Is There Sexism When We Discuss Weight Issues in The Black Community?

April 17, 2012  |  

Ever notice that any discussion on weight in the African-American community seems to only center on women?

I’ve noticed it. In blogs, on television and in news articles. Everyone wants black women to get fit, especially men.  Boris Kodjoe once went on an ill-advised and bone-headed Twitter tirade/rant aimed at overweight black women.  And NPR even ran a piece a couple of months ago on how half of African-American women in the U.S. are obese.  It seems that everyone is obsessed with our weight and is out to save us from the terrible health dilemma associated with being fat. You could sort of understand as all the studies and crunched numbers show black women have the highest rates of being overweight and obese compared to other groups in the United States.  Truth be told, it couldn’t hurt for us to focus more on our health and well-being. However our weight, as black women, is not the full story.

According to the latest statistics provided by the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, while 78 percent of African-American women can be classified as overweight or obese, the number of black men classified as either overweight or obese is 71 percent.  And while black women represent a disproportionately large number of those classified as obese (as having a Body Mass Index of 30 pounds or greater), black men as a group were more likely to be classified as overweight (as defined as having a BMI at 25 percent or greater than the standard) than black women. In other words, what we have here is a situation of the fat pot calling the fat kettle a fat a**.

So how did the conversation about weight within the community become so skewed? I think that one of the reasons why the issue of obesity in the community has transformed into a women-only issue is because of our societal impulse to believe that women, and more importantly their bodies, are for gawking. Women are more often described, judged and criticized in terms of what we look like, rather than what we think or do far more than our male counterparts. As such, our society has created numerous industries – from cosmetics, to fashion, right down to weight loss regiments and programs – which help to further reinforce the notions that a woman’s body, particularly her shape, holds more value than anything else she has to offer.

The ironic thing is that obesity rates have increased sharply in the United States over the past 30 years in general, and today, nearly one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. These children are developing diseases normally associated with adults, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. African-American children ages 6 to 11 are more likely to be obese or overweight than white children.  And yet we spend a majority of the time focused on women.

Likewise, black men are more likely to be overweight the older they get, have a shorter life span than black women, and according to the Center for Disease Control, are more likely to die from preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. While we either chide or celebrate celebrity women such as Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe and even down to Rihanna every time their weight fluctuates, we as a community are virtually silent about their male counterparts like Heavy D and Patrice O’Neal and Rick Ross, whose own weight issues have either contributed to poor health or even death. This gender specific emphasis on weight management might be effective in shaming the fairer sex into shape, but only focusing on women has done a major disservice to our men in the community, who are almost equally at-risk for obesity related illnesses.

This past weekend, I went past my grandmother’s house to visit.  Over the last 10 years she has had a heart attack, two strokes and eventually a triple bypass surgery. Now she is on oxygen.  Unfortunately, watching my grandmother deteriorate in front of my eyes has been all the inspiration I need to ensure that I am eating right and in the gym at least three times a week.  Yet my uncle, who lives and helps to take care of my grandmother and has been a vocal critic of my grandma’s inactivity for years, suffered his first heart attack a few months ago. And still, his main focus is on what my grandmother ain’t doing as opposed to what he needs to be doing for himself.

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  • Lpatt

    Just another stigma to place on black women…I am just so tired of seeing things that bash us and make us out to be bad people.. America has a weight problem! not just black women..

  • Niyasofresh33

    It’s funny NO ONE addressed the sexism and the statistic about black men being fat and overweight as well. Despite the male stat most immediately ignored that and went straight to the women again. That goes to show you how stigmatized women are for their weight and bodies and how people’s minds are trained to only go to that part of the discussion. When you instill something in people’s minds repeatedly that’s all their minds are going to focus on. So when black women are constantly bombarded with the “Fat stats” opposed to others people psychologically relate anything and everything to black women. It doesn’t matter if the same thing applies to everyone else, our brains are trained to focus on one group. I don’t feel that’s fair. It makes black women feel ashamed and hate their bodies. I feel that’s pretty much the agenda. Meanwhile Adele and white female celebs like Kim K are told to love their curves. With all of these weight loss commericials, blogs and homefessionals about black female weight loss why isn’t it showing in the statistics? Recycled stats combined with mind training, stereotyping and you come up with this. Meanwhile Rick Ross is hot, CEDRICK THE ENTERTAINER IS PERFECTLY FINE, many more fat black men are deemed attractuve. When Heavy D died, and that commedian, as well as NATE DOG NONE OF THEM WERE BASHED WITH WEIGHT RELATED TALK. Actually when a man loses weight people are asking is he sick. I see all the time on forums women talking about needed more meat on their man. Society is constructed in the man’s favor. Women are nothing more than “eye candy” and we must live up to it while being superhuman. When a women gains even 5 pounds but still in healthy range people bombard her with “OMG” “SHE LOOKS FAT” “SHE NEEDS TO LOSE WEIGHT” then the internet judgemental health crew comes out and tells her why she needs to be thin and 0% body fat. Fat is a woman’s stigma, if America was full of fat men and all women were thin I guarantee you this exaggerated obesity discussion (which has been challenged) wouldn’t exist. The BMI is outdated btw.

  • Cutiepie

    I’m always shocked when I’m in the states about how most women are so fat. And I see so many that are black woman. Hopefully these women will be able to stop making excuses and lose the weight. And this is coming from a girl who’s 5’8,135 pounds but still curvy.

  • KristenMorgan

    Trust me, this issue is not only facing black women, but ALL women. 99% of the time you see females promoting weight loss plans, etc. But I see equal amounts of overweight men in my day to day life. This is just the culture we live in. We females bear the burden of having to live up to a higher standard…this is nothing new since the same goes for us in the work place, etc. I’m not saying anyone should be overweight or obese, but at least women may have the excuse of having given birth which completely transforms a woman’s shape forever. What is a man’s excuse for getting fat?

    • Love_Sexy

      I agree 100%…..I am all for being healthy and fighting against obesity……It really annoy me that so much attention is placed on women to look a certain way yet its not expected of men……They can walk around looking like a 300lb Bozo The Clown and its okay……What is really twisted is alot of women be the ones attacking women more so than men……WTF

  • Immapray4u


  • So maybe if black women focused on weight as a part of stress management the results would be more consistent. As far as the sexism in the conversation about weight-black men are pretty sexist on everything without the accountability or resources to justify the position. So maybe black women should approach their “advice” with the civil indifference you’d give to any group without resources or accountability-children are an example of that group.

  • Judgejudy

    I use to work in a group home for women.  6 of the 7 women were obese.  By working at the group home I was made aware of the issues that obese women face. One being the lack of proper hygiene.  Another was the lack of self esteem.  Being obese is not attractive, not healthy, and most importantly it doesnt classify you as being curvy…Like toni braxton told tracey HAVING A BELLY IS NOT CUTE. Obesity adds to life’s limitations – WEIGHT PREJUDICE, LIFE EXPECTANCY, COMFORTABILITY, HEALTH ISSUES, ETC.  And if black women want to know why they arent married…start with your weight…next with having too many oow children with deadbeats.  let’s be real

    • Cocoa_Kisses2386

      You’re going a little too far with the black women aren’t married because of their weight comment.I’ve seen plenty of overweight and even obese black women happily married, while the thin supposedly more attractive women and are still in the clubs looking for a man to take home. And how did these women with oow children become pregnant i wonder…….sure wasn’t from a bank. Getting fit is not about being cute its about HEALTH, and when Toni Braxton said it I thought it was crass and unecessary, somebody needs to tell her that all that plastic surgery she had done to her face isn’t cute. I’m not sticking up for obesity, I’ve recently lost 70 pounds myself after suffering some health problems that have since been eliminated, but let’s not be ignorant.

  • Love_Sexy

    I am so sick of hearing about BW being overweight…….NEWSFLASH:The entire country is suffering from an obesity epidemic across the board……This is whether you white, black, man, woman, child, cat, rat or a dog (and I have seen some overweight animals here lately)……..I see just as many overweight WW than BW…..Geez!

    • KristenMorgan

      Exactly, I’m caucasian and see equal amounts of overweight/obese women AND men of all races/ethnicities. I live in the northeast, and my area is very diverse. At any rate, women already start off with a much higher body fat ratio than men…this is by design. There’s nothing we can do about that.. all women are the same in that respect when compared to men. And like my comment below states, I am not saying anyone should be really overweight or obese, but I have to give women slightly more leeway than men. Male bodies are meant to be leaner by design. It irks me when I see all this attention always placed on women, when men seem to get a free pass, at least where the media is concerned.

      • Love_Sexy

        Thank You!……Very well said.

  • Mrsadkiah

    This article is correct but this skewed discussion of obesity is not exclusive to our community. Any blog, article, etc that you read is talking about women. How models are too skinny, how women can work on getting toned. This is a problem in general: people focus more on a woman’s physical appearance than a mans. We talk about women letting themselves go: the ones who stop working out, and develop love handles blah blah blah. The men who grow old and get the beer guts and man boobs, while addressed, are not discussed as extensively. 

    • Love_Sexy

      Thank You

  • I think it’s because the black woman motto is “thick is beautiful” ” “meat on your bones are swexy” “skinny girls, are ugly stupid”. Black woman have been taught to embrace their curves.  Even monique jumped on the bandwagon.  And not to mention our love for soul food leaves alot of them unhealthy. Then they always hit you with the excuse…. “Not everyone was meant to be a size 2″…… It’s not just black woman it’s woman in general that get the worst of it. Take celebs for example it’s the female celebs that go through hell and back because they gained 20 pounds… 

  • Amija James

    OMG!  Black women this, black women that.  No matter what we do, there’s a magnifying glass on us and somebody just waiting to dissect us and our faults.  More black women are obese because black women in general weigh more than white women.  Men in general have an easier time losing weight than women.  

    • Bmarley

      That is not why more black are obese.  Many black women are obese because they eat unhealthy foods and lack proper exercise

      • Amija James

          Because our starting sizes are higher than other races, we tend to get bigger as time goes on.  Of course diet and exercise is part of it, but why aren’t more black men bigger?  The article is talking about why more black women are obese so that’s why I brought up size.  Of course I’m not a dr, but this is my take on it.  

        • really?

          starting sizes being bigger may account for a leeway of maybe 10-25 lbs, not 50+…jus sayin…

          • Amija James

            Thank you for sharing.  I feel special that you keep replying to me.  

          • Bmarley


    • Love_Sexy

      Exactly….We are structured differently than them and this was told to me by a health care professional years ago.

      • Bmarley

        So now the new excuse for obesity in our community is that we are structured differently.  This may explain why we have hips and butts, but let’s not excuse our figures for overlapping bellies, back fat, flappy arms, etc.

        • Love_Sexy

          No one is making an excuse about obesity and I was responding to another person’s comment about how BW are built differently than others….Obesity is not good for anyone no matter what color or sex you are…..Have a nice day!

  • KIR12

    Did this article intentionally withhold the fact that black men are in better shape than white men? Can’t say the same for black women. Which might be part of the reason the “fat” spotlight is on them.

    • FabienneDesrameaux

      nvr knew that

      • Literaryspeaking

        according to that second paragraph, thats debatable.

        • KIR12

           Did you look at the link? The info is there.

    • Cocoa_kisses2386


  • jackieOsassin

    this article is the truth. i’m a firm believer in the theory that charles barkley only agreed to be on a weightwatchers commercial to even out the gender bias. ONLY reason. yeah he lost weight too, but is he really the only black celebrity to do so? kenan thompson? cedric the entertainer? tracy morgan, anyone?

    • Immapray4u