All Articles Tagged "obesity"
My clothes don’t fit.
When I tell people this, they say it’s a good problem to have. You see, like our lovely Deputy Editor Brande Victorian, I’ve also lost a lot of weight recently (we keep each other motivated) by choosing to try and eat better and working out at least four times a week. After losing almost 45 pounds, I watched my jeans get looser, anything with an elastic waistband started to hang off my waist, and my dresses fit baggier than ever.
After a while, I got used to having to buy new pants every few months and realized that as I slim and tone, things just won’t fit the same. But what I didn’t expect or see coming, was that I would lose weight in my feet. I guess when your body is looking to rid itself of a lot of fat, it comes off all over the place.
As I was digging through a bin of shoes last night as I prepared to swap out the summer shoes at my front door for my boots and loafers, I came across a pair of low camel-colored boots I bought from ASOS last year that were sent in a size my toes didn’t agree with. I’m a very impatient person, and didn’t feel like waiting to ship things back and forth, so I tried to make it work. I attempted to stretch the shoes out the best I could, and each of the three times I tried to wear them, I fought ’til my thumbs burned, trying to force my feet into them.
Well, last night, they fit. I didn’t fight. I didn’t fuss. I just said, “Let me try these on again,” and they slipped on like nothing. They’re still a little snug because they’re narrow, but as I walked around the house in my T-shirt, post-workout granny panties, and boots like I was styling on folks, they no longer hurt. And they looked cute!
And then there are the penny loafers I recently bought from DSW. I’ve worn a 10 for some time now, and yet, when I went home, put on my shoes and walked to work the next day feeling like the freshest sista in Brooklyn with my camel coat, camel-colored corduroys, and camel loafers, I realized that my heels were coming out of my shoes. I was no longer fresh or fly. I literally looked like a little girl wearing her mother’s shoes in public–and I was embarrassed.
I didn’t understand it then, as I stuffed tissue and anything I could into the front of my shoes to get them to fit, and I didn’t understand it yesterday when my tight shoes didn’t feel so bad after all. It wasn’t until my friend told me, “Maybe you lost weight in your feet?” that it clicked.
Every single inch of you shrinks when you lose weight. Your fingers slim to the point that rings fall off. Your face looks and feels less round. And, woman or man, your breast decrease drastically. That last part I’m not too excited about…
But I was genuinely shocked about my feet. I had always felt that my hands and feet were pretty boney, and that weight was focused in my thighs, stomach, and chest. However, when you’re overweight, everything about you is overweight. We like to think our extra weight is concentrated, but it is spread out everywhere–even in your feet.
I can’t say whether or not this is one of those fun changes. Like when tights that used to hug your legs for dear life now fit comfortably, or when a dress you were about to throw in a Goodwill bag after only being able to fit in it once finally frames your curves instead of suffocating them. Shoes are expensive, and I don’t have the time, nor the money to be out here buying new ones to make up for all the space in my old ones.
But it is a good change. And any change that involves taking off the pounds that were holding me back, even if it’s in my toes, is something to celebrate. And I’ll be celebrating in my floppy a– shoes.
As I child I grew up in the South Bronx, a place that faced extreme poverty during the Crack Epidemic and unfortunately still does. During the early 1990s, my family’s socio-economic status could be classified as upper-middle class, but the environment we lived in was laced with food disparities.
My family wasn’t personally affected by this, but I had classmates who usually attended school hungry and would ask if they could eat some of my food if they didn’t like what was provided for school lunch. Other peers who didn’t come to school hungry would instead arrive with the classic black plastic bag from local bodegas. It would be weighed down with Buttercrunch cookies, Swiss rolls, hero sandwiches and Tropical Fantasy soda that eventually led to weight or nutrition-related health issues a mere years down the line.
In their report of food deserts in metropolitan cities, Refinery29 investigates how families in New York City remain hungry as the Big Apple reigns as one of the leading restaurateur capitals. The subject of their research was Olivia, a twenty-something Ecuadorian-American mother raising three children. Refiner29 reports “Olivia is one of the 13.5 million young adults living in poverty in the United States. That’s one in five 18-to-34-year-olds. She feeds her four-person family with $500 in food stamps each month — roughly $1.40 per meal per person — provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The SNAP funds are meant to supplement additional income, but in Olivia’s case, it’s nearly all the money she has to rely on, leaving her and her family food insecure.”
Despite her financial and food insecurity, Olivia is pursuing a degree in psychology and will become the first in her family to graduate college. As she manages her collegiate career, Olivia tries to earn extra income by being a part-time vendor for HerbaLife. Another option Olivia utilizes is the food pantry in her local neighborhood. Though these options may seem helpful to purchase more food, Olivia admitted to Refinery29, there are many mornings her children don’t eat breakfast and have to wait until they are in school to eat food.
When Olivia’s family does have food in their home, its quality is questionable. Most SNAP recipients purchase food that is high in calories, sugar, and fat. Although Olivia is concerned about the health of her children, she noted the resources provided don’t allow her to buy organic food because of the cost. If she purchases healthier food, there would be less money to pay rent or other basic necessities. Olivia revealed, “I buy anything that’s microwavable, cans. That’s what’s on sale out here. Ten for $10 Chef Boyardee, Hot Pockets, sodas, juices. You can stock those up. I try to avoid those products — I know they’re not healthy — but when I buy healthier foods, I end up running out of money. Real food is expensive. When my son wants a smoothie that’s $8, that could be a [package] of meat, so I can’t get it for him.”
Refinery29 reports the United States Farm Bill is the reason why the price of “junk food” is significantly lower than organic food. The Farm Bill determines what kind of farm products are able to be subsidized. Commodity crop farmers are given subsidies and insurance by the government to produce corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch and soy oils. Interestingly, these same subsidies are not applied to farmers who harvest grain, vegetables and fruits. Although some argue families who live in areas with low-quality food should travel to purchase healthier options, only a small number of organic supermarkets accept WIC or other government food programs as forms of payments. These corporations are sending the message that only a certain kind of person can shop at their stores and others cannot and that message is one that’s been received and accepted.
As millennials of color find themselves chasing after the latest restaurant or food-associated day party, it is imperative they voice their concerns about the Farm Bill as the 2016 Presidential Election approaches. It would imply First Lady Michelle Obama is and was not the only person concerned with the obesity and diabetes rates that plague our communities.
It doesn’t matter if you were one of those people who played sports growing up or someone who has been a couch potato for a majority of your existence–working out sucks for everyone. Or at least, it blows in the beginning. The beginning, as in, that time when you’re trying to motivate yourself to get your life together after realizing your favorite pants no longer fit. That time when the new year begins, and you decide to use that as inspiration to get it right and tight (before heading back to the couch in March). That time when you realize your bikini body is not looking the way you had hoped and decide to do one of those 30-day squat challenges people post on social media in the hopes that at least your booty can be perky.
Knowing how much it sucks, and how much time and energy it takes to drop the pounds, if you could, would you avoid the gym altogether and just get the fat sucked right out from under you? I’m talking liposuction.
Love and Hip Hop LA‘s Teairra Mari decided to do just that recently. The “Feel Good” singer started her career as a tiny little thing when she was working with Jay Z and was signed to Roc-A-Fella. But by the time she joined Love and Hip Hop LA, she put on a little weight. It was nothing major, and nothing people really noticed–until it was brought up by a co-star who blamed an out-of-breath and out-of-tune performance by Mari on her being out of shape. He said such hurtful things as “Her stomach was all over the place,” and “You gotta get in the gym and work out.”
From that man with a bad body’s mouth, it all just sounded like hate. But by Season 2, Mari gained even more weight and could no longer hide it. And it was also apparent that she had allowed that weight to mess with her confidence. Plus, those jabs from her co-stars (including Princess Love calling her a “hippo” and saying that Ray J doesn’t want her “fat a–“) and folks on social media about her size probably didn’t help.
So she announced on a recent episode that she was thinking about getting some plastic surgery done to slim down. And in a bonus clip, we saw her explaining why. She wanted that immediate snapback. She also wanted that immediate happiness, as she shared with a friend:
“I told you before; I’ve just been feeling a little insecure about the weight gain. I don’t feel like myself. This weight feels like a barrier.”
She continued, “It’s been a wall in my life. I just don’t want to be this big.”
And on last night’s episode, she went through with her liposuction. The fat was sucked out from her stomach, and based on the bandages she displayed during her recovery process, she may also have had some taken out from underneath her chin. And while she wasn’t happy about the soreness, Mari seemed happy to have a little bit of extra weight off of her body and off of her shoulders.
I’m not here to bash Mari and hammer down the obvious, which is that with a few months of healthy eating and consistent time in the gym, she could have dropped some of that weight without putting her life at risk. Seriously, that’s not why I’m writing this. Rather, I’m just worried about the fact that before getting surgery, Mari never actually confronted how and why she wound up gaining so much weight in the first place.
And truly, that is what is important, especially when you’re not an individual who has battled with weight problems years upon years. If you don’t figure out what led you down a path of consistent unhealthy eating, while you can always head to the plastic surgeon, you could easily gain that weight back after surgery.
I recently lost about 40 pounds. To do that, I had to figure out what piece of the puzzle I was missing during my past attempts to lose weight. I started gaining a lot of weight near the end of college and afterward because I was getting lazy, and I was stressed. So instead of cooking something, I was making late-night stops to Burger King while studying for finals. Instead of staying to work out, I was getting tacos with shredded beef with my meal plan after my shift at the rec center. I was picking up gyros and fries after a shift folding panties at Victoria’s Secret. I was snacking while working on my stories late at night after working my full-time job all day. I was treating my body like whatever because my mind was all over the place. I didn’t care about looking fit because I wasn’t happy with the state of my existence. And during those years, I wasn’t happy with the state of my existence because I wasn’t fulfilled. Plus, you know, a sista didn’t really have the time to be a gym rat. So I ate until I felt good.
And the reality is that Teairra Mari has had a lot to emotionally eat about. Her music career, which she worked hard for, never really took off. Her relationship with Ray J, despite the decade she claims that they were together, was never a rewarding one. He didn’t even openly acknowledge her as his companion during their time together. And after thinking they were going to reunite at the end of Season 1, he expressed his dysfunctional devotion to Princess Love. And then there’s the legal trouble for reportedly fighting an Uber driver. Mari was inevitably charged with battery and theft, and could face possible jail time. There are also the mean folks who have openly stated that they think she’s “fat” online. And, of course, Mari lives in L.A. A place where image is everything, and if you don’t look the way you want or need to in order to find happiness and success, you can pay someone to get you there. Hence, Mari stating that she wanted to unveil her post-lipo body on the runway of a fashion show. She wanted to show other people how good she looks and how happy she finally is.
She’s a grown woman and can spend her dollars and cents as she pleases. But she was also always a beautiful woman who didn’t look like someone whose weight was spiraling out of control. Until there’s a grasp on how she ended up with the weight that she considered a barrier to her prosperity, there’s a scary chance that she could fall back into that hole–and fill it with food all over again.
For years, big and fat were synonymous with music artist and producer William Perkins.
Last year, the 29-year-old weighed in at his heaviest, standing at a hefty 6’11” and 453 pounds. But he didn’t think he was fat.
Growing up in an urban environment where healthy eating wasn’t a priority, Perkins’ physical size and health never phased him. Everyone around him had poor eating habits, and many of the people in his life were big. Because of his immense height, he was able to get away with his weight, skating by as the “big guy.” It was acceptable to be a guy and be large. Very large.
It wasn’t until last year when Perkins started taking a weekly trip to the emergency room with extreme digestive issues that he realized something was wrong with his body.
Where he’d once been an avid college basketball player, Perkins ended up having unusual asthma symptoms and started feeling lethargic. His body fat was suffocating him. His body was failing him.
“I had an unrealistic idea of what my body really looked like because I was tall,” Perkins said. “ But I really started seeing my body for what it was.”
There’s been a spike in the number of African Americans seeking cosmetic surgery to achieve the ideal body. According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2013, 1,225,214 African Americans had legal procedures done. That, of course, doesn’t account for the back room and basement butt lifts we often hear about women having and dying from in the news. But women aren’t the only ones struggling with their appearance. Extreme fitness has become the path to the perfect physique for some Black men. Daily trips to the gym that encompass endless reps and sets, interrupted only by brief talk of the best supplements to get the best results, have become a favorite pastime for some. A must for guys who are looking to feel good when they look at themselves in the mirror.
However, looking good and feeling good are two different things.
When doctors told Perkins he’d either have to have intestinal surgery or lose weight, he started making drastic life changes. He educated himself on personal nutrition and exercised three to four hours a day, seven days a week. All the feel-good foods that make you feel warm on the inside, he cut out. He replaced fried chicken and mouth-watering pasta with fruits, veggies, and raw almonds.
“I started seeing weight loss all over and muscle definition revealing itself everywhere,” Perkins said.
And in three months he lost 100 pounds, modifying his entire life to achieve the ideal body.
Although physical health was the biggest reason behind Perkins’ weight-loss journey, having a muscular physique does set some men apart from others. Whereas being a heavy-set male used to be a sign of wealth, now society views fat men more as pushovers, and the strong, muscle-bound man as the protector and alpha-male figure.
“As a man, you have to look dominant,” Perkins said. “You can’t just walk around and say ‘I’m a man.’ People should be able to look at you and say, ‘Oh, now that’s a man.’”
The manager of Supplement Superstores in St. Louis, Dave Stevens agrees that there is always competition among men to be the biggest thing walking. Like a primal instinct to be the scariest beast in the jungle. However, Stevens believes that the pressure to achieve the ideal body for men and women comes from two very different sources.
“Women are self-conscience about their bodies because of the outside, like the media or people around them,” Stevens said. “Men’s pressure is more self-driven. It’s them saying ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘I’m too skinny.’”
It’s well known that the media, everything from Instagram models to simple magazine advertisements, depict unrealistic ideals for the female body across the world. For years, advocacy groups and feminist movements have dedicated themselves to promoting positive self-image and confidence among young girls to counteract this issue. But much has been done to encourage healthy body image for men.
Perkins can relate, saying that although he has made progress he still sees the physical imperfections that have yet to go away, and it can make him feel uneasy.
“Once you start trying to make a change, there is an insecure part that comes when I look and I see that the fat is still there,” he said. “That stomach fat at the bottom, it’s still there.”
While he continues to make strides in his fitness journey, Perkins does wish he had been better educated on good health way before his bad health caught up with him in adulthood.
“There’s no importance placed on the health of the Black man,” Perkins said. “Ain’t no gyms in the hood. No healthy eating places in those areas. Just unhealthy fast food and Chinese restaurants.”
I kept it hush, but I did it. I didn’t tell many people, because I knew certain circles of friends wouldn’t understand. Others would have jokes. Even women, would suggest I was less than a man. But, quiet as kept…I did it on the low-low. Last year, I spent over six months as a vegetarian.
Through the years, I have lightly explored bouts as a veggie head, primarily for weight loss. However, as I have moved forward in life, I have found that this life as a part-time vegetarian actually works for me. I am at my lightest weight in years. I managed to crank out a half marathon last year and I am far more active than ever. Granted, this is a different time in my life and good health is a priority over all. So, perhaps I could get similar results eating more meat. I just didn’t.
However, what is more important is that I take the kid on this journey with me. Here I will outline my reasons for doing so and perhaps you will ponder it more. These reasons are not that of a doctor so please consult one or a nutritionist when really delving deep into vegetarianism.
1) General Good Health.
I know I’m not a doctor, but I don’t have to be to know this: vegetables are good for you. Duh! Generally, we just don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. There is a general practice that I have in my house, there have to be at least 2-3 brightly colored items on our plate at night, if we happen to have meat. You can get any nutrient from vegetables that you can get from meat. This is one of the mistakes I made earlier in my exploration, but last year I got help getting my total diet together.
2) Instill Good Health
I know this sounds like the first one, but its not. I intend to fully instill the proper way to eat to my daughter now so that she keeps that forever in life. What I mean its, its not good enough to just put it on the plate. You have to explain to them why eating veggies is important to their lives. I share with her the dramatic health ailments that some of my friends and associates have had in their 30’s and 40’s. It may not be solely meat related, but it certainly is junk and lifestyle related. I let her know, if she starts and maintains this healthy life, she can have a great quality of life. Once, upon a time, I thought Hamburger Helper was a good, home-cooked meal. My parent didn’t feed me garbage growing up. I just didn’t know.
3) Meat – Gotta Rethink It
I realize now one of the reasons I ate meat a lot of the time. It just got me full and kept me full for a longer time. Also, you could get meat for shockingly cheap prices – that $2 for two cheeseburger deal was the bomb! And I was broke. There is another side to this and it lies in high cholesterol levels, hormone-injected meat, antibiotics, other toxins and no fiber whatsoever. Meat actually contains more pesticides than fruits and vegetables, one study said. Also, meat simply stays in the system far too long. It takes a lot of energy to process. A year and a half ago, ate a giant jalapeño burger in New York City and the ‘itis was so bad, I called it a day. It was the last time I ate beef. My daughter has cheerfully joined me on this journey. Her mother recently told me that she goes to her home and even shares some of the things we cook at my house.
One of my favorite rappers, KRS-One planted the earliest seeds of vegetarianism. Shout out to him and his song “Beef” from 1990.
4) Vegetables and Fruits Taste Great!
I stopped having junk food in the house. I openly admit, I don’t have the will power and neither does my daughter. I recently tried to have cookies in the house as the occasional treat for her. I looked up there high in the cabinet and saw there were way less cookies than before. She had been sneak-eating! I left her the following note for when she goes for another stealing session!
Huxtable quips aside, I have learned that vegetables taste really good and even better when you add the proper spices. Add some legumes, quinoa, brown rice or fresh-cut potatoes and you won’t have any issue have a full-filling meal. I admit, it takes a bit more time and planning, but it is well worth it. I don’t want to discount fruits – I love them way more than fruits.
5) I Want To Stay Around
My daughter and I have a great time together and I’d like to keep it that way. I am the product of a father that left the Earth in his mid-40’s. I am acutely aware of my mortality at all times and my health as well. It is my intention to say around, strong and healthy as long as I can – primarily for my daughter. Heck, I want to stay around for myself too, but I just know that it is necessary to help guide your children even when they are grown. She’s do the same for her kids and so on and so on. This has to be a movement.
I just finished a month as a vegan. Let me tell you…that was not easy for me at all. Its like vegetarianism on steroids! However, I will continue to delve deeper into living healthy, as we all should do. Right now, I am a mere pseudo, part-time vegetarian that is weighing out the options. After my month of veganism, I had some great hot wings during the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. I’m back now though. For me, its not necessarily about rigid vegetarianism. It is about sharing the full breadth of options to my daughter. The food our kids ingest is very different that the food of old even the fruits and veggies. (About 70% of all that stuff is genetically modified!) It just isn’t good enough to ignore the obesity rates in kids, which is about 1 in 3 here in America. Understand, this is a war over mind and body. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it will be when you’re child is running the same way at 40 when she/he was 14. Now, that’s a vision for the future.
Main image courtesy of P!nk
The internet really sucks sometimes, but the singer Pink shut them own yesterday.
Over this past weekend, the Grammy Award-winner attended a cancer benefit with her husband and child and all people wanted to talk about was her supposed weight gain. I looked at the images and couldn’t see this supposed gain in mass, which leads me to believe some of her fans really have to check their own lens. Pink was there in a black gown that offered much cleavage. To me she looked great, but on social media she was dragged, but her reply decimated them all.
“I can see that some of you are concerned about me from your comments about my weight. You’re referring to the pictures of me from last night’s cancer benefit that I attended to support my dear friend Dr. Maggie DiNome. She was given the Duke Award for her tireless efforts and stellar contributions to the eradication of cancer. But unfortunately, my weight seems much more important to some of you. While I admit that the dress didn’t photograph as well as it did in my kitchen, I will also admit that I felt very pretty. In fact, I feel beautiful. So, my good and concerned peoples, please don’t worry about me. I’m not worried about me. And I’m not worried about you either … I am perfectly fine, perfectly happy, and my healthy, voluptuous and crazy strong body is having some much deserved time off. Thanks for your concern. Love, cheesecake.”
Before this happened, I was already going to write you all about kids, body image, and body shaming, See, a year or so ago, a very rude (I thought she was far too blunt) told me and my daughter’s mother than our child was overweight. My daughter was standing right there. I was livid. In all reality. I knew she had gained some weight, but that wasn’t a major concern. For one, kids actually do gain weight and then, at times, shed it as they grow into their bodies. Secondly, I know we all had experienced a major life change due to the divorce. There were two new homes, two sets of rules and a host of other changes after the split.
On the flip side, she has gotten older and more into gadgets, plays less outside, watches more TV innately and has more homework as well. The good side is that I have stressed to her good health to the fullest degree. Some of that involves me sharing with her how I used to eat and how I wished I was armed with my present-day eating habits when I was her age. Also, speak on how not taking proper care of oneself leads to a myriad of health problems. I have friends that refuse to come to New York, because its too much walking. I have friends that have had strokes and they are under the age of 40. Other friends have died of cancer, before hitting the age of 30.
We talk about all of this health-related info – but, we never really discuss her weight directly. Don’t want to tear away at her esteem.
One thing is for sure, there weren’t a lot of Black people attacking Pink’s presumed weight gain. I believe we have a different eye when it comes to beauty, but I also think we have a different opinion of weight too. I’ve got no qualms with a woman that has some meat on her bones and some curves on the frame. (Read:Haters Back Down: In Defense of Jill Scott) However, what is not cool is when we, as people of color, pretend everything is permissible.
No matter what, my only concern is that my daughter be health conscious and honor herself with love and respect. The goal is for her to to be so strong internally that, like Pink, those “haters” and their views are meaningless. For a young, impressionable girl, this can be difficult and, I am certain, harder as they are bombarded with images in the media, social mediums and even boys, what a “bad shawty” is. My daughter is coming into her own. She’s starting blogging, video blogging, interviewing artists, acting and playing a couple of instruments. Heck, she even has a “consulting company” helping other kids get their youtube views up.
The last thing she needs is for somebody to tell her she isn’t good enough and, even worse…she believe it.
This is why the recent Black Girls Rock! was so important. While it didn’t focus on body image or weight, it celebrated girls and women in their many shades, trades and forms. It was fitting that The First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a killer speech for the ages. She has also been a champion of keeping kids fit with her “Lets Move” campaign. Check it out at letsmove.gov. I have to admit, my daughter and I have been consistently “moving” for years. We’ve done basketball, boxing, karate, and lots of running. She was heavily involved in track (which doubled as a social club) until her grades needed to become the priority.
Nevertheless, I am pleased that the seeds of good healthy and confidence are there.
I know it will serve her well later in life and if she comes even close to fulfilling her dreams, she will need it.
Just like Pink.
In many instances, when a child is seemingly overweight or unhealthy, it is because it was allowed to happen by parents. Not always, but often. There are too many situations where we opt to go to McDonald’s rather than seek out a healthy option. We parents come home tired from work and sit on the couch, which in turn, has the children on the couch. We dictate the lifestyle in our homes. I realize there are a couple of issues here (self love, body image, social media), but they go hand in hand these days. Hell, if they don’t get enough “likes,” kids don’t think they are liked. Good health (mentally and physically) at any body size breeds confidence. And, I don’t mean that false, forced confidence that has you sobbing in a dark room when you are alone, but boisterous in public. When your kid is truly in love with themselves, they those foolish insults will bounce like rubber bullets off Superman’s chest. If the words sting, and they might, the kid will be able to withstand the verbal assault and return stronger.
All we as parents have to do is plant that seed deep in their minds and bodies that they are indeed super as well.
Last night “Being Mary Jane” broached the subject of obesity among Black women in a somewhat forced scene between Mary Jane and Niecy. MJ found out Niecy was hoarding Twinkies and soda cans under her bed which, forget about the weight problem, is just triflin’, and decided to have a heart-to-heart with her overweight niece. Initially, I didn’t feel any type of way about the scene, other than it came across as something Mara Brock Akil just felt like she had to touch on, rather than a serious issue she put much thought into addressing — kind of like Mary Jane’s doctor friend’s attempted suicide last season — but then Niecy, in one of her many moments of denial, proclaimed she was “thick” which prompted Mary Jane to ask: why does every overweight Black woman in the hood think she’s “thick”? And I was at home under the covers like, I didn’t stay up for this.
As someone who’s been overweight pretty much her whole life, I can assure you I haven’t stayed this way because somewhere along the line some dude looking for a booty call referred to me as “thick” and I’ve been terrified of losing my fluffy appeal ever since. There are far greater complexities to gaining weight and losing it than a distorted perception that you’re Amber Rose-type thick when you’re really leaning more towards Gabourey Sidibe, so if you’re going to bother to even approach the subject in a meaningful way, do it right. I can’t imagine any plus-size woman watching “Being Mary Jane” last night suddenly had a change of heart about her lifestyle, which all in all makes the convo between Niecy and MJ a missed opportunity. At this point, though, that’s neither here nor there. What does remain, however, is a persistent attitude among African American men that they are somehow on the outside looking in when it comes to the African American obesity problem.
As I scrolled our Twitter timeline last night, I noticed a tweet from Ebony.com’s Jamilah Lemieux in which she “kindly” reminded Black men they aren’t too far behind us women in this fat plague and I thought, Oh Lord what kind of mentions are heating up her feed? But it wasn’t long before we received messages of our own, in fact there were two rather interesting ones from a Black man which read:
obesity and lack of fitness is an epidemic among black women in the U.S. I think most are in denial about it.
the junk food industrial complex is built on the diseased bodies of black women.
If I can be completely honest and judgmental here, I’ll let you know that the first thing I noticed about this man was the belly that was evident in his profile picture. While he certainly isn’t obese, I’m fairly certain a doctor would classify him as overweight which is why I was even more taken aback at his ability to remove himself (i.e. his own denial) from the complexes he was referring to and to which he clearly has fallen victim.
African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to be obese than Caucasians. However, when we’re talking a ratio of 69% versus 82% when it comes to African American men who are overweight/obese compared to African American women, I’d say Black men have no room to talk. Better yet, feel free to talk, but say something substantial, like how you’re going to motivate the whole community to get active and strive for better health instead of singling out a subset of the population.
Generally speaking, the people I see doing the most bashing about Black women and our weight problem are Black men. Granted some of these characters are internet trolls who should be ignored more often than not anyway, but the Black male disassociation with obesity is not only disheartening; it’s ignorant. While it would be great to see Black men rally behind the extra 12% of Black women struggling to lose pounds the way we support them when it comes issues like police brutality (and yes, you might say the latter is far more serious but both issues can lead to death), the bigger issue is Black men at least need to be talking amongst themselves rather than pointing fingers at sloppy, lazy, overweight Black women as if obesity is an us versus them issue.
The thing is, everyone is struggling with this weight thing in 2015 — and we have been for a while now — and there’s nothing motivational about reinforcing negative stereotypes about obesity, especially when those comments are coming from a hypocritical place. Both Black men and Black women need to do something about our eating patterns, our fitness habits, and the examples we’re setting for Black children, that’s just the truth. Numbers don’t lie fellas.
I try to not indulge in too many conspiracy theories, but if I had to my channel my inner Mulder and Scully, I would swear that the modeling industry was trying to whitewash the image of plus-size beauty.
Take for instance, Sports Illustrated magazine, which is about to editorialize one of its first plus-size models within the pages of its annual swimsuit edition (through an ad for Swimsuits For All). According to ET.com:
Plus-sized model, Ashley Graham, is making history by posing in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue.
Graham stars in the first ever ad to feature a plus-size model in the pages of the highly anticipated issue. This means that along with the usual models —Benhati Prinsloo, Chrissy Teigen, Heidi Klum, Adirana Lima, to name a few — a curvier woman totally rocking a string bikini will be in the same pages.
You can watch a trailer for the magazine issue on ET’s website, which gives better insight into what SI means by “plus-size.” And as you might have suspected, it’s not really that plus. Instead, a more appropriate term would be “curvy,” considering that Graham is proportionately shaped, like a Coke bottle, with little belly fat. I’ve written before about how unrealistic, deceptive and problematic that image of “plus-size” can be, just like the current standard of beauty (considering only eight percent of women actually embody the Coke-bottle figure).
With that being said, this is pretty groundbreaking stuff for Sports Illustrated and the modeling industry in general. Not only is it an acknowledgement that the beauty standard can come in various sizes, but this editorial also acknowledges the slight change to those beauty standards. We’re going from a more athletic and thin, yet equally proportioned woman, to a woman with a more curvaceous and meaty, yet proportioned, frame. What’s interesting to note here is that Sport Illustrated is not the only part of the industry looking to expand a bit on its beauty standards.
According to Business Insider:
Plus-size model Tess Holliday has made history as the first woman of her size and height to sign a contract with a major modeling agency.
Holliday, whose real name is Tess Munster, just signed a deal with MiLK Model Management. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall, and a size 22.
Most plus-size models are typically taller and between sizes 8 and 16, by comparison.”
Again, pretty groundbreaking stuff here. Not only is she is a plus-size model with all the belly rolls and jiggly-parts that come with that, but her “plus” actually changes the industry standard and is more aligned with how a good portion of American women are shaped, and even sized. Still, there is something within this shift in beauty standards that makes it even less revolutionary. And I’m talking about the exclusion of Black women.
Yeah, I know: Why does everything have to be a race issue?
The media (mainstream, independent, Black, health and otherwise) has been fixated on Black women’s supposed weight issues, and our weight has inspired years of public debate. A simple query on Google for “Black Women and Obesity” will net you a massive amount of articles and commentary on the topic alone. My favorite is this New York Times article, which gets right down to the point and asks, “Why Are Black Women Fat?”
As part of these public conversations, we have learned that 57.9 percent of Black women, ages 20 and over, are classified as obese, which is significantly higher than our white women counterparts. And even more devastating, this obesity level makes us susceptible to a number of life-ending diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Good information, however, the tone of these public conversations slowly but surely grew more hostile. And if Black women were not being shamed for being fat in these public discussions, people would concern troll us with “helpful advice” on how not to be fat anymore. Like when Boris Kodjoe told Black women in particular to stop making #FatExcuses, and then his skinny wife turned around and tried to sell us headscarves for the gym…
Just about everybody, including other Black women, used those statistics and statements to prey upon the insecurity of heavy-set Black women. We were made to feel like bad mothers and role models for producing a generation of children with eating disorders. And we were told that without proper diet and exercise, many of us would never be considered attractive or find men to marry us.
The gaze, at times, was particularly harsh. But as this New York Magazine article notes:
As the authors of a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior explain, “[o]verweight and obese African American women are almost twice as likely as overweight and obese white women to respond that they are ‘about the right weight’ or ‘underweight.’
That’s right: Even as society routinely channels its inner Mister to remind Black women of this: “Look at you: You’re black, you’re poor, you’re ugly, you’re a woman. You’re nothing at all.” We were all like, I’m poor, black, I may even be ugly, but Dear God, I’m here!”
And since I’m here, I’m going to squeeze my big behind into this leopard print onesie and feel good about myself…
When it comes to carrying our weight, Black women have confidence like no other. And every one pretty much knows it. However, I have yet to see that enduring Sista Big Bone-spirit reflected anywhere in the industry’s recent embrace of plus-size beauty. Instead, we see white women leading the curvy-girl revolution and basically becoming the poster children for positive body image.
It may seem like a trivial issue, but I feel like it is worth noting that once again, white folks get the glory of embodying attributes associated exclusively with blackness, but never have to deal with the burden. It should be noted that this small yet noticeable shift in beauty standards likely has a direct connection to the rise and spread of hip-hop culture, which embraces a more Rubenesque shape found mostly in Black women. It should also be noted that Kim Kardashian might not have been able to #BreakTheInternet had it not been for hip-hop promoting those Black bodies for public consumption.
So if Black women can be the negative face of obesity, why can’t we also get the glory within this new acceptance?
I would be lying if I said that I’m 100 percent comfortable with my weight these days. While my size isn’t something that keeps me from putting on a bikini or has me ashamed, I know that I’m far from the weight that I was when I left college. The food that was available to me once I got out of school and was working late hours to make my dreams come true (I was picking up fast food to eat late at night) has helped me gain weight that I’m still trying to find a consistent gym schedule to get rid of. The pounds are in my thighs, around my stomach and in my arms (though it’s not that noticeable because I’m tall). I’ve been able to lose a good amount of weight only to turn around and put it back on with the stresses of life. Like many other women working on their weight, it’s a battle for me.
My boyfriend hasn’t necessarily made a big deal out of this. If anything, he just wants me to be healthy and will furrow his brows at me for bringing McDonald’s and Chinese food into his home–though he rarely has food in his fridge. But after surprising me by buying me a J. Crew dress that I couldn’t fit, we had to have a very uncomfortable conversation.
In the past, for surprise gift-giving moments, my boyfriend had asked me what size I was. That question was tough enough to answer because my tops, even my boobs, can fit in a medium or a large when it comes to shirts. But my bottom? I have to try on things to make sure they fit. I told him that I was a large, told him to never buy me pants or a skirt and hoped that that would be enough. However, when the J. Crew dress didn’t fit, imagine my sheer horror when he asked me how much I weighed.
I turned up my face and responded with, “WHY? Why do you care?” In turn, he responded with this:
“I was just wondering. I just thought that’s something we should be able to know about each other as people in a relationship.”
Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t push me about the issue once I said that such information wasn’t his business, but it got me thinking. A part of me knows that my own insecurities with my weight are the main reason why I wouldn’t be comfortable with sharing my actual digits with him, and that’s part of the reason why I need to get back in the gym and get my life together. But then another part of me wonders, why would that information matter to a significant other? If I was going through a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? type of thing where my weight was affecting what I could do and those around me and was starting to make me look completely different, then yes, that information would be useful to share. But I also feel that if I tell him such information, it will become a mental block that will make him too worried about my size, what I’m doing about it and what goes into my mouth.
Just this morning I was watching “Divorce Court” and it was one of those “Before the Vows” episodes. The couple looking for Judge Lynn Toler’s advice on whether or not they were ready for marriage were plagued by two things: the fact that they didn’t have a lot of time to spend together because of his schedule, and the fact that he was always in her ear about her weight. The young man said that while he loves “thick women,” his fiancée was getting a little “too thick.” Such comments were putting a rift in their relationship. And while this man only seemed to have eyes for his lady, Judge Toler couldn’t ignore the fact that he put a damper on his statements of admiration for her with yet another comment about her size: “I love her…no matter how big she gets, I love her and I want to be with her.”
And remember when Boris Kodjoe had so much to say about excessive weight gain and it being a good excuse for your partner to step out on you? Talk about pressure…
So I wonder, can weight be a distraction in a relationship? Is your relationship negatively impacted once your man knows anything about your actual weight and size? I’m sure it all depends on the man, the state of the relationship and how you looked when the relationship started (I’ve been around the same weight since we met, but I’m larger than he thinks…). But if you ask me, some information isn’t necessary for your man to know.
For now, I’m going to continue trying to eat better and take advantage of my two gym memberships to get back to a size that I’M happy with, and he’s welcome to come along with me for that ride. But the numbers aren’t as important to share in my opinion, because I’m not trying to be defined by or only looked at as those three numbers. Either way, my weight is something I have to deal with and get down–not him.
Childhood obesity is a major concern: The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that in the U.S. obesity in children increased from seven percent in 1980’s to almost 18 percent in 2012! That level of growth is a definite cause for concern. First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign in order to bring awareness and help combat this childhood obesity issue.
Similarly, Hip Hop Public Health was founded by neurologist Dr. Dr. Olajide Williams (The Hip Hop Doc) to form a movement to educate children and their families about healthy habits and exercise through hip hop music. An album, “Songs for a Healthier America” was created to promote movement and send out a message of healthy living all on top of dope hip hop beats, featuring artists like Doug E. Fresh, DMC, Ashanti, Jordin Sparks, and even Dr. Oz makes a cameo.
There’s also an interactive website where children play games, listen to music and learn how to make healthy choices. HHPH plans to get its message into the NYC public schools, but in order to do this they have to “feed two beasts” since schools are predominately focused on academics. HHPH has infused a math component with the movement. We had the opportunity to talk with math “Profesa” Milton Garrick (he’s taught elementary to the collegiate level at various New York universities including Manhattan Community College, Bronx University, and Columbia University) about HHPH: