I’m the Rare Thin Person in My Family

by Nadra Kareem Nittle

The youth of today could be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Anyone who’s seen a news report about the childhood obesity epidemic has heard this statistic. In my family, this isn’t just a grim prediction. It’s already happened. My maternal grandmother died at age 76—nearly 20 years younger than her mother was when she died. All but one of my grandmother’s half-dozen siblings suffered the same fate. My great uncle just died last week. He was in his 90s. Unlike many of his siblings, he wasn’t overweight and didn’t suffer from obesity-related conditions such as diabetes. That disease led to my grandmother’s demise. It’s a disease that’s stricken my mother and her brothers and sisters as well. It’s a disease they may have avoided if they’d managed their weight better. But the number of overweight people in my family far outnumbers the healthy-weight people in my family. In fact, I’m one of the few thin people among my relatives.

The black community leads the nation in obesity, with 49.5 percent of African Americans suffering from the condition compared to 39.1 percent of Hispanics and 34.3 percent of whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given this and the fact that my family members are concentrated in the Midwest and the South, the two regions in the United States with the highest obesity rates, it’s not necessarily jaw dropping that I’m one of the rare thin people in my family. Still, my relatives behave as if my slimness amazes them. When I visit from the West Coast, they never fail to comment on my build. My closest family members always insist on knowing what my dress size is and how much I weigh. They’ve held up my wrists to marvel at their slightness and were floored when I disclosed my ring size after my now husband proposed three years ago. It’s as if they can’t believe they’re related to someone with a normal BMI.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m thin and they’re overweight. Like my mother’s side of the family, my father is also overweight and has high blood pressure and diabetes. He was thinner as a young man, though, and his relatives are thinner overall than my maternal relatives. That could be because my paternal relatives are Nigerian and regularly eat foods such as plantains, yams and tomato stew. I’ve often wondered if rates of obesity and diabetes would drop among blacks in the U.S. if their diets consisted mostly of foods native to West Africa rather than today’s high-fat Western diet.

Because my parents are divorced and I grew up with my American relatives, my size can’t be blamed on a diet of West African foods. Instead, I think I’ve maintained a healthy weight as a direct result of watching my family members struggle with theirs. I’ve strived to avoid their fate, much like the children of alcoholics avoid drinking to elude substance abuse. In addition to the diabetes, hypertension and joint problems I saw relatives develop, I also witnessed some of them battle depression because they simply couldn’t keep the pounds off, no matter how many diets or weight-loss programs they tried.

This is where the fat acceptance movement comes in. When I was growing up, no one had heard of this movement that targets size discrimination and aims to combat the shaming, hatred and disrespect of overweight and obese people. Moreover, activists in the movement say all individuals can aim to be healthy regardless of size and don’t need to try an endless parade of diets. In fact, some studies have indicated that overweight people who eat healthy diets and exercise regularly are healthier than thinner people with poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. I wish I could say this is the case in my family, but it’s not. Many of my relatives are inactive and harbor misconceptions about diet, weight and exercise that adversely affect their health. They’re not overweight because they live in food deserts or in neighborhoods where gyms are anomalies and exercising outside is too dangerous. They’re overweight, in part, because they believe the following:

  • Regular exercise is excessive.
  • Thin people don’t need to exercise.
  • It’s OK for grown folks to be heavy.
  • Processed foods are better than the real thing.
  • Thin people must have eating disorders.
  • Thin people are that way naturally.

In recent months, three different relatives have discouraged me from exercising. One said that I don’t need to exercise because I’m already thin. I explained that everyone needs exercise, no matter their weight, but I doubt my words sunk in. Other relatives suggested that I exercise too much, even though they don’t live on the same coast as I do and have no idea how much I exercise. I work out on average four times per week for 45 minutes. That’s in line with the American Heart Association’s recommendation that adults exercise five days a week for 30 minutes or for at least 150 minutes weekly. Sadly, only 3.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 actually get the recommended amount of exercise, according to the New York Times.

It’s not just attitudes about exercise that have proved harmful to my relatives, but also attitudes about weight. When I saw a cousin in Chicago this past summer, she suggested that it was OK for me to get heavier because of my age. I’m in my 30s. Apparently that gives me a green light to pack on some pounds. While one’s metabolism slows down with age, causing weight gain in many people, that’s not license for a woman at a healthy weight in her 30s to balloon in size.

I’ve also clashed with my relatives about processed foods. Given that I spent most of my 20s eating out and didn’t start cooking regularly until my 30s, I’m far from uptight about processed foods. I understand that they’re convenient. But even when the real thing is readily available and easy to prepare, my relatives insist on using the processed brands of fruits, grains and vegetables, which are often packed with sodium and do no favors for their blood pressure.

My family members also have the idea that thin people must be starving themselves to get that way. One relative expressed surprise after seeing me eat at a family gathering. He was in awe that I eat normal portions of food because he thinks thinness and food deprivation go hand in hand. I not only eat normal food portions, I occasionally overeat or eat unhealthful foods such as candy, cookies or cupcakes. Many dietitians say you can get away with eating whatever you want for one day a week as long as you eat healthfully the rest of the time.

Arguably the worst misconception I’ve heard both relatives and non-relatives utter about weight is that thin people must be that way naturally. Obviously some thin people achieve a slender size without much effort, but I do have to watch what I eat and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. The idea that thin people are just lucky that way is especially harmful given that the flip side of this statement suggests that overweight people are just unlucky that way. Are some people genetically prone to weighing more than others? Of course. But I doubt half of the African-American population is genetically programmed to be obese.

If attitudes about food and weight don’t change, it’s quite possible that the youth of today will suffer higher rates of obesity than their parents and grandparents and develop medical conditions that will shorten their life expectancy. In my family I know that longevity is possible. Not only did my great uncle and great-grandmother live until their 90s, my great-great grandfather lived past 100. In contrast, members of my generation and my mother’s may not even reach their 80s. The battle of the bulge doesn’t have to be a losing fight. Changing our thoughts on diet and exercise is the surest way to stop obesity from stealing years of our lives.

  • Ask_ME

    It’s truly amazing how this article and other like it exclude one important fact when talking about obesity in the black community: POVERTY.

    When I visit my local supermarket it’s hard not to notice that the “healthy” food cost much more than the “unhealthy” food. The bag of baked chips cost MORE than the bag of regular lays chips.

    It’s easy to say, “Eat right and exercise,” while ignoring the reality that black people in this country struggle economically (both middle and lower class blacks struggle in this area). Thus, I’ve concluded if you want to encourage healthy living first start with equal opportunity in employment, equal pay, and equal access to good health care for all. All of the above will help move things in the right direction.

    I admit we cannot force people to eat right, but I personally think there is a so much more to this problem than simply, “You’re fat because of your diet.” There are other factors impacting this problem.

  • Sasha

    Its sad that this is the norm…and by this I mean obesity/ fatness. Its even more sad that when this issue is brought up, people get defensive and claim that this is just another way the media and mainstream America is attacking the image of Black people, specifically Black women. How long will we deflect, deny, strawman issues concerning health in regard to obesity before we wake up? How many of our family members must die of preventable weight related illnesses before we finally take control of our health? Why do some people continue to fight with facts….baffling. Our attitudes about food and weight definitely have to change and I appreciate the insightfulness of this piece.

    p.s.- shout out to Nigerians!! With the exception of my mother (who has had 7 kids) everyone in my immediate family is on the skinny side however she is still smaller than the majority of Black women I see on a daily basis, some who have not had the amount of kids my mom has had muchless have had any kids at all.The majority of my extended family is on the slender side however my grandfather passed away at 79 of heart complications and had diabetes at the time of his death, something he acquired later in life.

  • Sasha

    Poverty is definitely a factor that comes into this equation but it costs absolutely nothing to go for a run around the block. Nearly everyone has access to the internet nowadays so if it is unsafe to go for a run around the neighborhood then hop online, pull up the YouTube and *voila* access to different sorts of excercises you can do indoors. Going back to poverty, it may be expensive to “eat right” in certain neighborhoods however this is where proper portions and self control kick in. Some things may not “look” like they’re meant to serve 5 people however Americans in general have a massively distorted view of portions. This is one of those things where you have to train yourself if you’re used to wolfing down a whole box of mac’n’cheese yourself when its meant for at least 3 people but it can be taught. I say this as someone who could crush a bag of cheese curls in a single sitting but rather than completely giving up cheese curls, I count out 13, close the bag and if I’m still feeling in the mood for a snack I’ll drink at least 20 oz of water or grab an apple.

  • Yb

    “p.s.- shout out to Nigerians!!”

    Sasha, no disrespect but I think you should say “shout to MY Nigerian family.” With all the palm oil, starches, thick stews, pounded yam, fried foods and gari we eat our health isn’t any better. The wonderful health (and genetics) your mother has can’t be attributed to over 150 million people.

  • Shay

    Being overweight is praised in the black community. Im skinny and I’ve had people (black) gawk at me for being skinny. I guess since everybody is worried about their self esteem rather than health we have to make thin people feel bad so overweight people can feel better about themselves. We dont even call them fat anymore. We call them”thick” smh

  • Yb

    “I’ve often wondered if rates of obesity and diabetes would drop among blacks in the U.S. if their diets consisted mostly of foods native to West Africa rather than today’s high-fat Western diet.”

    Like for real? :/ I’m really perplexed by this statement. Can someone knowledgable in West Africa as a whole explain to me which dishes are low in calories and lead to prolonged health, because I’m lost.

    I’m Nigerian on my paternal side and perhaps I’m taking the image of how my fathers family cooked and viewing all west African cooking through that lens.

  • Sasha

    I ate all of that stuff growing up and was skinny as a bean pole, until ironically enough I went to college and put on a couple of pounds. I will say though that good genetics run in my family but to say we have good genetics so that’s why we’re all thin is a bit dismissive and another way of brushing aside the obesity/ fat epidemic. Its no different than saying “I’m just big-boned, all the women in my family are thick”. The gentic variations of the people of Africa are so vast and sweeping yet still the issue we’re facing here is not necessarily a big issue there so I think there’s something to be said about that. No disrespect taken at all :)

  • Jess

    You are absolutely right, healthier/organic foods definitely do cost more. However, an apple costs less than both the baked or “fatty” potato chips.

  • http://racerelations.about.com Nadra

    I think I pointed out that in the case of my family, poverty isn’t the issue. My family members are overwhelmingly middle class and don’t live in so-called food deserts. Also, they generally don’t live in neighborhoods where it’s unsafe to exercise outdoors.

  • http://racerelations.about.com Nadra

    Foods found in West Africa–from yams to plantains to okra to black eyed peas–are nutrient rich and have many health benefits. An American who eats fast food most of the time is eating calorie-laden foods that lack nutritional value, so they are missing out on the health benefits that the other foods I’ve listed offer. Frying plantains in a healthful oil such as coconut oil or avocado oil isn’t bad for you, to my knowledge. Also, I know that carbs have been vilified, but they don’t necessarily deserve to be. Our bodies need carbs. I eat carbs all the time and always have, but I burn them off.

  • Chillyroad

    That is a dam lie? Fruits and vegetables are not more expensive than sweets and processed food. You can get frozen and canned options.

    Listen food that’s bad for you taste dam good. That’s why people eat so much of it and even if you do eat a lot of it it doesn’t cost a dime to take a 40 minute walk a few times a week. Why y’all lyin on people?

    $0.24 per Oz for apples
    $0.15 per oz for broccoli
    $0.29 per oz for Doritos

  • victoria

    ”The bag of baked chips cost MORE than the bag of regular lays chips.”

    Yes, this is true. But if you are obese you have to refrain from eating certain foods. Including chips. Oranges, apples, bananas…all cheaper than Lays.

  • victoria

    I share your experience. Im skinny and have always been told by black women that I am too small and need to gain weight. On the other hand, women of other races always comment about how they wish they were my size.

    I use to work with about 30 women (black and white), 25 were obese. Not just overweight, but obese and they always made fun of my size. They frequently stated that I was cheap for not participating in their daily lunch fests. My classroom was often interrupted to ask if I wanted to make an order for lunch. One day, after constantly hearing about how I must starve myself or do 1000 sit up a day b/c I had a flat stomach, I stated, ”Just because I dont eat like a NFL player at Thanksgiving dinner for lunch on a daily basis doesnt mean I starve myself.” They got offended, as if their constant statements to me werent offensive.

  • Hehe

    Did you read the whole article cause the author pointed out that poverty was NOT the factor of why her family is obese. She mentioned that food deserts are the reason why so many people don’t have access to food.

    ” They’re not overweight because they live in food deserts or in neighborhoods where gyms are anomalies and exercising outside is too dangerous.”

  • Yb

    Thank you for that explanation.

    But in regards to this comment: “An American who eats fast food most of the time.” I think parts of the article sweeps Americans into one label and doesnt highlight how Black Americans eating habits differs from other Americans (eating soul food) and how in comparison it’s unhealthy compared to West African food.

    In your opinion exactly which foods from West Africa do you suggest Western black folks adopt to our diet? Many of the foods you listed, okra, fried plaintain, and black eyed peas (food black americans already eat) are sides, and not main dishes.

  • Amy

    Maybe you should point out which countries you’re talking about. I come from Senegal and I looove senegalese food and my people but we don’t have a really healthy diet. We eat way too much carbs and meat, some people use a lot of oil when cooking and the majority of the people who live in the capital don’t exercise a lot. More and more people are dying from diabetes. My grandfather died from it. So I try to keep a healthy diet and at least walk for 15 to 30 mn everyday.

  • Ekuba

    Thank you for this article! It’s highlighted to me what I need to do to become healthier. I have been eating very healthy lately but I did not realize that I have to step up my exercise regime. I was exercising 30 mins 3 times weekly and this article has made me realize I need to step up which I’m gonna do from today! About Nigerian food:
    I’m Ghanaian and I think Nigerian food, African food and indeed most traditional foods all over the world tend to be healthy but as people become wealthier, there’s the tendency to make these foods richer, calorie dense and full of meat and/ or sugar. Whenever I talk to my grandma, for example, i discover that several foods we eat today that i thought were ‘traditional African meals’ have been modified used to be much healthier back in the day. Now my friends in Ghana and Nigeria tend to eat more rice with vegetable oils, fried noodles (indomie), sausage and even the traditional meals are soaked in palmoil, vegetable oil with loads of meat/ fish and salt. This is not only limited to Africa. When I travelled to Europe, I realized that pizza which is so heavy laden with cheese and meat in the U.S. is not made that way in continental Europe. And most of my Chinese colleagues tell me that Chinese food in the US with all the heavy frying, added sugars and heavy meat does not resemble traditional Chinese food. We need to get back to the old school way of eating to maintain our health!

  • http://www.facebook.com/christelyn Christelyn Russell-Karazin

    A West African diet is, overall, better than the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). I have Nigerian friends, so I’ve seen how they eat. First off, thier diet is protein rich and uses good fats that occur naturally (e.g. no trans fats). Most of the food is made by hand–and they’ll buy fresh goat and chicken meat sans all the hormones and fillers. Also, the sugars they eats tend to occur naturally and contain fiber. Yams are sweet, but the skin and the meat contain fiber, which slows the amount of sugar that goes into the blood stream. The main culprit of obesity is processed foods and sugar. Next time you go to the store, take a look at how many items contain sugar. You’ll be shocked. The real task is to find foods that don’t contain sugar. Shout out to Nadra for writing about this–folks get so dang defensive when they know dang well they can do better.

  • victoria

    Also, let’s be honest EQUAL pay, healthcare, education, etc. is not going to happen. Therefore; it’s up oneself to maintain a healthy diet. No one should wait for the govt to right all the wrongs before they decide to get healthy.

  • http://gravatar.com/rastaman1967 rastaman

    It is time for us to begin to have a serious discussion about obesity in the black community as for too long we have been whistling past the graveyard, literally. The truths stares us in the face every day and especially at our holiday get together when we get to eat and celebrate. One thing we cannot continue to overlook is how unhealthy many of us, our friends and family eat. That coupled with the lack of physical activity evidenced by many places in the country where folks drive everywhere, even up the block to talk to their neighbors.

    I know this is one of those issues that for too many are some subject to use to advance their own political or cultural views but the truth of the matter is this is a growing global issue. Processed foods and increased urban and suburban living has changed how many people conduct their daily lives. It has led us to develop increasingly unhealthy diets and lifestyles. I see folks in my family who eat too much and do not exercise at all. They complain about all manner of ailments and express every type of resistance to the slightest suggested dietary changes or even walking more.

    It is frustrating because you think they should know better but knowing better and doing better for many of us is a huge leap that often proves to be very difficult.

  • Chillyroad

    @jess

    Organic food is a marketing gimmick. You don’t need to eat it to have a healthy diet.

  • Anjela

    As I am learning better eating habits, my family is the complete opposite. Between the negative statements, crazy gawking, and constantly having to explain my food choices and potions, attending family dinners are becoming a hassle. I don’t know when the last time I actually enjoyed a nice peaceful dinner with my family. :(

  • Chillyroad

    Being overweight is not praised in the black community. No one who is fat in the black community wants to be fat. Blacks may not punish people socially for being fat but we don’t find them more attractive than a regular sized person or woman.

    P.s. men entertain fat women to gain access to their resources. That’s it.

  • Chillyroad

    I think it’s dishonest to say blacks are too poor to be healthy. Black folks got money. When we want to entertain ourselves or look nice we got a lot of money for that. Enough with the excuses.

  • Mike

    Food Deserts? Another built in excuse for failure. The last time I checked meats are more expensive than fruits and vegetables. Poor people in the U.S., especially the one’s on government assistance, eat a lot of meat.

    I was in a South American country with a large population of people of African decent and was shocked at the size of those women. 80% of them are small. I was staying with a upper middle class family and 4 people split a piece of beef that one person in this country would consume and meat is not eaten with every meal. They eat a lot of fruits, salads, beans and vegetables. I didn’t see a lot of exercise. Just a completely different diet.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    It seems that this thin or obese paradigm is a false dichotomy. Thin isn’t normal or inherently more healthy. Thin, in of itself, tells us nothing of body fat%, heart health, location of fat deposits, blood pressure, etc. Many of the most healthy people around aren’t thin at all. I competed in collegiate track and field at a weight that is in the moderately overweight BMI range, despite being healthy by all real indicators of health. BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass nor does it account for the location of fat. Excessive fat located in your core near vital organs is problematic, but not fat located in your lower body.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/butt-thigh-fat-make-healthier/story?id=9534982#.ULOxkIfAe1I

    And not being thin doesn’t make one obese. There is a middle ground.

  • Chillyroad

    Lets also not forget that unhealthy women have higher rates of maternal mortality. In fact the high rates of maternal mortality among black women is due to poor health I.e high blood pressure diabetes obesity etc. this includes smoking drinking etc during pregnancy.

    So yeah… A massive overhaul.

  • JN

    I’m dyin’ over here lol

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    yeah, obesity isn’t praised in the black community. Can’t think of too many circles where Monique is the ideal. The ideal tends to be curvy girls with relatively small waists. A low waist to hip ratio is prized. The type of girls that end up in black magazines. I’ve never seen an obese woman in King magazine. A low waist to hip ratio being idealized may be biologically influenced with some arguing it is a sign of fertility

    I think those that subscribe to Eurocentric ideals of looking emaciated tend to dismiss the lack of black pre-occupation with looking like a heroin addict as prizing obesity. Just because our models aren’t 6’1″ 120 pounds, doesn’t mean we idealize obesity. People on here act like there isn’t anyone at a moderate size — not skinny and not obese. I may not idealize size 2 girls, but that doesn’t mean I consequently idealize size 20.

  • Yb

    I agree Ravi. I’m think women with the body of Beyonce, and maybe Bria Myles are praised in the black community not the Oprahs and Monique’s nor the Chanel Imans. There’s a middle ground.

  • MommieDearest

    I have to agree with this. Alot of times, it’s about priorities. It’s amazing how someone with a fresh weave, sparkling new manicure and sporting the latest fashion trend will claim to be broke when it comes to spending money on “non-fun” stuff. Or saving money in the bank.

  • C

    I mean poverty has a part in nutrition (as well as other factors), but nobody needs chips, baked or fried, and if they are buying them, it should only be 1-2 times per month or better yet, buy popcorn kernels. Some people don’t have a hard time buying Jordans, $70-500 to get a weave, video games, etc, but they will not think about making certain food from scratch or at least eat healthier. Some things are cheaper no matter where you live. For example, it is cheaper to make bread from scratch (if you know how), make your own soup, or buy dry beans and cook them (and freeze if left over).

    A lot of people are not knowledgeable and others are not interested enough to gain that knowledge about proper nutrition and healthier living.

  • AM

    is this my darling Ekuba, if so WELCOME. If not, still, WELCOME!

  • Nicole

    Yes!Yes!Yes!

    Your kids dont have a computer to do their homework on BUT they have all the new jordans and a iphone!

    Priorities all fu*ked up!

  • Pseudonym

    I’m so confused. Aren’t West Africans known for being heavier? Thinner Africans tend to be East African, I thought: Kenyans, Somalis, Ethiopians, etc. No? There are exceptions to both, of course, but on average that’s the difference I notice. Maybe there are certain West African countries thta you are referring to where the people tend to be healthier and not obese?

  • AM

    I didn’t feel like going though all the comments, so on behalf of my husband, j-philly:
    fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. AND of course, a healthy portion of goat VINDALOO!! I murrrrrrrrrrderd that ish last week. GOD, was it good or what. Happy Mondays ma pippoz! Stay strong, healthy and fit!

  • BoutDatLove

    Ya’ll know what she means. Thick is a term that many people have their own definition of, which is the reason why you will even see obese woman being called thick and woman who are curvy being called thick, just for the sake of having curves. For example, in the white community ”thick” woman are considered chubby but if you go onto any blog with ”chubby” woman, you will find that some of them are actually fat and obese. What she is saying is many black woman aspire to be considered ”thick” for the sake of self esteem from men, opposed to making sure they exercise and are healthy (of course not all). And let us be honest, that many black woman who are considered thick do not look like Beyonce (Beyonce is more curvy than ”thick”) or Bria Myles and many times, I have seen guys calling woman thick who do not look like Beyonce & Bria (because the term ”thick” has a different definition to different people). The problem is you have many men telling these woman that they look good just because of their shape and that hip to waist ratio, and they don’t feel the need to change even if they are out of shape, fat and or obese. I have seen many woman with small waists that are still obese. What good is having a nice hip to waist ratio, if you can’t even move, let alone run (not all of course). Fat is fat, no matter where you gain and eventually it will cause physical and health problems if you are not living a healthy lifestyle. I think her comment had to do with the many emphasis put on black woman to be ”thick” instead of putting their health first, which has & can contribute to the obese epidemic.

    P.s.
    This shouldn’t be about being offended or putting anyone down, but encouraging one another to be healthy. Also, the black woman & or man (sex changes do occur in hollywood) seen in King Magazines etc. aren’t even real. Most have had plastic surgery and have been photoshopped. These are unrealistic expectations, even for the woman who are on these magazine covers and some ”thick” or even curvy woman. I am an hourglass & moderate size, (a mesomorph) yet I am still considered to be thin by black people… southern standards are different.

  • Keepitreal

    I am so sick and tired of the damn excuses already. I live in New York where food in general is not cheap but guess what, I can still get a 5 lb bag of apples at the farmer’s market for $2.99, that’s right 2.99, cheaper than a box of Entemanns. Whole wheat bread is ALWAYS on sale if you check more than 1 supermarket so let’s just stop the BS that it costs sooo much money to eat healthy. Oh and it costs ZERO to exercise.

  • ….

    I agree with both of you. & im really tired of the whole “skinny is a eurocentric ideal” speech. Like HELLO there are MANY naturally thin black women and they could care less about some european standard. Theyre just living their lives and embracing their fast metabolisms lol. thats its and thats all.

  • Keepitreal

    This “thick” nonsense has to stop. I notice as long as you have a big caboose than you are “thick” and it doesn’t matter if you have back rolls and a gargantuan belly as long as the “booty is right”. Our health is worth more than adoration from booty enthusiasts.

  • ….

    This was to Shay and Victoria.

  • http://gravatar.com/cocovabarbie KemaVA

    Actually if a woman is overweight or ‘thick’ yet has a small waist that is considered healthier than a woman carrying that same weight in her mid section.

  • Ekuba

    Of course it is your one and only Ekuba, who else would it be? lol

  • Mike

    If you want advice on weight, don’t get all of your advice come from black women. You also need to talk to some men or physically fit women of other races about how much weight to lose. I have seen black women tell a young woman who weighed 225 and lost 25 pounds……. “Gurl you losing too much weight” and “That’s (200lbs) is a good weight to be at”. I couldn’t believe my ears. Are you freaking kidding me? They should have been encouraging her to lose 30 more pounds! This is one of the reasons why young black women are walking around thinking they’re healthy and look good weighing 200 pounds.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Right! I don’t know where the misconception comes from that “fat/overweight” is praise in our community let’s be honest and stop lying fat black women aren’t praised in the slightest but usually the first ones on the roasting block (check out articles on here where fat was the subject) usually curvy bodies as you mention are highly favored or slim chicks. A curvier body is leaps and bonds away from fat acceptance praise.

  • Mike

    How many women past 25 have a small waist? What is your definition of small waist?

  • CurlySue

    I think part of what keeps people overweight is the idea that if you just replace everything you typically with it’s “Fat Free” cousin, that all will be well. And that’s simply not true. Companies just add more sugar to supplement the lack of fat. If your diet is still heavyily “white”, that is, white flour, white sugar, white potatoes, etc, you will remain overweight. And it’s a hard pill to swallow that you have to overhaul your concept of what “healthy eating” means. I can understand how that would be overwhelming. But it is a necessity if you want long-term success and health.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Boom! And there we have it priorities if you are truly serious about getting healthy and losing weight you find a way to do it. That is why we are so knee deep in this obesity problem because if someone can’t make their own life a priority than you are fighting a losing battle because you can teach and praise fruits, nuts veggies, etc. (sited jamesfrmphilly…lol) and an active lifestyle until you are blue in the face but if they won’t listen what can you do.

  • BREE

    I KNOW exactly how you feel. For some odd reason people seem to think it is okay to make comments like “you need to put some meat on your bones” during conversations that have nothing to do with your weight.

  • Diane

    My parents are Nigerian and as someone who watches their weight I have to be careful around that food. It’s not the Nigerian food as much as it is the active lifestyle, that allows most Nigerians to be thinner on average than Americans. Americans have a very sedentary lifestyle. Unless you’re an active person you’re not burning as much calories as you ought to. Diet is important but exercise plays a huge role as well.

  • rosie

    I think the dichotomy is moot considering that these days, what black people generally accept as a normal sized figure is really overweight and obese becomes simply overweight/big. There is already a lot of grey among us.

  • Allie
  • Kam

    In my Bronx neighborhood, healthier food is cheaper. The neighborhood supermarket, the one that you can access without a car, sells a pack of 4 apples for $4. that same amount will get you about a handful of grapes. It’s easier to by a six pack of ramen noodles for $1.50. My family has a car, so we go elsewhere for our vegetables. Poverty is indeed a factor when you don’t have access to cheap fresh vegetables.

    Another factor, well I’ve noticed that many Americans don’t know how to cook. I mean they can cook things out of a box or a can, but to cook with fresh ingredients and spices (beyond salt and pepper) doesn’t seem to be common. Your palate gets used to certain flavors and I think many Americans are used to the high salt, sweet, fatty flavors in processed foods.

  • Kam

    In some places it is. As I posted above my neighborhood supermarket that you can walk to has a pack of 4 apples for $4. (And that’s an improvement, because they rarely had a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables before). You really need to account for all the situations that people might be in. Canned options have a lot of sodium (not to mention the BPA that might leach into the foods). People should have a bit of empathy for people who might not be in ideal situations. I’m really thankful that I have car and have access to good food. When I didn’t I had to rely on whatever I could fit on my bicycle.

  • Kam

    Food deserts are a real thing, I’ve lived in one. Please don’t demean this very important issue.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I’m not sure what you mean by the dichotomy is moot. Please elaborate.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I guess I’m saying that I don’t know what she means. She clearly stated that being overweight is prized in the black community and that is simply not true. The word thick may mean different things to different people, but that has nothing to do with what we hold as the ideal. We idealize the aforementioned Beyonce and Bria Myles, not the overweight people that have usurped the word “thick.” Bria Myles is the epitome of thick in the mindset of anyone that I have come across over the years.

    Also, you can be out of shape and have too much body fat at any size. It also matters where the body fat is located. Having an abundance of fat in your butt and legs is not a health risk. The problem is when the fat is in your midsection near vital organs. If you aren’t living a healthy lifestyle then you are at risk regardless of how big or small you are. Everyone should exercise and eat properly. I’m not disputing that. I know skinny girls that never exercise and I know big girls that exercise daily. I’m just saying that the black community does not idealize obesity and our standards are a lot healthier than the BS that dominates popular Western culture originating from the modeling industry.

    While there are women with plastic surgery in most magazines, especially the white fashion magazines, most of the girls in King are real. Most all pictures are photoshopped nowadays. That doesn’t mean that their curves and small waists aren’t real. I personally know some of these models and they are quite real. I see women like this every time I go to DC, Atlanta, or any city where there are a lot of black people. I just saw a beautiful sista at Whole Foods in ATL yesterday that was shaped just like Bria Myles. Very small waist and very curvy; not at all obese or overweight. This ideal is achieved naturally by many black women (and white women truth be told) across the world. It doesn’t require the starving or overexercising that is epidemic with non-black women.

    The standards of our magazines are a heck of a lot more realistic than the what white folks put out there. Being a size 2 is a much more unrealistic standard than being moderately sized with curves.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    back rolls and a gargantuan belly always matter. You won’t see anyone being the ideal with either. A big booty is a health benefit. Health is more important than embracing a Eurocentric ideal of demonizing a big butt.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I know many women past 25 with a small waist. There is no definition of small waist, it depends on who is saying it. For most people it is relative to height and other measurements. To me, it is having a waist to hip ratio under .7, a flat stomach, and no rolls.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    What is idealized usually isn’t a statement of what is naturally occurring. Most white women aren’t super-skinny and don’t fit their ideal, just as every black woman isn’t curvy with a small waist. Desiring to be skinny is very much something that comes from the white community, regardless of how many skinny black women there are.

  • rosie

    I don’t think it is necessary for black people to broaden their perceptions about weight and health in the way you explain. Lots of responses have emphasized a proper diet, activity, planning and health. As stated by others, black people use the terms overweight, obese, curvy, big and thick interchangeably and with overlap.

    I even think the standards for thin women (black) fall around a size 6-10, which I dont consider to be exceptional and accounts for plenty of curves and booty.

    For Amber Riley’s industry, entertainment, the standards are unforgiving, but even among black fitness experts, enthusiasts and bloggers, there is already lots of compromise.

  • Peema

    In NYC I’ve met many West African girls who were model thin. Some African cultures do value more weight (not anything close to obese-more like chubby) over thinness.

  • ….

    My point is that people always talk about how black women should “reject the european standard” and act as if being skinny is a “white thing” and is wrong, and act as if there arent any skinny black women who exist. My point is that no one cares about some european standard.

  • http://racerelations.about.com Nadra

    Many of my family members are morbidly obese. They don’t have high BMIs because they have more muscle than fat. Also, as I pointed out in the piece, they have health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, etc. I am not saying they are obese because they are not thin. I’m saying they are obese because many of them are 75 to 100 pounds overweight and in some cases more than that
    .

  • victoria

    Ravi,
    One moment you claim that Eurocentric ideals mean looking emaciated like a herion addict. Then you claim that most white women arent skinny. So which is it? What is Eurocentric about being skinny? I live in Europe. Most women I encounter arent heroin addict thin nor fashion model size. They are the size of the woman in the above photo. Nothing emaciated about that.

    So are you insinuating that the author is desiring to be white because she works out and eats well to be thin? Your comment actually proves the author’s point about how obese people have a negative view of skinny people. Many skinny women often hear snide remarks from overweight women about how we should gain weight. Why? Can I say to them, ”You should lose weight?”

    You concluded that being skinny means one is striving to be something other that what they are. So what is being obese, what are they striving to be? Black women come in all sizes.

  • Gail

    I agree in part. BMI does not also consider race with gender, which gives inaccurate numbers, especially for those who are avid athletes or just regular exercisers. So the number can’t be held up as the end all be all. But honestly, we all know thin does, in general, give a sense, visibly, of health. But your skin too is an additional indicator, as a thin healthy person tends to have healthy skin due to better constant healthy eating choices vs a unhealthy one, aka, one who is sick or has a eating disorder and nutrition deficiency is playing a large role in the thinness and not good eating or exercise choices.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    you can find gender specific BMI calculators and race isn’t really a factor because you have too much variance in body types for any given race.

    If I am being honest then I’d say that’s not something we know at all. I think people that view thin as a beauty standard have deluded themselves into believing that thin is somehow connected to healthy, but it’s simply not true. Thin people do not necessarily eat better. Perhaps they might eat less, but eating healthy foods doesn’t make someone thin. you can eat nothing but junk food and stay thin, as long as you take in less calories than you use. You can also eat too much healthy food and gain excessive weight. Your daily caloric balance determines your weight gain/loss, not the quality of the foods you eat. If I eat 4000 calories of fresh veggies, quinoa, fish, and wheat grass while only burning 2500 calories, then I’ll become overweight. If I eat 2 big macs and a milkshake every day and nothing else, while burning 2500 calories, then I will become skinny.

    I personally think of thin as sickly and unhealthy and I know there are many that agree. As with most things, optimal is somewhere in the middle. When I call someone healthy looking, I’m certainly not saying thin. Healthy looking is a moderate size.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    Victoria, you misunderstood what I wrote.

    What people idealize is not the same thing as what people actually look like. I said, in a few different comments, that the eurocentic ideal is unrealistic. It is unrealistic because the vast majority of women cannot achieve the ideal. tall, emaciated models are held to be the ideal women and it is completely unrealistic for most women to look like them. This is why you have the epidemic of eating disorders afflicting women that idealize being skinny. So, while the ideal is looking like the emaciated heroin addicts that adorn the covers of fashion magazines, very few white women (or any women) actually look like that. Most white women are not skinny and on average are much larger than the ideal.

    I didn’t insinuate any such thing. Buying into a eurocentric standard does not mean that someone wants to be white. As mentioned before, the beauty standards are what they idealize, not what they actually are. If the author wanted to be white, then she would want to resemble the way white women actually are, not what they wish they were. I agree that many skinny women hear snide remarks — just as many big women do. That is not the point. Thin women do not have any sort of monopoly on good health and being skinny doesn’t make you healthy.

    I didn’t make any conclusion about striving to be something other than what they are. I’m curious as to where you got that idea.

  • Echi

    Nigeria is changing, by the way. Almost one quarter of Nigerian adults will end up with diabetes in the next ten years according to the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, due to poor healthcare, many will end up with terrible consequences (a Nigerian actor, Pete Eneh just died after a foot amputation last week from diabetes. Looking at him, he is of about average size). There are many many many more people in Nigeria living with diabetes thm with AIDS, yet we have totally ignored these more “first world” diseases.

  • Echi

    I agree. I end up losing weight when I am in Nigerian even though I eat incredibly heavy meals – between fighting for a seat on public transport, dancing through most of Sunday service, the occasional bout of (suspected) malaria, and missing lunch because your dealing with one wahala (problem) or the other, I end up losing about ten pounds during the summer JUST from being in Nigeria.
    However, I know if people who gain weight when they travel to Nigeria because of the food, having access to a personal chauffeur, and having house helps (i.e. servants) at their beck and call.

  • omfg

    i think this may be one of the only articles related to health and weight and black people posted on clutch that has actually made sense and told the Truth.

  • The Artist

    Watching clips from Soul Train, sure do reveal a lot about our bodies… And monetarily wise, I can bet times were hard back then too.

    All it takes is a little self control, really.

  • __A

    I just about never agree with you, but you had me laughing. I agree. I’m sick of these we’re too poor to be healthy excuses. It’s not totally about the Doritos and processed foods. It’s about the lack of movement and the portion sizes. People need to eat smaller portions and stop sitting around all day.

    There are a lot of overweight people in the South, but they are eating the same diet as their parents. Maybe it’s the processed food, but I think it’s the lazy lifestyle Americans have and portion sizes. Look at how much food they give you at restaurants. A double quarter pounder meal with the fries and soda at McDonalds must be around 800 or 1000 calories. You’ve already eaten close to half of the calories (if you do 2000) for your whole day in one meal! I can never eat all of my food when I go to certain restaurants. That’s because many serve American size portions which are too large!

  • __A

    You shouldn’t be shocked. Look at your parents’ high school pics. Look at pictures from back in the day. My parents and around 95% of their classmates from looking at their yearbook were thin and a few of the women were what people actually mean by thick. My mother and others tell me that most women were thin and did not get “thick” or plump until they had kids. Lots of these women have no kids. They have a bad diet.

    If you are going to eat an American diet and large portion sizes, you have to work out and burn those calories. Or….you could just change your diet and eat smaller portions. Our parents were smaller because they were active and probably didn’t eat multiple pieces of fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes and just go lie down and watch hours of TV. If you don’t want to exercise, change your diet and do some kind of movement even if it’s a stroll after dinner. If people want to eat this American diet with American portion sizes, they need to exercise.

  • Kay

    This is so true. I used to be very slim before getting pregnant, and then I gained so much weight because I had so little body fat that it seemed like my body NEEDED to gain something. Now that I’m a mommy I decided to lose it by working out 4-5 times a week and eating a relatively healthy diet. I don’t want to be as slim as I was, because I was probably at an unhealthy weight, but I do want to be fit. Ultimately, you’ve got to treat your body like it’s a temple. If you don’t who will?

    I don’t necessarily think you have to be thin to be healthy or that you can’t be curvy, but you’ve got to be healthy (optimal blood pressure, sugar and vitamin levels). I don’t think it’s unhealthy to indulge every once in a while. Even my athletic friends do. But you’ve got to eat to live, not live to eat!

  • Diane

    Lots of areas have access to farmers markets where fresh fruits and veggies are considerably cheaper than what you would find at a grocery store. And as someone pointed out organic really doesn’t mean “healthier”. It really just means that organic farming was involved (no harsh pesticides, chemicals, etc)

  • http://twitter.com/Ishtar_79 The Fickle Goddess (@Ishtar_79)

    This comment is all the way stupid.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I see what you are saying. You mean that my statement about the author presenting a false dichotomy is a moot point.

    I’m not arguing that black people need to broaden their perceptions of weight and health. I’m arguing that the author is presenting a false dichotomy that is divorced from reality. She is making it seem as though there are only thin and obese people and that the thin people are healthy and the obese people are not. She is failing to deal with the middle ground that encompasses most individuals.

    I’m not sure what relevance other responses dealing with proper diet has, but that really doesn’t have much to do with my comments.

    My point was that thin is not necessarily healthy and obese (based on bmi >30) is not necessarily unhealthy. And that being thin or obese aren’t the only choices.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I wasn’t suggesting that you were saying they were obese because they aren’t thin. I’m saying that you held being slender or thin out to be some sort of ideal. You seem to contrast your being thin with their obesity without addressing that there is a middle ground that is neither. Them needing to lose a good amount of weight and be healthy isn’t mutually exclusive to you being too thin in their eyes. I’m saying that there is potentially an optimum point somewhere between being obese and thin.

    Being thin is not being healthy and your obese family doesn’t need to be thin in order to achieve better health. All of the things you mentioned concerning exercise and eating properly are great in terms of maintaining optimal health, but that is very different than being thin.

  • BoutDatLove

    @Ravi,

    I agree, I know that you can have any body type and be any size and still be healthy and or unhealthy. You are right, I have never heard of any risk of having a big butt, that is not even my argument. However, having too much fat in the leg area can be harmful for anyone, not just woman. You are also right that having fat in your mid section can most certainly be harmful. This was still not my point though.

    Let’s be honest though, no one is concerned about the health of a chick that is your ideal, you only are thinking about how good she looks. You don’t think in your mind, ”Oh she looks so healthy and has child bearing hips because I sure hope to have kids one day.”

    And like you said ”ideal.” That is basically my issue, the whole ”ideal,” has become more about the encouragement of being physically pleasing to the eye, opposed to being healthy.

    You are comparing black standards to the modeling industry, of course black standards are better than modeling industry standards. Meat on your bones instead of bones perturbing is obviously more healthier, no one is denying this. If you are not ”thick” this also doesn’t mean that you look like an emancipated model smh (Kelly Rowland, Kerry Washington, Gabriel Union etc). My thing is the encouragement of overall health over any ideal, it is like health for some isn’t taken into consideration when it should be, regardless of someone’s genetics (how big or small they are, where they store fat etc).

    All black woman don’t look like your ideal though and this is why I believe that the black beauty standards are just as harmful as Eurocentric standards. You said it yourself, that even some white woman do not naturally look like Eurocentric standards and it is the same with black woman. These black woman who do not look like your ideal are risking their good health and life to accomplish this ideal. One example: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/10/illegal-butt-injections-leaves-woman-limbless/

    That is why I say both ideas are harmful and the only thing at this point that should be glorified from black people in general, is health. Large thighs and derrieres are beautiful but again, encouraging this as the ideal of a black woman, especially over health. Like, how will this solve the obesity problem. This is my only argument.

    I still believe (from what I’ve seen) that ”thick” is based on opinion, although there are many men who would agree with your ideal. I do love how it will encourage black woman who naturally look like this to love how they naturally are But this opinion/ideal can also encourage many woman to not feel the need to be or become healthy etc.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    I get what you are saying, but this is very different than what we were originally talking about. This started with the original comment by someone else claiming that being overweight is praised in the black community. My point was that we do not praise being overweight, we have an ideal that is moderately sized with a relatively large butt. Our ideals are not centered around an unhealthy size.

    I don’t disagree that all beauty standards have the inherent risk of creating problems for those that don’t naturally embody those ideals. That is a completely different conversation. We were talking about whether or not the black community idealizes women that are overweight.

    I never said that people were concerned with the health of a woman that was the my ideal, so I’m not sure why you brought that up.

    Beauty standards are usually about being physically pleasing to the eye. I’m not sure how that is relevant. We are talking about whether or not those ideals are centered around an unhealthy standards. They are not. I’m not saying that ideals are a good thing in general, I’m just talking about the reality of our current ideals.

    I’m comparing black standards of beauty to the modeling industry because the modeling industry is a huge part of the beauty standards in Western society. Implicit in arguing that the black community embraces an overweight ideal is that communities embrace a more appropriate size.

    I’m also not saying that if you are not thick that you look like an emaciated model, smh. I was comparing the beauty standards in the black community with the standards in greater Western society, not creating the false dichotomy of skinny or big that everyone else seems to be arguing.

    Health should always be taken into consideration and I challenge you to find something I have stated that is contrary to that point. I have already stated that most women don’t look like the ideal. I agree that beauty standards can be harmful, but again, that’s not what we were talking about.

    Your last statement is something that doesn’t really follow. how can such an ideal encourage women to not feel the need to be or become healthy? Unless the standard is something that is inherently unhealthy, like the skinny eurocentric standard or the imagined obesity standard, then it is not likely that this ideal will encourage women to not feel the need to be unhealthy. This standard is particularly ambiguous in terms of health unless we are dealing with someone that is actually obese or underweight. If you are 5’5″ and 300lbs and you idealize Bria Myles, how exactly would this encourage you to not feel the need to become healthy. If ideals encourage you to attain that ideal then you would be encouraged to lose weight if you were significantly larger than the ideal. I’m not seeing how an ideal of a healthy size would encourage women to not be healthy,

  • Yevi

    I don’t care about my weight just my health.

  • mEE

    I used to say that too, until I gained 10lbs last year. I don’t even have the words to describe the panic that came over me lol

  • Robert

    So poverty in America actually makes you obese? You guys are really in a different world!(am Kenyan)

  • http://gravatar.com/cocovabarbie KemaVA

    A waist size over 35 or a waist to hip ratio over .8 is considered unhealthy.

    “How many women past 25 have a small waist?”
    I do and it is hard work!

  • Melissa

    Having willpower to exercise is important. I struggle with going to the gym and working out at home all the time. We all know we need to watch our portions, eat less sugar, eat more fruits, veggies and drink more water. Will power and motivation is important to start. I enjoy how good and energized I feel after a run or from a hard workout. Trust it is not easy but doable.

  • Maligma

    I don’t at all want to take away from the importance of exercise – it’s very clearly essential. I think when we talk about this though we , on some levels, buy into the same mythology of “what’s wrong with us” that everyone else does.

    Cultural mispreceptions and stereotypes do have a very real impact on physiology, not just psychologically. That fact is racial for us, for obvious reasons, so it’s hard for me to talk about our health without racializing it.

    Even if care is given to our ailments, it’s likely less than optimal because of subconscious perception. In everyday life, we suffer from a state constant allostatic overload as a whole. One way it manifests is in our blood pressure. Studies have shown that it doesn’t drop during sleep like it does for others. That’s not supposed to happen – the body can’t run full-tilt forever… Within one generation of immigration to this country, the health outcomes of those people change – particularly in infant mortality rates. It begins to match those already born here.

    I’m no doctor, but I’d like to humbly suggest that folks check on their cortisol levels (and the other hormones over produced by us) and manage that in addition to a healthy lifestyle.

    This type of information is available all over but not in ways that are easily understood. I’m strongly convinced that the way we talk about our health needs has to fundamentally change from the mainstream because it’s not going to happen there. Outlets like Clutch could really help in the effort.

    A couple of months ago, Tim Wise did a wonderful talk about health disparities. I invite everyone to have a listen. http://www.timwise.org/2012/10/racism-public-health-and-the-high-cost-of-white-denial/

  • gerigtg

    Lol.

  • chinaza

    This is 2012 and people need to forget subjective terms like “thick”, “thin” or “curvy” if they want to have a serious discussion on weight as it applies to their health.
    Not what persons like or find attractive or fits some racial concept- but what are the current standards of evidence-based medicine.
    Learn the normal values for your BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, FBS and HbA1c and really monitor your health sensibly and understand your cardiovascular risk and other parameters. If you are diabetic or hypertensive, educate yourselves about these diseases which are impacting our communities at epidemic levels.
    Too many people are really dying from ignorance not just the disease.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    i am unfortunately the rare “thin” black woman who takes care of herself WHENEVER i’m around other black women. it makes me sad when at the gym,random zumba classes, and makeup counters i’m the only black woman.Not only that but if there ARE other black women around, then they look a complete hot mess!

    whenever i take public transportation or go ANYWHERE in public where there are a lot of other black women, i’m usually the thinnest one there (i’m not even skinny either!) while most of the other black women are 200 + lbs,walking around in bonnets and hair scarves ,wearing pajamas and house slippers,bare faced, ashy,weave in their hair while the unweaved hair is TOTAL fro. that’s not okay!

    it’s annoying to see other races of women take pride in their appearance and try to look decent whenever they go out, and then see black women take the whole ” i don’t care what others think of me” WAY too far. i make sure to look nice when i leave the house, put on a bit of eyeliner,lipgloss,make my hair look nice, and fill in my eyebrows. when i wear a weave i make sure my real hair matches the weave hair, and i put on actual clothes that go together.

  • http://skinny2hunk.com ironlifter

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