I have been actively working on being a smaller weight for about a year or so (inactively for a few years before that. I observed that my initial weight loss was the result of eating less and having to walk everywhere and the dots connected…) and I’m confident that I’ll eventually reach my goal.
But where I feel confidence, others in my life feel concerned. Some feel the need to mock me. Some think that my weight loss will make me vulnerable to rape and kidnapping.
What should be seen as a positive step in the direction of better health for black women is often derided by other African Americans, especially African American women. Though the reasons vary, there seems to be a common list of reasons lobbed at black women regarding why they need to be extremely overweight. Some of these I’ve heard myself. Others I’ve seen directed at other black women. All of them are rather stupid, and hopefully no sensible black woman will let them get in the way of her personal fitness goals.
This can also worded as “Black women are ‘built’ differently” and “black women are supposed to be fat”. Now, why is this idiotic? Well for starters it goes the route of othering black women by pretending we’re practically a different species. By this logic, ALL black women the world over should be overweight. The fact that this is not the case suggests to the logical person that it’s possible to be slim and there be nothing wrong with you as a black woman. It also suggests that if one loses weight and begins to see an improvement in their overall health and functioning…maybe it’s a good idea.
The “black women are different” trope is often used to justify feelings of inferiority as black women or by other groups to subtly imply that black women are meant to be physically and sexually inferior to other women. “Mammy” and “Sapphire” stereotypes usually feature a fat black woman. Whenever a black woman is meant to be a friend to an attractive women, but safely represented as non-competition, odds are, she’ll be overweight. (NOTE: When obesity is meant to be acceptable over even a sexy trait in popular American culture, the character is ALWAYS white).
As our resident health specialist found out, this is a rather bold attack on black women trying to take care of themselves. This is usually done by black women who rather than address their own body image issues elect to project them on other, thinner black women. Sometimes, you don’t even have to be a thin black woman. Just be a black woman period who is trying to better herself, and you will hear about it from somebody.
It’s not that Ashley meant to hurt the random black woman by buying veggies in the store. The woman was simply hurt because she saw in Ashley everything that she wanted to exist in herself, but didn’t have.
When someone comes at you to accuse you of “being better than they are” by trying to improve yourself, they are actually saying they believe you are better than they are and that they resent you for it. It’s not you, it’s them. Don’t take it personally, even if you feel the need to stop communicating with such persons. And certainly don’t let their insecurities slow you down.
“You’ll have an a** like a white girl” and “you’ve been hanging around white people too long”, also falls under this.
South Korea is one of the leading consumers of diet pills. What is the obesity rate in South Korea? Around 5% at last check, and they actually account for the LOWEST obesity rate of all countries that are a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD. Despite the fact that this country is populated by not-white people, fear of fat reigns supreme.
So then, how in the world did a black woman trying to lose weight become “trying to be white”? Blame it on popular American culture (which tends to be white) and the belief that blackness is the opposite of anything construed as white. Being a thin white woman means that a black woman who isn’t fat is somehow abnormal or incorrect. If you are naturally thin you are “odd” and if you are actively becoming thinner, there is something “wrong with you”. Health and fitness is a “white pastime” where as black people are aaaaaall about soul food, diabetes, and how many body parts will be cut off you before you are buried.
Look, there is no race or ethnic group that is MEANT to be fat because another one is not. Your health isn’t tied to your race. You’re supposed to take care of your body because it’s the only one you get.
This is reason isn’t just idiotic, in some cases it’s down-right heartbreaking. The more attractive a black woman becomes, there is a fear shared, usually by other women close to them, that it becomes dangerous. Men are more likely to notice you and do you harm. I’ve also heard that having more weight will allow a woman to fight off a male attacker more successfully. In the case of black girls or women who were the victims of sexual violence, putting on weight may be seen as a way of both coping with the trauma and if the abuse is ongoing, attempting to make themselves a less desirable target to their abuser.
The first and most obvious reason why this is a fallacy is that a predator is about opportunity. Being overweight in some situations can make it easier for such persons to attack a woman. Even more hurtfully, a woman being obese can be used to discredit her as a victim. She may be mocked for not “appreciating” the attack or even told that she should be flattered that someone would “want to touch her”. Because desirability continues to rank rather high in our Patriarchal society as to whether or not a woman is useful or worth protecting, it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that a woman’s failure to be conventionally attractive may instead make certain persons less inclined to want to protect or relate to a victim who is unattractive. Stereotypes about African American black women make it hard enough for us to be sympathetic victims of crime. Add weight and it only gets worse. Oh, and don’t expect any intra-racial sympathy. After all, black people have practically carved “no snitching” into stone as a golden rule of functioning in all black structures. It’s why you hardly hear a peep about a black woman as a victim unless the perpetrator is non-black.
This bleeds into the second reason: weight is used as a substitute for chivalry. Because of reasons one and three on this list, there is a lowered expectation of anyone, even other black people coming to the aid of a black woman. Since black women are not to expect any help, they must be strong enough to protect themselves. This is a physical manifestation of the “strong black woman” trope. Why is this dangerous? Because cooperation alleviates other people from any sense of obligation to come to a black woman’s aide. It also allows persons to be justified in the omission of femininity in a black woman. When coupled with machoism, it also helps to promote the idea that black women cannot and should not be women, or understood to be vulnerable and in need of protection.
No, being fat will NOT protect you from rape or any other form of violence. Nor are you to blame for any of predatory actions of other people for something as ridiculous as how much you weigh.
It is amazing what black women will forgo in terms of their own physical, mental and emotional health in order to please black men. Despite the fact that unless a man has absolutely unwavering preferences for a BBW, black men, like any other group of men, tend to go for women that are reasonably in shape.
As much as black women do NOT want to hear it, if a man had to choose between the 300+ lb woman with the pretty face and sparkling personality and the woman half her size with a pretty face and sparkling personality, the woman half her size is going to win almost every time. Even if the smaller women isn’t nearly as nice, she may also win out. Even if her face isn’t as pretty, she may also win out. Whatever the reason, being smaller will make a black woman more attractive to any man than being huge.
Why do black women continue to believe the contrary? Well, because of an insidious okey-doke that some DBR males use where they encourage a woman to be as big as possible to keep other men from looking at them. Some men will do or say anything to decrease your options. They know if you have no one else checking for you, you are more likely to put up with them. The more physically healthy a black woman is, the more desirable she becomes to a wider group of men, including (wait for it) non-black men. The lie of “nobody wants you” is less convincing when everyone and their brother is trying to get with the fit black chick.
This little “problem” is easily fixed if you tell black women that it’s paramount that they stay obese to keep black men happy.
Ladies, believe me when I say that your personal health and well being comes before a black man following you down the street proclaiming his love of huge backsides. And for those of us that have had this happen…it’s not exactly the most endearing gesture in the world, and you aren’t missing anything. :/ Also believe me when I say that if you are at your optimal weight level, it’s not going to hurt your level of physical attractiveness.
There are probably many more reasons that are given to black women as to why they’re better off being overweight or need to gain weight or are wrong for trying to lose weight. There are also many people who take a black woman’s weight loss/improved health journey personally. But whatever ridiculous reasons are used, it’s up to the individual black woman to decide for herself to be a healthier person. Don’t let anyone guilt you or shame you into being more active. Don’t let concern trolls try and convince you that not being unhealthy is anti-black or crazy. And PLEASE don’t buy into the garbage above.
Whatever you do or don’t do with your body isn’t about preserving blackness or the status quo. Sometimes, you just want to lose weight. And your reasons for doing so are no one’s business. Ever.
Note: I know someone is going to say that their decision to be fat is also not my business. I agree. Which is why I’ve made it my business to NOT go around policing women about their body. I also don’t approve of walking up to overweight women to harass or demean or mock them. Some people simply need to take up the fine art of “mind your damn business”.
And if you feel this article is a personal attack because you are known to engage in these type of behaviors, well, maybe it’s time you step back and reevaluate.