In the wake of the animosity that followed last week’s column, "Tyrese and the Futility of Fat-Shaming," (i.e., being called an "a**hole" and an "insecure, fat Black woman" in the comments for daring to speak out against Tyrese's hateful comments about "nasty" fat Black women), I became troubled by another realization.
We talk a lot about what fat-shaming does to us as a society, but do we ever really talk about what it does to us as individuals? Take the idea of “thickness,” for example.
For all the years that I’ve been writing about weight on the Internet, I’d need more hands than can be found in a starting five to count the number of blog posts on major outlets discussing how the love of “thickness" is, somehow, giving Black women a pass for being fat. Everywhere I turned, in a search for articles offering their thoughts on fitness in communities of color, someone wanted to talk about the dangers of this love of “thickness." Apparently, it’s rather heinous and destructive for a Black woman to be in love with her body, regardless of its size, because she doesn’t look the way someone else thinks she should.
What is the logic behind believing that, in order to encourage Black women to live healthier lives, we have to beat them down emotionally, destroy their self-esteem and tell them they can’t be happy with themselves until they are thin? Do we do this to Black men, who are also overweight on a grand scale, and tell them that we don’t expect them to satisfy us sexually until they lose weight? After all, the fat that rests around the base of their shaft also steals inches from their penises, potentially affecting their ability to satisfy their partners. Why don't we tell men that?
We don’t do that because that’d be cruel. Beyond being heartless and insensitive, it'd also be pointless; we can just as easily rub their backs, give them resources, and support them into making healthy changes for the better. These courtesies are rarely extended to women.
Listen. Black America has a health problem–no, not just Black women–and it's not due to Black women loving their “thick” bodies either. Parents, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and lovers are dying of heart disease and diabetes and other consequences of obesity and it has nothing to do with the average, around-the-way-girl calling herself “thick” and loving her extra junk in the trunk. If anything, it has everything to do with the lack of understanding we have of our bodies and what we put in them–lessons we learn by banding together and teaching one another in love and in patience, and certainly not by having our self-esteem torn to shreds.
All of us can benefit from learning how to live healthy lives–lives that can and do result in weight loss–without destroying anyone’s self-worth. We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that thin people who eat junk food on a regular basis need to learn how to eat well, as well–not only for themselves, but so they can pass those habits onto their children who may not be so lucky with the “thin genes.” We all must learn.
No woman deserves to be told, “No, it’s not okay to have high self-esteem with a body like that. You’re fat and you need to do something about it.” We can make wellness and fitness a part of our culture without trying to take away anyone’s positive perception of herself. All human beings deserve tactful honesty and compassion. And while I’m eager to make health and wellness key issues in Black America, telling Black women they’re not allowed to love their “thickness” isn’t going to make it happen.
Is it really that hard to tell a woman “Yes, you’re beautiful now, and you’ll still be beautiful and healthier when you take those steps toward full wellness”? Do we have to push our sisters toward desperation to lose weight? Must we metaphorically kick the one good leg they have to stand on? All you need to do is take a look at what society does to White women and girls in order to see just how unsuccessful that sort of “tough love” can truly be. After decades of jokes, discrimination and poor treatment, 60% of those women are still overweight too.
Honestly, it’s not “thickness” that’s standing in the way of our fitness. None of us know enough about our bodies and what we do to them to understand how to develop and maintain control. We change that by learning together, teaching each other with love, and showing compassion for one another. And if a little joy can be derived from a little thickness on an otherwise healthy body, then we’re all the better for it.
Erika Nicole Kendall is a trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching who also chronicles her own 160-pound weight loss journey on the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Hit her up on Twitter, or check her out on Facebook.