Why Black Women Are Fat....REALLY?

Why Black Women Are Fat....REALLY?

Alice Randall, a contributing writer for the New York Times, would like for you to think that I am an anomaly.

I work out and I like to work out as much as possible.

I like to sweat, listen to awful house music, and do swats until I get a leg spasm, fall over, and need to be lifted off of the exercise floor by steroid-enhanced looking men wearing white tank tops.

It’s not always easy.  There are always more reasons to stay at home then to go to the gym.  However, I have committed myself to working out because I believe in being healthy, not only for myself, but for my family.

 In her Op-Ed for the New York Times, Mrs. Randall makes two astonishing assertions in regards to Black women and our health.  She says:

1.)     That Black women “want to be fat”.

2.)     That our men like us fat.

These statements, supported by quotes from poets and blues singers shocked me.  The truth is that I wanted to read Mrs. Randall’s article and discover new information that dispelled the urban myths and images of Black women in the kitchen frying chitterlings, making corn bread, and eating greens 365 days a year.  I wanted for her to surprise me - to reveal to me that despite what she proclaimed in the title of her piece, that she in fact was there to tell the world that though our bodies may retain salt (and water) at higher levels, or because we have higher rates of autoimmune diseases such as Hypothyroidism- that Black women are finding new and innovative ways to stay fit.

I wanted her to tell me what I already know, that now more than ever, Black women of all ages are becoming more physically active.  Whereas twenty years ago Black women were confined to Jazzercise and Step Aerobics at our neighborhood gyms, now many Black women consider a wider diversity of options for physical activities ranging from boot camps, racquetball, golf, kayaking, and running marathons in ways that had not been considered in decades past.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Randall mentioned none of that.  Instead, she oversimplified a national health epidemic that is in fact, not specific to Black women, and presented it under the antiquated argument that in effort to please our juke-joint playing, pot-liquor drinking, bbq-eating men, Black women choose unhealthy eating habits.

I can’t speak for an overweight person raised to value being “big” and I wish that she wouldn’t speak for me.

I take issue with her assertion that Black women are not wise enough to choose their health over archaic cultural standards.  Clearly being healthy has been in style since Oprah told us so in 1988.  Duh.

I take issue with her assertion that Black men force Black women to make unhealthy lifestyle choices in effort to remain desirable.  When has a man ever forced a group of Black women to do anything…other than tithe?

More than anything else, I take issue with her slanted and unrepresentative argument, made in the name of all Black women, which provided no more valuable information than that of what people outside of the Black community assume from hearing rap songs or looking at Tyler Perry movies.

Next time Mrs. Randall would like to enlighten the world on the cultural nuances of Black women and health, I encourage her to speak to someone other than those in a similar position as her.  If she had, she would have communicated the truth which is that there is no one reason why some people are fat just like there is no one reason to explain why some people are skinny, or fit, or healthy.

[Picture courtesy of minglecity.com]



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  • While I'm not qualified to comment, being neither black nor female (nor fat, for that matter), I will say that my observation is that although there are plenty of fat women, the percentage *seems* higher among blacks. Last statistics I saw would bear that out.

    It does kind of beg the question "why"? Is it that a higher percentage of black women are "okay" with being "big and beautiful"?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SC Dave:

    Turn off the TV and get real. The media portrays black women as fat and ugley 24/7. While all the white women look like models--even the chick in the elevator in the background. I see plenty of fat white women daily as well as other groups not just black women.

  • What (many) Black men REALLY say about 200 pound Black chicks:
    1. You’re not fat because we like it, you’re fat because you’re lazy
    2. You don’t stay away from the gym because we fear you’ll lose that butt. You stay away from the gym because YOU fear you’ll sweat your hair out
    3. If you’re feet are fat, at least get fitted for the proper shoe. Stop letting your toes hang out the front…and if the heels were bigger you wouldn’t have to strap em so tight. Your body is big, we don’t expect your feet to be small
    4. The equipment at the gym is for working out. Can you please get the f#ck up and finish your conversation somewhere else?
    5. No need for all the attitude…I get it. If I had diabetes and an uncontrollable appetite I’d be crabby too.
    6. “I bet she was fine back in her day”
    7. You look ridiculous in tights…not cute…ridiculous
    8. I’d hate to see her after she has a baby
    9. No wonder she’s still single
    10. FYI, there’s no such thing as a 2 piece “snack”

  • (@SCDave)

    Black women have the highest self-esteem and the most positive body image, regardless of their appearance. "Experts" say it has to do with recognizing that as a black women, the ideal aesthetic (basically being white) in society is unattainable for them, so there is no reason to get caught up in caring about that.

    Also black women tend to focus on a more holistic attractiveness - the fact that they worked the same jobs/same hours/same (lack of pay)...so physical strength, sexual skills/abilities (listen to some Big Mama Thornton), character, education, other skills, cooking, social status, sense of style, etc, tended to be valued over an aesthetic that they had no reason to identify with - and historically black men were socialized to appreciate the holistic attractiveness of black women, at whatever size.

    Further, let's remember that African American men and women were actually bred for intense physical labor, and the majority of the ones who could not retain water died in the Middle Passage (weeks/months of being shackled together and stacked on top of one another on a boat - with little food or water). So it makes sense that people with intense physical labor/water retention genes would have a harder time living a modern sedentary lifestyle, and would tend to need to work much harder at it to look like people who were not bred for intense physical labor. There are some black women who work out for hours every day and look "fat" - that's just how some people are made. Anyway, in traditional African American culture, there was no particular urgency to be particularly weight conscious, and yes, some men appreciate the aesthetic of the women of their culture (as did men of other cultures who frequently had sexual relations and relationships with black women - legally prevented from marry them). I don't see anything wrong with that.

    White women have lower self esteem, and spend much more time obsessing about their bodies (recent articles about this can be google'd). I don't envy them at all. As a "big girl," I get too much attention/harassment/sexual assault from men (not just black men) who are apparently attracted to the way that I look, I can only imagine the nightmare of being even "sexier" to them than I already am, and too much of even a polite focus on my appearance disgusts me. I prefer to be recognized for my inner and holistic beauty.

    - Leyna, Happy Beautiful "Fat" Vegetarian Professional Black Woman who exercises everyday.

  • There is either Tyra Banks or Wendy Williams. Not much in the middle, except for Oprah being one or the other at any given time.

    There may also be the point of all the "food desert" rants that the populations in those neighborhoods prefer fried foods to vegetables. Of course, Moo and Oink went out of business because they said that their clientele had become more health conscious.

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at kaywilliamsmith@gmail.com.

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