Do Black Women Secretly Desire To Be Fat?

By Alice Randall

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.

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3 replies
  1. Pat K.
    Pat K. says:

    Younger (than their age) looking, slim women run in my family. Being that I inherited a fair amount of drama, I'd consider myself lucky that having to worry about my weight is not an issue I inherited.

    I've seen too many sisters have health and wellness problems because of weight, though. I've personally experienced having to grieve a sister I loved because she left this earth too soon, due to health issues.

    This is the real issue here. Our sisters don't struggle with being unattractive, no matter what their weight is. It just isn't something we have to deal with. We've beautiful, in whatever size we happen to be! We have some issues to deal with regarding health and long life, though.
    Victory over these things is what I'd like for all of my sisters to acheive!

  2. Yana
    Yana says:

    Big difference between Fat and PHAT, I don't know any woman, black or white who wants to be Fat. A shapely woman who loses weight, will likely still be shapely after weight loss, so no, I don't agree with this thought process at all. Another thing, I think the stats of four out of five black women being seriously over weight are a bit bogus. Yeah, we got alot of female whoppers amongst us, but it's not 80%.

  3. Jason
    Jason says:

    It makes sense to me. Women are influenced by men's perception more than they are willing to admit

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