Black Women and Weight: Not Hating Yourself and Not Caring Are Not the Same Thing

December 8, 2011  |  

I used to work in medical publishing so I know that studies have to be done over and over and over again to prove scientific validity, but when it comes to black women and obesity, I think we’ve got the point. A lot of black women over the age of 20—some estimates say nearly 80%–have a BMI over the recommended level for their height, some black women put off exercise for the sake of their hair, and some black women think it’s OK to carry a little extra weight. We know this. Now, yet another study has shown that  obesity is less of a stigma for black women and that they have a higher quality of life than obese white women when it comes to physical function, self-esteem, sexual life, public distress, and work. Is that a bad thing?

Some would argue that, no, black women don’t get it, otherwise so many of us/them wouldn’t still be fat, obese, overweight, morbidly obese, or however you want to label it. But that’s just not true. Just because you don’t hate yourself for being overweight doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Neither does the fact that you’re not immediately doing anything about it. How many goals do all of us label as priorities and still fail to tackle?

One analysis of the study, pointed out that white women tend to have a cruel outlook towards their body and when they are obese, tend to discriminate within themselves, or let themselves go in terms of the way they dress, and even possibly limit their social activity because they are ashamed of their weight. Overweight black women who are proud of how they look despite the weight are often criticized for being too flamboyant. There’s a way to have a happy medium that doesn’t involve compromising your physical health for your mental well-being, or vice versa. There are plenty of black women who aren’t necessarily happy with being a larger size, but aren’t suicidal about it.

I often think of my sister when I read studies about overweight women and self-esteem. While I tend to have a “white woman” attitude toward my weight, I suppose, my sister has always been able to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth in spite of the added poundage. She knows she needs to lose weight, she wants to lose weight, and she has in the past. But the fact that she is not an ideal weight right now doesn’t trump her self love or even the admiration she has for her frame in its current state. I, on the other hand, tend to need a little more coercing and affirmation when I get depressed about my weight. Which is healthier overall?

I know the goal of this study was to see if researchers could determine how to motivate black women to lose weight due to the increasing obesity epidemic—and I won’t argue that it is just that—but I’m curious what the conclusion would be if it was determined that obese black women have a low quality of life too? Would fat shaming be suggested as a viable tactic? If fat black women hate themselves enough, they’ll change? Guess what? Those white women who hate themselves aren’t doing anything about their weight either, and now they’ve got mental issues to tackle too.

Researchers need to be very careful throwing out generalizations about attitudes toward weight across races, and the public ought to be slower to draw conclusions about what’s seen as overweight black women’s delusional acceptance of their bodies. Positive thoughts trump negative ones, so it’s time for the medical community and society as a whole to sing a new song if they think they’re going to successfully motivate black women to lose weight because the “you should hate yourself because you’re fat” method isn’t going to work.

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.


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