Why Do Black Men Think They’re Immune From The African American Obesity Epidemic?

February 18, 2015  |  

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.

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