herself with starvation.

You can see, of course, how a person in this state of mind, doubting her thoughts, mistrusting her body’s feedback, is perfectly positioned for sexual and physical abuse.

This article is good for the way it discusses Dr Metz’ respect for and centering of her patients’ thoughts and feelings, rather than arbitrary medical rules.

They talk a little more about Towne’s diet as Metz thoughtfully frames the conversation, asking, “Does your body give you feedback after you eat that?” instead of offering prescriptive advice about what to eat or avoid, as a different doctor might have. (source)

I’m going to go a step further, and ask you to think about how the way lindy hop is taught repeats these patterns. Are we given arbitrary rules about how to hold our partner’s hand, or are we asked to experiment with what feels good, and trust our own bodies and feelings?

And then I’m wondering: how can we truly decolonise lindy hop, and other popularised Black dance, when we are pathologising the Black bodies and Black ways of being in the world that created them?

References:
I’ve written more about the issue of ‘vintage wear’ and dance in Vintage fashion and lindy hop: let’s add race, 14 February 2018.

Virginia Sole-Smith, What if Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss?, Scientific American, July 2020.

Grey Armstrong, Dance Communities and Time Travel, February 2018.

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