We talk so much about overweight Black women—from "concerned" discussions of studies that reveal troubling rates of obesity in sisters, to snarky comments about how fat Black women should stop thinking they're "cute" and focus on getting fit ('cause, you know, you can't possibly find yourself attractive and work on your health at the same time).
What we rarely hear about, though, is how 70% of Black men, age 20 or over, are currently overweight. When it comes to high blood pressure, men have the ladies outnumbred; 26% of Black men are sufferers, in comparison to 23% of Black women. Type 2 diabetes? More Black men are being diagnosed with the disease and, unsurprisingly, 30% more Black men are succumbing to diabetes than women.
If “Black America” is facing such a serious health crisis, why isn’t the public fully informed? We see messages that tell Black women that one in four of us over the age of 55 has type 2 diabetes, and documentaries tell us how half of all Black children born today are bound to develop diabetes in their lifetimes, but what about men?
When Big Pun died of a heart attack in 2000, we kept our mouths shut. We didn’t tell men the alarmist’s trope: it could be you. When Fat Joe lost 100lbs and specifically mentioned his boy as a part of his motivation, we nodded, smiled, but we didn’t press anyone on it. We didn’t rub that in anyone’s faces and say “Look, you can do it!, too” When legendary Power 106 DJ Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander penned his weight loss memoir An XL Life: Staying Big At Half the Size, about his journey with his weight loss surgery, we didn’t hand copies of his book to the men in our lives en masse, hoping they’d take the hint.
Yet, the Internet is full of woman-bashing, fat-shaming and general-purpose hatred admonishing Black women for their size— mind you, not their health, just for being too fat—because that’s what matters.
Black women have been dissected, debased, disrespected and, ironically, told that we need to stay thick in order to please our tenured husbands, because they “don’t like women under 200 pounds.”
Let me be clear. The challenges that have presented us with a health crisis in the inner city—limited access to quality food, limited health care, minimal knowledge of what to do with healthy foods, poverty—have plagued the Black community in immeasurable ways. For crying out loud, the entire country is struggling with any number of ills as well as an increase in the rates of obesity. Not only did we not see this coming, we clearly had – and still have – no answers.
Keep it 100: this was never about “our health.” It was about continuing the legacy of telling women what to do with their bodies. It went on unchallenged for so long, because there were actual statistics to back it up, that it literally felt like justified fat-shaming. Unfortunately, while we've been policing Black women's waistlines, we've neglected a huge issue: obese Black men.
Correcting that oversight isn’t going to result in a cavalcade of articles about how fat Black men are scourges of the Earth, nor should it. Making people feel less-than because of their size isn’t okay for anyone. But we need to be honest. We’re all struggling. We’re not eating the way we should. We’re not being active like we should. We’re not being mindful of our stress levels the way we should, and we’re not taking care of ourselves – or each other – the way we should. That goes for the active chunky girl who can run for the bus and the skinny guy who gets winded going up a flight of stairs because he spends the greatest part of his day in front of a computer screen making jokes about fat Black women.
How do we stop this? How can we change this? For starters, we stop the hateful rhetoric. We stop flooding positive spaces with unhelpful phrases like “Black women just eat too damn much and are too fat” because may of us are struggling with being healthy, regardless of size. And these folks can use not only support, but positivity. Go on “fit dates.” Provide resources on healthy eating. Create organizations centered around learning together. Support initiatives bringing health awareness to your front door. Go to events where your loved ones are competing, and cheer for them. Let them inspire you.
But most of all, remember: negativity and hateful shouting disguised as “tough love” only bears self-hatred. It does not create the kind of energy required to change one’s health for the better. We need to be about the business of cultivating love, for both ourselves, and each other.
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs everything from fitness to food, weight loss to wellness, body image and more. A trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found taking over your Internet on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.