Why Black Women are Fat Part 1 – Alex’s Take

By Sporty Afros

Yesterday, I read an article in the New York Times regarding black women’s issue of being obese entitled “Why Black Women are Fat.”

FOUR out of five black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes. With $174 billion a year spent on diabetes-related illness in America and obesity quickly overtaking smoking as a cause of cancer deaths, it is past time to try something new.

I reviewed the article looking for more insight and  made sure to keep an open mind while reading it and I suggest you to check my review here. I was taken aback by the author’s claims of why black women are overweight. The reason – we (blacks as a culture) accept being overweight.

What we need is a body-culture revolution in black America. Why? Because too many experts who are involved in the discussion of obesity don’t understand something crucial about black women and fat: many black women are fat because we want to be. ….. Chemically, in its ability to promote disease, black fat may be the same as white fat. Culturally it is not.

The writer discusses her own previous desires to be “thicker” and quotes how many husbands/boyfriends were disappointed when their black woman desired to lose weight for fear they would lose their thickness.

How many middle-aged white women fear their husbands will find them less attractive if their weight drops to less than 200 pounds? I have yet to meet one. But I know many black women whose sane, handsome, successful husbands worry when their women start losing weight. My lawyer husband is one.

Another friend, a woman of color who is a tenured professor, told me that her husband, also a tenured professor and of color, begged her not to lose “the sugar down below” when she embarked on a weight-loss program.

At dinner last night, Whitney and I briefly discussed the article, and we both agreed with part of the writer’s claim. In my conversation with Whitney, I recalled growing up in the hood and pointed out how many of my classmates grandmothers were called “Big Momma” because they were literally big aka obese. Being big was/is acceptable and there was nothing wrong with it.

My Reflections While Growing Up In the “Hood” 

After people hit their 20 and 30s, being big or bigger was acceptable and the norm. The only people who were skinny or had a slender frame, were crack heads or kids. Being skinny or slender was looked at as a disease. Everyone wanted and should have bigger butts, breast and thicker thighs. Eating hamhocks, collard greens and sweet potato pie was the prescription for achieving this.

The more you filled out your clothes the “better looking” and acceptable you were considered.  One of my best friends in middle school was always being teased for her slenderness and forced to “eat more” because she didn’t look healthy. She was an ideal weight for her height, age and activity level. While she ate, flaming hot Cheetos and chili cheese nachos like the rest of us, she didn’t gain weight like we did. This pained her through out middle and high school.

It’s More Than Just Acceptable

I agree with the writer’s claim that we as a cultural accept being fat; however, I disagreed with it being the reason.I believe their are more issues beneath the claim.

A college friend of mine, Melanie Rose, is completing her Master’s degree and researched some reasons why black women are having problems when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Over dinner one night, her and I discussed what we both have found as some reasons why black women are not living a healthy lifestyle.

  • Lack of Access to Healthy Foods – Can you count how many health food stores such as Wholefoods, Sprouts, and Farmers Markets are in the black neighborhoods? Even the neighborhood grocery and corner stores often do not offer healthier foods. Those that do offer healthier foods cost a lot!
  • Location – In majority of black neighborhoods, there are hardly any recreation centers and gyms. The one to two rec centers are often filled with broken equipment and lack quality personal trainers and exercise classes. While these same neighborhoods may contain parks, these parks also contain a high amount of crime so safety becomes an issue.
  • Education/Lack of Knowledge – Personally, I didn’t know BBQ and fried chicken were unhealthy until I was almost 18. Every Friday night in high school, I had either fried chicken or Records BBQ. Oh Records in Dallas, is the spot for the best BBQ. Trust me!
  • Hair Issues – Raise your hand if your mom said this to you, “Girl don’t go outside and play too hard. You will mess up your hair and I am not doing it over again this week.” We were taught from a young age not to mess up our hair when it came to playing (a form of exercise).
  • Not Important or Fun – Some people just don’t want to workout and won’t.  Exercising isn’t fun for them and they don’t see it as being important.

Okay, so this is part one. I am going to chat with a few other people this week and have them to chime in on this issue.

So ladies and gentlemen (guys I know you are reading too!) give your opinion with a comments or chime in on our survey by clicking here.

BTW: We are addressing all of these issues with solutions at our upcoming event!

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  1. MissBibaDiva says:

    It is a cultural thing, I agree. When I go to the gym, I still don’t see many black women. Some just feel like they don’t have the time, and some actually say that they don’t want to mess up their hair. I think if I had to choose between diabetes and sweating out a perm, I’d choose sweating out a perm. Even those who don’t use hair as an excuse, just don’t feel motivated to lose weight because they see it as a “White” thing. WW are allegedly more obsessed with being in shape than BW. I think that the objective is to focus on being healthy, not skinny and to live long enough to see our kids grow up and not be riddled with health problems as we get older. Health should be a priority.

  2. Nicole Amanda says:

    While I think this article touches on an important aspect of our culture, some parts of this I found wildly ridiculous. As a 27 year old black woman I have seen a SIGNIFICANT rise in the priority of physical fitness among black women in the last few years. Unbelievably so! Even my mama, the one who said “girl, don’t go messin up your hair” is doing zumba or walking around her neighborhood. When I go to the gym, I see more black women than I’ve ever seen before. Even in my neighborhood when I’m out for a jog, we represent at least 30% of the people outside exercising. My black women peers are ALL fitness minded in some way, shape or form, so some of this is very hard for me to swallow.

    With the rising rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes in our families, I’d venture to say MOST young black women know EXACTLY what they’re up against health-wise, so I wouldn’t agree that it’s “not important” or we are not “knowledgeable”. Not from what I can tell.

    I mean, look at the success of Black Girls Run! They’re now the “cool” thing. They’ve been extremely successful in getting black women to join the running community.

    So, black women are most certainly taking their physical fitness by the horns. Yea, we’re tryin to keep our bumps and our hair tight in the process (that probably won’t ever change!) but I believe the New York Times will be singing a different tune soon enough. Put ME on the staff! I’ll be writing a different story! lol

    Thanks to my black women friends, I started running and it changed everything about my life. So even if it’s just me, black women won’t be fat for long.

    6 Lessons Running Taught Me About Life: http://nicoleamanda.com/running-lessons-lesson-one/

    1. gottagetyourmacros says:

      @Nicole Amanda

      What you’re saying is truly an isolated event. The statistics are alarmingly high for Black women, being overweight and having diabetes. Where you may see, a large number of Black women in your area working out, I assure you this is not the general experience. I have been working out for over 10 years now, and I will tell you who I see CONSTANTLY in the gym: Black guys, White guys, White girls. For every 15 Black guys, White guys or girls, there is 1 black girl working out. And the one working out is out of shape. And I lived in different places, belong to different gyms. So from my experience of 10+ years of working out, and statistics, this article is not ridiculous. What is ridiculous, is the alarming rate that black women, are getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bad back, bad knees, because of being overweight or obese.

      As far as cultural goes, I don’t know any guy, white or black, that desires his girl to stay above 200lbs. Really? Something needs to be cleared up, seriously. Overweight and being fat have hijacked terms like “thick” or “curvy”. That is a deception and a flat out lie. Marilyn Monroe was curvy. Beyonce is curvy. Tyra Banks is curvy. If everything on you is big including your stomach, that is not thick or curvy, that is fat!! As black people we need to stop saying this is acceptable because it’s not! And until we get serious about this issue and ourselves, we will continue to be last in every health category.

      Someone told me to do something one time, and I am sad to say what I saw. A black woman bought it to my attention about the obesity rate among black women in general. She told me that the next time I went out to a public venue, to see how many black women are overweight or obese, versus not. That day, every black women I saw was overweight. I did not see one that wasn’t. This is a problem. I tried it a couple more days because I didn’t want to hang that on 1 day. But the results were the same or very close. I did this with women outside our race, (well white women, as there are mainly black and white women in my area) and this was not the case.
      This is just sad and a serious problem. We need to get it together. And I am NOT bashing black women, I’m pointing at a problem that is plaguing our culture.

      And please, don’t turn this into a gender thing anybody, please. We need to move so far pass that and start trying to save lives. I told you who I see in the gym constantly and consistently over the pass 10+ years. We need to take responsibility for our own health. Period.

  3. The wealthier the man the less likely he is to want a woman that’s overweight. Poorer white men will date bigger women with pride just like black men, but as they climb the corporate ladder they are less likely to want to bring a 250 pound woman to the corporate picnic, black tie event and etc. When women allow themselves to get too big they limit their romantic options. Most black women are single and fat 🙁 it’s sad but true those things have a lot in common!

  4. Let us not forget that most black women are emotionally unhealthy! As a result, food becomes their comfort. Food is one of the only things that ease the lonliness, financial stress, job stress,family stress, etc. I know because I have many friends that use food for comfort and are overweight. I use food for comfort also but the only difference is that I am a vegan so my food choices are healthy.

  5. I think the reason for black women and Lonliness is Change in society..In the days goine by people like my mother were NEVER EVER short on Male admirers and men who came from WEALTHY back grounds i feel black women were alot more confident in times gone by because they didnt have the Pressure to be thin as they do now because the white female lifestyle they felt never a part of them anyway..the pressure to be thin etc has come about recently for nsome ridiculouse reason.
    black women to my mind seem far less happy than they used to be, i dont remeber seeing black women so Miserable back in the day as they are now. the only balck females i seee really glowing and getting more and more happy with themselves are women who seem to be embracing natural living. I believe the Chruch is to Blame for black womens loneliness and unhappiness at being single.its like black women are psychologically being forced into NUN HOOD..against ther natural wants and needs..telling women about some man thats got to be be almost purer than pure and this and that and its what god wants..nothing to do with weight and not getting a partner and weight has NOTHING to do with health if your eating well..Its a mind set really is a mind set and knowing who you are and loving your self which does not mean slim at all.. it means excercise for HEALTH not being a certain slim weight..I see many many many Bhuddist Black women (as an example) who are glowing and Big and beautiful..and have no concerns what so ever with figure just happiness, meditation starts with the heart and mind. and there is nothing more Beautiful than when Black women and ( people)start with the inside and feeling. Its funny what ever size i were, happiness and confidense matterd to me more, yet there were people talking about being a certain size just like hair..nothing changed either way.

  6. Mahoganycoilsandcurls says:

    I agree with one of the earlier posters. I see a number of black women that are into fitness and I think they may be some of the motivations behind women going natural. At least it was for me. I would have never thought that I would enjoy running but I do! #teamblackgirlsrun!

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