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FOUR out of five black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes. With $174 billion a year spent on diabetes-related illness in America and obesity quickly overtaking smoking as a cause of cancer deaths, it is past time to try something new.

What we need is a body-culture revolution in black America. Why? Because too many experts who are involved in the discussion of obesity don’t understand something crucial about black women and fat: many black women are fat because we want to be.

The black poet Lucille Clifton’s 1987 poem “Homage to My Hips” begins with the boast, “These hips are big hips.” She establishes big black hips as something a woman would want to have and a man would desire. She wasn’t the first or the only one to reflect this community knowledge. Twenty years before, in 1967, Joe Tex, a black Texan, dominated the radio airwaves across black America with a song he wrote and recorded, “Skinny Legs and All.” One of his lines haunts me to this day: “some man, somewhere who’ll take you baby, skinny legs and all.” For me, it still seems almost an impossibility.

Chemically, in its ability to promote disease, black fat may be the same as white fat. Culturally it is not.

How many white girls in the ’60s grew up praying for fat thighs? I know I did. I asked God to give me big thighs like my dancing teacher, Diane. There was no way I wanted to look like Twiggy, the white model whose boy-like build was the dream of white girls. Not with Joe Tex ringing in my ears.

How many middle-aged white women fear their husbands will find them less attractive if their weight drops to less than 200 pounds? I have yet to meet one.

But I know many black women whose sane, handsome, successful husbands worry when their women start losing weight. My lawyer husband is one.

Another friend, a woman of color who is a tenured professor, told me that her husband, also a tenured professor and of color, begged her not to lose “the sugar down below” when she embarked on a weight-loss program.

And it’s not only aesthetics that make black fat different. It’s politics too. To get a quick introduction to the politics of black fat, I recommend Andrea Elizabeth Shaw’s provocative book “The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies.” Ms. Shaw argues that the fat black woman’s body “functions as a site of resistance to both gendered and racialized oppression.” By contextualizing fatness within the African diaspora, she invites us to notice that the fat black woman can be a rounded opposite of the fit black slave, that the fatness of black women has often functioned as both explicit political statement and active political resistance.

When the biologist Daniel Lieberman suggested in a public lecture at Harvard this past February that exercise for everyone should be mandated by law, the audience applauded, the Harvard Gazette reported. A room full of thin affluent people applauding the idea of forcing fatties, many of whom are dark, poor and exhausted, to exercise appalls me. Government mandated exercise is a vicious concept. But I get where Mr. Lieberman is coming from. The cost of too many people getting too fat is too high.


Should we not look at being fit at any size as the goal instead of some vague ideal of what is best looking? It seems obvious that on both the black and white size this has created some for of body dismorphism and it seems that the BMI was almost built off this dismorphism. 

Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.
Louis D. Brandeis
by on May. 7, 2012 at 3:36 PM
Replies (41-42):
by on May. 8, 2012 at 5:23 AM

 I have the same observations. There is a different perception on size between blacks and whites. Black women have always seemed more confident about their bodies than white women.

Quoting tiffyhamm:

Yeah, I'm around nothing but black people and I wouldn't say the number is 4 out of 5...but then again, I remember reading articles and whatnot a while back that was talking about Beyonce being fat.  I also haven't met one black man that is afraid of their wives losing weight.  Most like curves, ass, thighs, but not rolls.  Black men for the most part do like thicker women, but that doesn't mean they necessarily like obese women.  

With that said, we do have a problem with obesity, I don't think it's particularily helpful to make it seem like it's only a black problem.  

I also don't agree with the assumption that black women are fat because they want to be.  They may appear that way because they make it work for them.  They are confident being that way.  I've never met a black women that wanted to be fat.  They wanted curves.  Small waist, thick thighs, fat ass.  I think this chick is off.  



by Christy on May. 8, 2012 at 5:49 AM

I think it is perhaps attributable to the fact that we are supplying more of their food as well. They are getting our indulgences by the fact that they are technically growing economically and able to do so but genetically they are more prone to the disease at lower weight levels. I was amazed somewhat by the difference though in Germany. They have an obesity trend that similar to our own but it doesn't seem to be growing an epidemic of diabetes.

Quoting romalove:


Quoting stormcris:

Might want to take a look at this:

Quoting romalove:


Quoting hopealways4019:

OK. I just honestly, don't see too many heavy Asians, bet they don't have too many health related issues.Diabetes, etc

Quoting romalove:


Quoting hopealways4019:

Heavy people come from all races, but I really don't see heavy Asians. Or Indians. Maybe it is because the food they eat.

 If you mean Asian Indians, some are heavy.  Where I live we have the largest concentration of Asian Indians in America.  We also have many Asians, they comprise 20 percent of my town, and as they eat an American diet, some of them are heavier too.  We have a very large Asian market in town, though, and many are eating traditional diet, and don't have the issue.

 It's about diet and level of exercise.  The produce section of my Asian market is very laden with high water content veggies.  There are about ten different kinds of bok choys, for instance, zucchini (which is labeled water squash, lol), several kinds of cabbage, fresh bean sprouts, greens....and a very small fruit section.  They have giant fresh fish tanks, the fish swim till you select them to buy.  They sell their meat packages in much smaller quantities than in the regular supermarket.  Tons of tofu and noodles, even noodles made from tofu.  Their condiment aisles are much more varied, they give flavor to the produce and grain based diets with those condiments.

Did I mention how much I love the Asian market lol?  We shop there every week.

Anyway, this is partly about diet, and partly about cultural attitude, and partly about education.  When the Asians eat more like Americans, they gain weight.

That alone should tell you we are doing something very wrong.

 What is it attributable to?  I think increase of Western diet, even in other parts of the world.

Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.
Louis D. Brandeis
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