“Working Out Is For White People”

“Working Out Is For White People”

On yesterday’s post, this comment was left:

Okay… so this was right on time for me. I was recently approached with the comment that my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well. It was really disturbing because I am seriously striving for a healthier life. To have my ‘blackness’ questioned because I’d rather have a salad than some Popeye’s (and yes… that was the exact situation) hurt. I guess veggies and the stair master make me ‘Euro-centric’ but whateves…

“…my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well.”




So… let’s follow the logic trail right now.

If Blacks eating healthily and exercising are meant to be forms of assimilation…

…then that means that healthy eating and exercise are the realm of white America…

…but if almost 70% of Americans are overweight…

…and Blacks in this country only make up approximately 12.5% of the entire population…

…even if every single Black person in this country was overweight, there would still be – at least – another 55% of overweight people to account for in that tally.

Let’s follow the logic trail in another direction.

If healthy eating  and exercise are “white people activities,” then there’s a question that must be asked, here:

What are “Black people activities?” The exact opposite?

So… if exercising and eating healthily is “being white,” is it considered “being Black” to not exercise and eat poorly? It’s “accepted Black practice” to develop the accompanying illnesses and problems that come with both? The heart disease, the diabetes, the high blood pressure, the strokes? It’s “being Black” to have mismanaged your health so poorly that you’re on medications the rest of your life? “We” don’t want to claim healthier and more active lifestyles as our own… “we” want to claim the harmful and dangerous and inherently unhealthy habits for “Blackness.”

Don’t get sucked into this stupidity. It is never ever going to be a legitimate way to “question” someone’s Blackness. Don’t ever feel less than what you were born because someone else feels threatened by your desire for change.

I hate to use this cliche, but… from Urban Dictionary:

A syndrome where a group of like situated people hurt those in their community attempting to get ahead.

Often this is applied to people in an impoverished community where one person is starting to get ahead. The collective community becomes jealous or filled with a sense of self-loathing, so they find a way to pull that person back down to the community’s level.

When harvesting crab, the crab as a group will pull down any crab that starts to climb out of the barrel in an attempt to be the first out of the barrel that holds them in, hence crabs-in-a-barrel. [source]

So… try to climb out of the barrel if you want… just be prepared for someone to – eventually – come nipping at your heels, questioning your Blackness, telling you you’ll look less like a woman if you tone up, challenging your strength as a Black woman if you see a therapist for your emotional eating, telling you your hair looks a mess so stop all that working out and just overall doing whatever they can to watch you fall back in the barrel with the rest. Misery loves company. That’s how its always been and how it will always be… and while you may not be able to rid yourself of it, you may certainly be able to learn how to spot it for what it is and smile because it means you’re doing something right.

But really – am I missing something, here? Is there something out there in that great big world beyond my laptop that serves as proof that exercising and healthier eating is “whites only?” Because, I’m sayin’… I can remember a time when that kind of mentality was considered unacceptable among us…

By | 2014-08-31T23:12:25+00:00 August 31st, 2014|Social Construct|72 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Ladi Ohm March 1, 2011 at 12:32 PM - Reply

    “Don’t ever feel less than what you were born because someone else feels threatened by your desire for change.”
    Yeah… this right here brought tears to my eyes. Another great article Erika! And thank you for this forum. It’s one of the few places where I don’t feel ostracized for making healthy choices.

    • ikandi0517 August 25, 2013 at 4:39 PM - Reply

      Ikandi likes this response

  2. Alovelydai March 1, 2011 at 1:21 PM - Reply

    Last year for my son’s bday I set up a fajita station. We had grilled chicken or grilled sliced portobellas for the non-meat eaters, peppers & all the usual fajita offerings (lettuce, tomato, etc), fresh grilled corn on the cob, huge salad, fruit kabobs & of course the required cake & ice cream. My aunt complained the WHOLE time about where the fried chicken & macaroni salad was as if that’s the only fare we can serve at a family gathering. It really worked my nerves. Then she says, picking over my food, “I can’t eat this stuff.”

    Stuff? What stuff? *sigh* It saddens me to think that for some of us if it isn’t fried, smothered, or cooked to death (string beans) it’s not our kind of food. This logic is ridiculous.

    As for exercising this doesn’t seem to be a problem for men of color. They are encouraged to shoot hoops, run track & bike all day. Yet when a woman of color wants to partake in an activity it’s viewed with ulterior motives. She must be “trying to lose weight for the summer”; or she’s “trying to be cute” (or white). Being active is never viewed as wanting to maintain health or simply for enjoyment. This is bothersome.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall March 1, 2011 at 1:27 PM - Reply

      But here’s what I don’t get – not to imply that you have to “lose weight” in order to be cute… but what if I WAS “trying to be cute?”

      What the hell does that mean that it becomes a “negative?”

      Am I supposed to be… uncute? And am I supposed to be uncute so that people don’t talk bad about me behind my back?

      Or is this some more “crab in a barrel” type stuff that I wouldn’t understand anyway?

      Is there anyone else with weird stories like this?

      • M March 1, 2011 at 2:22 PM - Reply

        I have a situation similar to this at my workplace. I work with several women who are VERY obese (including myself). Most of the women seem to be pretty supportive of my weigh loss efforts, but it’s interesting seeing their reactions over the years to other women who’ve successfully lost some weight. There’s quite a lot of the “She think she cute” and “She ain’t cute” and “She think she all that she ain’t all that” and so on and so forth. It definitely smacks of the “crabs in a barrel syndrome”.

        It does make me wonder what they’ll say about me when I lose my weight.

        • Jenna Thomas March 18, 2012 at 3:50 PM - Reply

          I don’t know when you made this post. But please don’t care what they say. Leave them heffas mad. It sounds like the stuff I try to get my 3rd and 2nd grade daughters to not care about or ever repeat themselves.

      • Green Afro Diva March 2, 2011 at 12:20 AM - Reply

        I don’t mean to shamelessly plug, but I wrote about this issue about black people being very picky when it comes to food, but not sex. It’s like people would go down and eat anything(no pun intended) but yet think foods like Goat cheese and sushi makes you bougie. http://greenafrodiva.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/how-nasty-are-you-sex-and-food-edition/

      • Natasha Christian December 27, 2011 at 7:04 PM - Reply

        I love that you shared the “Crab In The Barrel” story! I’ve heard the same story but told by a personal development guru, Jim Rohn. You’re absolutely right. In general, anytime a person takes on a new project and makes the commitment to see it through despite the risk of failure, the supposedly “well-meaning” people always approach it with negativity and rejection. Mainly because they are jealous that they don’t have the same courage and ambition as you. These “well-meaning” people will near destroy that person inside and out just to come to find out that there really was an opportunity present for that person and they had what it took to meet it all along…

        • Charey November 14, 2012 at 5:49 PM - Reply

          My mom is one of those “well-meaning” people. It takes a lot to ignore her comments as she has always been a single parent and I am an only child. Still I press on 🙂

      • Natasha Christian December 27, 2011 at 9:37 PM - Reply

        I love that you shared the “Crab In The Barrel” story! I’ve heard the same story but told by a personal development guru, Jim Rohn. You’re absolutely right. In general, anytime a person takes on a new project and makes the commitment to see it through despite the risk of failure, the supposedly “well-meaning” people always approach it with negativity and rejection. Mainly because they are jealous that they don’t have the same courage and ambition as you. These “well-meaning” people will near destroy you inside and out just to come to find out that there really was an opportunity present for you and that you had what it took to meet it all along…

    • Green Afro Diva March 2, 2011 at 12:14 AM - Reply

      I agree %100 with you. I hate to sound mean, but sometimes I feel like we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to this issue. Nothing wrong with having healthier fare at a family get together, but what’s wrong with trying something new? And the catch 22 is that while the men are getting it in at the gym, there are some women out there that are in denial about being ‘thick’.

  3. Jeannine March 1, 2011 at 1:45 PM - Reply

    I think we all have these stories! My father lives with me and he insists he eats healthy but I don’t see it. So when I’m trying and I throw things out of the fridge to make room for better items, he keeps bringing in more stuff! He says to me “I’m not on a diet, so I need food around”. Funny thing is it seems like he just wants to see it all the time, he just wants the fridge to be full so no matter what he’s in the mood for there is food in there to fill any craving he may have. I’m not on a diet either, but eating healtheie and fighting cravings is very hard especially when there is so much food around. I think when I get home he will be getting a stern talking to about what is to be in MY house and what is not. If he don’t like it he can go be fat by himself! We are expected to have all this food around just in case someone stops by. I don’t think so. It’s not my job to feed everyone and if they stop by my house unannounced they should not be expecting a meal!

    • Lorrie March 1, 2011 at 7:21 PM - Reply

      Giiirl, I understand, what we as black gym rats must accept is that we are pioneers for neo black female fitness and that most unfit persons of any color will be intimidated or threatened when we begin to lose weight. MOst people are generally insecure and competitive and do not like the idea of someone looking better than they even if they are not willing to do what it takes. That is not just a black thang – it is a human thang. Black people just tend to use the race card to apply to every situation because it is convienent, I dont think its worth getting upset over. My own closest family members are the ones who remind me that I am bigger than they (well one in particualar) and that they cannot allow me to pass them up (get smaller than they). A little bit of competition never hurt anyone AND now we both are losing weight. I think its cute on some level, I am the catalyst for change. Many family members are concerned about their weight and had previously dieted and gave up but when they saw me losing weight they jumped back on the weight loss train. Unfortunately they are not open to advice, they want to “win” on their own terms their own way not because I helped them…lol, its laughable but competition is real, especially between siblings. Anyway enough of that! I began this post because I wanted to encourage your gym activities. When I first joined the gym, I chose three machines I could do and started with the easiest one built up my endurance and moved to the next then the next and alternated between them. Once I mastered them I chose new machines. Each machine I would start out with what I could handle and then increased the time on each machine each workout. It will be different for everyone, just like Erika says I will not tell you how many minutes I did or which machine first because I dont want to tell you what you should do just how to do it. Enjoy your gym rat journey!!

    • Beautybae101 April 15, 2014 at 10:16 PM - Reply

      Lol, that’s funny J

  4. Shana March 1, 2011 at 1:51 PM - Reply

    When I saw that comment I wanted to throw my laptop out of the window. I could not, and still cannot, believe that someone had the audacity to formulate those words.

    • Zoe July 18, 2011 at 10:45 PM - Reply

      It’s interesting comments like that they betray deep miseducation and ignorance. All the more annoying because the speaker clings to the nonsense like it is truth. I think there is also internalized racism or an underlying self hatred.

      It’s the same type of thing I feel when people say getting good grades is “being white”.

      If the education system is so bad (I’m not saying it isn’t) then why don’t people REFORM the system rather than stand outside and whine about anyone who tries to get involved.

      And when it comes to food and health it is BEYOND ridiculous the type of thinking in this statement. First of all there are black people outside the States and their traditional lifestyles revolve around healthy relationships with whole foods. Second of all even for black people in America, were people 50 years ago eating processed calorie laden, nutritively bankrupt food: NO. Yes there was cobbler, pork, etc BUT there was also fresh produce and wholesomeness. The revisionist history that sticking to Popeye’s (seriously?!?) is staying true to culture is …I don’t even have the words…

      • Urs October 13, 2012 at 11:30 AM - Reply

        ABSOLUTELY agree with most of what’s been said. The extent of the health issues we see now are new. Was happy to share this article with my cousin and some other women. I realized Summer 2011 what I sometimes do to my body. While on a Mediterranean cruise I lost weight. 14 days out of the country and I l dropped 7 lbs. from ebing active and eating better foods. When I came home and ate McDonald’s (my job has me on the road so I often stopped for crap) my body rebelled. I literally got sick. Didn’t make the conenction and a week or so later I ate fast food again and my body rebelled again (nausea, stomach cramps, etc.). It struck me that my body became conditioned to crap– and the break from it (plus exercise) made me feel better and I didn’t even know I was feeling bad. That fall, because I hate the gym– I began Zumba. The Zumba has kept up for almost a year now and a friend joined me. But the eating sometimes slips back into the danger zone. The weight I lost has come back– being over 40 doesn’t help. SO I am SLOWLY getting back on track. What I don’t like is that once I gained an unhealthy amount of weight a joke (meant as a compliment) was made that now I was “finally” shaped “like a Black girl.”

        Nothing’swrong with being shapley– but something is wrong with being Black = unhealthy.

        • Retta February 22, 2013 at 4:54 PM - Reply

          I am also a “black gym rat”, I don’t mind being called that, but I have a female family member, who, when I see her, she makes comments. Not bad ones, but she doesn’t know I go to the gym five days a week, hours a day. Did I add she is VERY COMPETITIVE? If I get something, she has to top it. Anyway, I used to be almost 200 lbs, and I was so depressed. My doctor told me in such a snotty, looking down his nose look, “you need to walk or something”. I fired him, but it’s been well over 10 years ago. I guess I needed that special “KICK IN THE REAR” to get to going. It is so embarrasing when a man, tells you basically, YOU ARE FAT. I have been in the gym ever since. Also, people will try to break your cycle or project, if it is weight loss or whatever. Keep it moving

  5. JoAnna March 1, 2011 at 3:08 PM - Reply

    I workout in a rehab facility/gym. Only the attendants/nurses seem to be younger than me. So lots of patients my age (40’s)or older, and about 85% white. Yesterday, I decided to up my workout by doubling my time on the seated stepper and adding the elliptical. I had tried the ellipitical when I 1st started but had to quit after a minute and was very sore. Well, the older black lady who has been my workout “neighbor” for about a month told me not to do it because it’s too hard. Then the black nurse said the same thing. I jumped on it anyway and said I was going to do 5 mins at a 60-70 strides per minute. I couldn’t talk at that pace, but I could still breathe without panting, and my heartrate was in the target zone. Do you know they kept trying to get me to slow down, or to stop? They kept warning me that I was going to injure myself.

    My doc had just told me last week that everything looked good. As long as I didn’t feel pain or dizzyness, then to push myself. I finished that part of my workout and my “neighbor” just shook her head. I drank water and walked around to the treadmills to finish up and midway thru the same black nurse came over to take my blood pressure. She took it twice ’cause she thought the reading was too low for the work I was doing. Again, my readings were right where they should be and she made a remark that I was sweating too much, and could have a heartattack as hard as I was pushing myself.

    A couple of the other white regulars congrajulated me on adding the elliptical to my workout, telling me it gets easier with time. My black “neighbor” told me that I was sweating too much, it wasn’t cute, and I was showing off.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this behavior, even outside of this gym. I’ve eaten out with friends and will get a green salad when they’re enjoying the bread basket, and I get snide remarks. Or when I say I purchase produce at the Farmer’s mkt on the weekend “But it’s so dirty!” Or now that I’m starting my garden seeds for Spring planting. “White folks do that. Why can’t you just buy plants at the store like everyone else?” I once brought broccoli cheese quiche and banana bread to a church potluck and choir members asked why did I bring white food to the event? The list goes on…

    I’ve learned keep my enthusiasm to myself in certain circles. If I get a compliment about my weight loss, I smile, say thank you. If I’m pushed as to how, I say I’ve made a promise to myself to get healthier, and to put myself, my health first. It’s not worth defending arguments that scheduling time to workout, to eat better is more important than the beauty shop, or going shopping, or even some social events. It truly is a case of just looking good and feeling better and letting the haters wonder.

    • Anggie May 18, 2013 at 8:49 AM - Reply

      I am so glad you didn’t and don’t let the negative comments stop you. It’s amazing that your “neighbor” and the nurse couldn’t have been just as encouraging as the other members in the gym. And you know what– there’s no shame in “showing off” your fitness cause you could do something they weren’t willing to try. Good for you. Too many times we “conform” to be less than our full potential because others are intimidated and insecure. Their insecurity lies in the fact that they realize, at least internally, “if she can do it for herself why can’t I?” – and because they’re not … they want you to stop reminding them of what they’re failing to do.

      Good for your and your healthy life!!!

  6. Eva March 1, 2011 at 3:49 PM - Reply

    Great article.

    Here’s what I think the “deeper” issue is.

    I think a lot of black people are afraid that if you work out, get healthy, lead a great life, then you won’t want to be around THEM anymore. We black people have such low self esteem, we’ve been told for decades that everything about us is wrong, so if one of us is doing something right, we panic. Are they going to leave us? Are they going to forget us?

  7. Dre March 1, 2011 at 4:54 PM - Reply

    This is foolishness! African Americans are soo far disconnected from our roots that it is almost embarrassing. If you study the black history, you will find that the processed food diet that we are practicing now is where the assimilation really took place. When we owned our own stores and farms we were alot healthier all the way around, but once we broke away from that our health took a turn for the worse. This is true for other cultures who have assimilated into the “American” way of eating, the Hispanic Health Paradox is proof of that, this study suggests that since a large number of Mexican immigrants hold true to their native diets, they are the healthiest population in the US, but we don’t hear about this in the media. We need to go back to our roots!

    • Alovelydai March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM - Reply

      Totally agree.

      There was also a study in CA that found that a lot of Mexican immigrants were indeed gaining weight rapidly because they were eating Americanized versions of their country’s food…even down to the ingredients. Corn tortillas here are not made the same as in Mexico. Imagine that!

    • Zee April 25, 2011 at 5:26 PM - Reply

      “I was recently approached with the comment that my exercise regimen and eating habits were a form of assimilation as well.”

      That’s the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever heard. In response, I have to say that if choosing a healthy lifestyle means being ‘white’, then count me in. I’d much rather be ‘white’ than dead at 40.

  8. Chintel March 1, 2011 at 6:04 PM - Reply

    This article was right on time for me. Yesturday I hired a personal trainer and am so excited to get started. But anyway…When i cook healthy(which ive been doing for over a year now) My boyfriend will kinda look at the food and go, “thats some white ppl stuff?” I just tell him no, its food thats gunna save ur life and mine so shut up and eat. He doesnt ask me that too much anymore. He eats it and his blood pressure is down because of it.

    I mean really, Whats the difference between white food and black food? Food is food.

  9. June March 1, 2011 at 6:47 PM - Reply

    I also have similar stories. I started working for a vitamin company about ten years ago. It was my job to research vitamins and provide the needed documentation for anything we said about their benefits. As I did more and more research I saw how I needed more vegetables, less meat and more exercise in my life. Many of my overweight, female, African-American co-workers actually started calling me names like skinny minny or less flattering names commenting on my lifestyle change. I felt like I had to defend myself and would often talk about my family’s history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and early deaths. It was almost like being unhealthy and having a dis-ease like the above mentioned illnesses was more acceptable than living longer without medication and doctor visits every month. I started getting into yoga, swimming and bike riding and then the “oreo” jokes came. You know black outside, white inside. I also would walk to the local farmers market on weekends to purchase fresh, local vegetables and fruits, and this also illicited hate filled commentary. Its truly amazing that we are more open to welcome untimely deaths as a result of poor eating habits than to change a little and live longer with a better quality of life.

    • Alovelydai March 2, 2011 at 12:08 PM - Reply

      “I felt like I had to defend myself and would often talk about my family’s history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and early deaths. It was almost like being unhealthy and having a dis-ease like the above mentioned illnesses was more acceptable than living longer without medication and doctor visits every month.”

      It’s sad ’cause it’s true.

  10. Daphne March 1, 2011 at 8:17 PM - Reply

    I’m no historian, but here’s my theory, and it relates to Southern blacks specifically:

    Setting aside the introduction of commercially processed foods, I think many old(er) school blacks didn’t have the best diet, and many (most?) blacks unknowingly compensated for less than quality diets because of manual labor. They ate closer to the source because they had to, but even then, a good deal of traditional soul food is fried and or fat-laden. So no, they didn’t formally exercise because, and I think, well after slavery, all they did was move all day while at work. So, I suspect that a fair share of such backlash is from older blacks, because they don’t understand that today is a much different time than when they came of age.

    My parents were older (40) when I was born, so I grew up around several blacks born and raised during Jim Crow, 1950s -1970s. And……I don’t recall a whole lot of fresh fruit and salads eaten regularly. Greens? Yes, especially collards, but that is about the greenest food I remember eating on a regular basis as a child. Well, maybe okra as well. Admittedly, this is MY experience, but that’s why I’m not particularly surprised by the sentiment of, “You eat what? You exercise how? Chile, that’s white folks’ stuff.”

    And yeah, the “you think you cute/you tryin’ to be cute” reeks of low self-esteem issues. Plus, no one likes to be reminded that they can be better when they’re comfortable where they are.

    • Eva March 2, 2011 at 9:18 AM - Reply

      I think you are right about that. The traditional soul food diet is “everything fried” and lots of it. But if you’re working from sun up to sun down, most of that food was burned off. However even though a lot of that food was fried and fat laden, it wasn’t processed, so I’m sure that helped too.

    • LBC March 30, 2011 at 10:27 AM - Reply

      It’s not just a black thing, either. If I go to pick up my mom at her (all white) sewing group and we all go out to lunch, I get razzed mercilessly if I don’t order fried something with all the trimmings, polish off the whole plate, and top it off with pie. No wonder the smallest of these ladies outweighs me, literally, by a hundred pounds. Most of them, though, are older ladies who grew up on farms and think a good meal is fried chicken or chicken fried steak or meatloaf, with potatoes and cooked-to-death green beans with bacon, and biscuits and cornbread (because, of course, one starch at a meal is not enough, right?), and dessert, washed down with tooth-imploding sweet tea or Coke. If you don’t put it away like a hired hand they think you’re sick, or putting on airs.

      Yes, ma’am; I love the food here but I don’t want to be 250 pounds with bad knees and Type II diabetes. I’ll have the spicy grilled catfish and a side salad. And a take-home box, because I know they’re going to give me two whole catfish fillets and there’s no way I’m finishing all that at one meal.

      I’m not afraid of good old Southern cooking but I’m not going to eat it all the time, and I’m not going to eat more of anything than I really want.

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