Friday, May 11, 2012

Black Fat

 Why Black Women are Fat

The linked article from last Sunday's New York Times suggests that Black women are fat because they want to be. I disagree.

I understand that European standards of beauty have affected the mind of almost every Black woman I know.  For some (but not most), this has resulted in a total about face, wanting to be as unlike a European as possible.  However, I reject the notion that we are fat because we want to be. Consider another thought provoking possibility.  It relates to the content of the article referenced in my last post.

There are lots of people on the other end of the black fat equation getting rich while we die. Black people are suffering disproportionately from illnesses that are associated with carrying excess weight. We could break down the costs of obesity many ways- food costs, more expensive specialty clothes, lost days at work, lost cognitive function, lost income when a breadwinner is disabled or dies, costs of medication, surgeries & hospitalization., higher insurance premiums, and on, and on.

So many people are making money off of our health problems, maybe we should look into whether the idea that it is good to be heavy came from within our community. Obesity is a big fat bandit, robbing us of our economic power, family structure and vitality.  Are we victims of various forms of marketing (brainwashing) that has us thinking we like being this way? Don't be too quick to answer- if it could happen to doctors with pain medicine, it could happen to people who have much less knowledge about health.

My experience has taught me that there's another obvious reason that black women are fat- we don't know what fat is (from a health perspective).  I screen all of my patients for obesity and probably annoy many by alerting them if they pick up extra weight.  I also try to remember to congratulate those who show improvement by adopting a healthier lifestyle to reduce their weight.

Most of the Black women I follow have heard my point of view about weight.  I am not your mate, I am not concerned about your appearance.  My concern is your health. If we shifted our focus away from variable opinions about what constitutes an acceptable appearance, and kept our focus on how to achieve and maintain optimal health, we may finally begin to make progress on this issue. When I diagnose a woman with overweight or obesity, it is a mathematical diagnosis based on the BMI (body mass index).  This calculation (check yours here) compares your weight to your height.  Population studies have shown that risk of death is at a low point with a BMI of around 22, starts rising after a BMI of 25, rises more steeply over a BMI of 30, and become dangerously (morbidly) high over a BMI of 40. If doctors kept things objective by taking the appearance assessment out of the decision making process, more people would have an early warning that their current lifestyle habits are not "pro-life" choices.

So here's an easy action item for those interested in improving their health. BUY A SCALE.  Get on it no less frequently than once every 2 weeks.  If you know you've been overindulging, get on it once a week so you can correct a 5 pound gain before it turns into a 15 pound gain.  This isn't about obsessing over your weight, it's about awareness.  Many of us lack awareness with respect to our weight.  They say knowing is half the battle.  Don't stop getting on the scale because you didn't like the trend you are seeing.  Instead, use the information and commit to at least maintaining whatever weight you are now. You have to patch the hole in the boat to keep it from sinking, then fine tune your plan to get back to shore.

I am looking forward to your comments, and expect that not all of them will be positive :)

Peace & health,

Dr. Safiyya


  1. "My experience has taught me that there's another obvious reason that black women are fat- we don't know what fat is (from a health perspective)" Thank you so much for your insight! I couldnt agree more. I think that this is the fundamental problem. Many Black women have started to reject the "skinny is beautiful" standard and have started to embrace and celebrate that our bodies are shaped differently than European women. However, if your big hips, thighs and backside indicate impending obesity, which could trigger diabetes, high blood pressures, etc....well, that aint cute at all! I think that it would be helpful for me, (and I suspect many other Black women), to learn about and adopt healthy living strategies that are culturally relevant and sensitive to how we face and try to counter-act standards of beauty that marginalize us on a daily basis.
    Some companies are beginning to capitalize on this issue, perhaps another example of people making money off our health problems? But maybe that's a topic for another post :-) ~
    (Think: Jennifer Hudson and WeightWatchers)

  2. While I do not want to give any of us excuses, many Black women believe that adopting and maintaining a healthy diet is too expensive (actual fact). That being said, our communities are inundated with marketing messages that are contradictory to public health messages. As a community, we need to learn how susceptible we are and how severe the consequences of our actions can be. There is too much information out here for us not to educate ourselves and strive to do better. We feed one another such things like, "don't nobody want a bone but a dog" not realizing that embracing such an idea sends us to an early grave. In addition, when we do lose weight, we are concerned about our friends and families telling us that we "look sick"--I lost 88 pounds and my brother told me that I looked like a starving goat. We have to fall in love with ourselves and do what needs to be done to preserve and cherish our lives.

  3. My doctor brought that article to my attention because she thought it was far fetched. I think the article does a poor job at distinguishing between body image and health. As someone previously commented, round hips and butt may be seen as attractive, but that's quite different than wanting to be "fat".
    However, it is easy to transition from being "built" to being "fat" and that's what our community needs education around...particularly the dangers of belly fat and the importance of a healthy cardio vascular system.