It’s possible to be plus-size and healthy, and a recent poll on African American women from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation is proving that there’s more than one form of healthiness.
Although black women polled in the survey were heavier than their white counterparts, their self-esteem was notably higher. About 66 percent of black women who were considered overweight or obese by government standards had high self-esteem, compared with just 41 percent of average-size or thin white women, which is a major plus for mental health.
High self-esteem wasn’t rooted in denial about the effects of obesity on one’s physical health either. Ninety percent of black women in the survey said living a healthy lifestyle is very important to them, coming before religion, career, marriage, and other priorities. The finding that two-thirds of these women eat at fast-food restaurants at least once a week, and just more than half cook dinner at home on a regular basis, seems to contradict the desire to live healthy, but the look of a healthy body to black women varies greatly, a write-up of the study showed.
Joseph Neil, a full-time trainer and certified nutritionist in Washington DC, said black women usually come to him with a body-mass index of 29, which he attributes to work demands that lead to eating fast food and less exercise. White women on the other hand typically have a BMI of 22 or 23.
White women “are self-conscious about the numbers. They say I want to weigh 110, 115, 120,” he said. But black women “give me sizes — 6, 8, 10, 12.
“White women are not coming to a trainer saying I want to be a 12. Every white woman who wants to work out and train wants to be petite, petite, no curves, no hips, no butt, nothing, just toned.”
For most, that’s not surprising. Despite the images we’re bombarded with on a regular basis, the lack of black women on runways and in magazines may actually be saving our self-esteem, some said. According to Heather Hausenblas, a University of Florida professor of exercise physiology, Black women “are just not comparing themselves to these white models.”
We are catching on to the high rates of obesity in our community and the negative effects that being overweight can have on our physical health, though, as writer Michaela Angela Davis pointed out.
“We’re not saying its super fly to be super fat. We’ve never said that,” Davis notes, but unlike in white culture, “black women are not criminalized for it.”
Do you think black women are finally figuring out how to balance love for their full-figured bodies with the need to be physically healthy?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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