Home #ScaleFreeBaby Stop Telling Me Black Women Don’t Work Out

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don’t Work Out

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Note: When I started this, I just initially intended to rant a little bit and then go back to tending to Sprout, mainly because I know that people who are invested in their right to say nasty things about black women aren’t going to be swayed by anything written by a black woman.

That being said, I didn’t write this for them – I wrote this for the woman who is tired of hearing the same myths I hear, often being said to them while they’re working out, and wants a way to respond to that. This is for you.


Please see the below.

The study is questionable, but the fact that Black females generally do not exercise in the same numbers and intensity is a truth. The problem lies not in the hair, but in cultural norms/expectations/body acceptance. White and Asian women are shamed from early youth when we show signs of being overweight and as we (I am White) get older, our ability to attract men is more restricted and our self-esteem lowers. In Black and Latina culture, there is not the same level of body shaming. A Black/Latina female can still attract men in her cultural group while being heavy-set. As far as “numbers” that prove Black females are not as active in the gym or on running trails? I have none, but have observed the problem for a very long time both inside gyms and on the runnign trails. The numbers of Black female joggers and gym members are much lower than White/Asian female (and I am referring to urban areas where Black people are a large minority or even majority- not rural or suburban areas). The good news is: I moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta a few years ago and found that Black female presence is MUCH higher on the run trails and in the gyms down here.

Aside from the obscenely racist and moronic comments I get – those are my faaaaavorite – I occasionally get these.

These…. uh…. comments. From obviously informed people. I hate these comments, and I’m going to tell you why.

There was a long period of time over the first few years of the Obama presidency where there was this onslaught of media coverage about the perils of black women. We were overweight and proud to be as much, this shameful lot, and therefore unworthy of marriage… thusly, our unmarried status – and, by extension, our abundance of out-of-wedlock children were all our fault.

This was the message largely perpetuated by media outlets desperate to keep the clicks coming, and nothing motivates a crowd more than angry clicks, amirite?

And, when we saw these media reports, we – as black women – were hurt, no doubt, but also disgusted. A lot of us took that message and internalized it in a way that made us believe we were the problem, therefore the solution lied within us, as well.

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don't Work Out Share on X

(Never mind the fact that our inability to marry might have more to do with the increase in missing black men in America, and less to do with their willingness to dismiss the women most likely to extend empathy to their condition; never mind the fact black men still overwhelmingly marry black women, even if only later in life… also presumably because far too many black men spend their teens and twenties evading the nonsense of policing in major cities, ultimately leaving them to spend their late thirties and early forties doing what many of us were forced to do in our twenties and early thirties

…but I’m sleep, though.)

This is my seventh year in writing A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. What started out as a space for me to dump the things I’d learned on my weight loss journey as a newbie turned into a space where I opined on health and fitness matters as a certified professional, and is now morphing into a space where I do both at the same time as I begin my journey to losing the post-pregnancy weight. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and I’ve written for both ends of the spectrum and all the spaces in-between. Suffice to say, this is what I do.

Alas, at a professional conference last year, I was approached by a black man who was obviously selling his training program to trainers so they could become certified in it, and he proceeded to praise me for being “the only black woman out here.”

Please keep in mind that I’d seen at least seven black women well before breakfast time, and this was the breakfast session where he told me this. (And no, he had no idea who I was. I play it low key when I’m out at events – why would he?)

“I mean, I just never see black women out here! They never come to my classes, they’re never out here working out…”

Mind you, my Facebook page alone – not for a group, not for a “theme,” but my Facebook page that only represents me and my writing – was approaching 100,000 at the time… so, I ask him.

“Well, where are you that you’re never seeing black women?”

“I’m everywhere.”

Then, maybe black women are avoiding you because you’re a shitty trainer? (It’s worth mentioning that, a quick google search of his training program by name brings up no current Google search results. Pardon me as I file my nails.)

Trainers who say 'black women aren't working out!' should ALWAYS be avoided! Share on X

Maybe you push an aesthetic on them that they resist? Maybe you are the kind of trainer who deals shame to a group of women already overwhelmed with the shame the rest of society tries to put on them? Hell – when you’re dealing with media that tries to pin the downfall of your community on you instead of where it rightfully belongs, the last thing you want is to pay to participate in a class led by someone who doesn’t respect you as a human being… and do so for fun.

Don’t let the media reports fool you – black women are working out. A generic arbitrary number masquerading as a “legitimate measure of health” with regard to black women tells you nothing. A glimpse into an urban epicenter tells you nothing. You are looking at people, not representatives of black womanhood. I don’t represent anyone else, and they most certainly couldn’t represent me, nor should they be tasked with the responsibility. If I can look at Kirstie Alley without presuming that she represent all white women, surely, white America can do the same for black women.

What you see when you enter your little non-diverse gym doesn’t erase what I see, as a trainer, when I travel and teach classes and talk to these women as they embark on their journeys; it doesn’t erase the countless e-mails I get from black women across the globe looking for insight into their weight loss endeavors. These women are training at home with DVDs and training plans they’ve gotten from their trainers (or their favorite fitness blog), because they work long hours and have children to pick up and dinners to cook and can’t afford the gym with the kid’s club in the middle.

Or, they’re up in the park at 7AM for that early morning 3-day-a-week boot camp class with their little crew and their teacher, because the communal aspect of fitness keeps them all going.

Or they’re getting up at 6AM to jog around their block a few times because, despite the fact that they might not live on the safest block, 6AM is still the safest hour of the day and, quite honestly, working out in the comfort of their own neighborhood – those neighborhoods that the people often making these criticisms never visit, unsurprisingly – is far better than traveling to the less diverse – yet, safer – neighborhoods and offering themselves up as a side show for people to stare, point and laugh at, or any other behavior to make them uncomfortable.

We’re out there every day. And just because we don’t look the way you think we should look doesn’t mean you get to erase our commitment or our dedication.

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don't Work Out Share on X

I also want to talk about this, because it’s a common strain in these conversations:

White and Asian women are shamed from early youth when we show signs of being overweight and as we (I am White) get older, our ability to attract men is more restricted and our self-esteem lowers. In Black and Latina culture, there is not the same level of body shaming.

I cannot stress enough – shame should never be a motivator for self-care. This person believes the culprit is too much body acceptance. Too much comfort with their bodies. That’s what’s keeping them from eating healthily and working out. If we shamed them more and made them feel worse about their bodies, then we could get somewhere with making them lose weight.

When we are positioning self-acceptance as the problem and shame — and all the pain that comes along with it — as the solution, we need to strongly reconsider whether or not we actually care about the people involved, or whether we just feel a need to speak… a need to lord over someone else. No one who truly cares about another person tries to rule them or manipulate them with shame. You know why? Because the isolation that always tags along with shame when it comes to the table is the place where eating disorders are born, and we don’t wish those on people we love. And, if we don’t love the person we’re talking about…

…why are you talking about them and their bodies at all?

It’s also worth noting that this person assumes that there’s not the same level of body shaming because of course, if there was, the women in those cultures wouldn’t be fat anymore, got it? I don’t know about you, but I received my fair share — in fact, I received enough for both me and you — of body shame growing up. You know why it didn’t result in a skinny body? Because the shame I felt about being unable to “control my body” only pushed me further into bingeing on food in a dangerously unhealthy fashion. That shame didn’t leave me until I had the temerity, well into adulthood, to say that the opinions of people I love didn’t matter since they couldn’t be bothered to say those opinions to me in a way that respected me as a human being.

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don't Work Out Share on X

And, of all the women I know who spent their entire lives overweight back through childhood? Not once have I ever heard one say they didn’t have a shovel-full of shame heaped on them because of their size. Not once. We won’t even get into the nonsense of dating being easier when you’re black and fat.

We talked about this before, though—remember? Because black women weren’t twisting and torturing themselves over their size the way that their lighter-skinned counterparts were admitting to doing, something was wrong with the black women. Not that something was wrong with the way society uses shame to control women’s bodies, not a recognition of the torture that this shame puts white women through, no… the question was, “why aren’t black women getting their slice of the shame pie?”

Listen. This is narcissism. The idea that you can spot “different” and, instead of respecting it for what it is, choosing to say “I am the standard, so you must be the problem?” The world does not revolve around any of us.

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don't Work Out Share on X

The idea that what’s in front of us is all we need to define the world around us is ludicrous – if you were looking for me on a running trail, you’d never find me because I don’t find running in parks or on trails safe. I like the confines of four walls or a busy and well-populated street to keep me safe. If you were looking for many of the women who follow my blog, you might never see them because you’re too busy assuming they must not work out because they’re heavier than you think they should be.

And here’s my beef – why do these people come to a website obviously supported by hundreds of thousands of women, the overwhelming majority of whom are black, to talk about how black women don’t do… the thing that the website is centered around? Why does the anecdote of one woman override the existence of hundreds of thousands of black women in one community centered around one goal? Why is this okay?

Sigh. Let’s put this to bed for once and for all.

Black women are learning more and more about healthy living and are pursuing healthier, more active lives in ways that suit them, not the world around them. Black women are embracing their bodies in positive ways while simultaneously working to change them to improve their quality of life, challenge them to make them stronger and, yes, sometimes working to squeeze into that dress that might be a size or two too small. They are succeeding at this and, sometimes, failing… and they are using the failure to help them understand what works for them and what doesn’t. And guess what? Some aren’t doing anything at all, and that, too, is their prerogative. (And, if this describes the women in your life, ask yourself: do they deserve to be mistreated to the point where you make them do something? Or should they do it of their own volition, in a way that makes them happy?)

I know this, not only because of what I do for a living, but because this is what you learn when you are capable of displaying empathy for another group of people… something far too many people refuse to do for black women.

In closing, please stop telling me that black women don’t work out. In fact, stop saying it altogether. Just because they’re not in your face showing off, or feeling just as lowly about themselves as the rest of society, doesn’t mean they need to be shamed, embarrassed, or demeaned in any way. No one deserves that, but to actively acknowledge it as a tool to manipulate and control should give all of us pause.

And we all deserve better than that.

Stop Telling Me Black Women Don't Work Out Share on X

You may also like


Erin September 15, 2015 - 1:28 PM

Erika, you are so AWESOME!! Thank you for writing this! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it is SO true!

Kat September 15, 2015 - 3:31 PM

AWESOME article!!!

Al September 15, 2015 - 10:10 PM

I didn’t know that “Black women don’t work out” – at least not until I moved to this USA from Jamaica where the population is predominantly black. I gotta tell you, we work out – not always in the traditional sense (such as going to the gym) But we do. We walk, run, hike and lift heavy things. And yes, I have noticed that I am 1 of about 5 black women in my crossfit box, but for me to assume that my sisters are not getting their workout elsewhere is LUDICROUS.

mimi September 15, 2015 - 11:23 PM

If we don’t do things in the same way that the white, mainstream does then we are invisible.

I’m so tired of it.

Jeff J. September 16, 2015 - 10:08 AM

The minute she said “well I dont have any” in regards to the stats on her asinine claim, I tuned her out.

Excellent work here debunking yet another myth damaging black women!

JLW September 17, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Thank you so much for this article. It is definitely true. I am Black and all of the Black friends that I have work out and eat well. I am also a a Black Girls Run member and we are not just walking or running, but hiking, taking classes at the gym and weight lifting. That trainer needs to get with it…totally.

Jame September 20, 2015 - 1:14 AM

This resonated hard for me today. I was headed home on my bike after I finished a session with a trainer. I saw lots of women running, at all speeds, all shapes, all sizes and mostly black women. I assumed it was one of our local running clubs. Then I saw a couple of mostly black men cheering them on:
“You go girls, keep at it, you are going to be real pretty soon.”

I was so annoyed. Can’t we just run because we want to?

Belinda September 20, 2015 - 8:11 PM

I’m 65 and have been exercising for about 25 years. Sometimes I belong to a gym and other times I exercise on my own. Right now I walk outdoors, workout to exercise videos, I have about 20, and ride my recumbent bike. How I exercise depends on how I feel, time of year, and the weather. I always assume that other women vary exercise to match their lifestyles. Black women definitely exercise.

Arline September 20, 2015 - 8:27 PM

I would just like agree that our black sisters do workout and workout hard. Our trainer started a free program for anyone who wanted to workout every Wed and Saturday morning at a park. I have been with him for one year and lost 40lbs. He never cancel, we are there rain,sleet ,snow or shine. His goal is to get us healthy and off meds. His wife and daughter is out there as well. It’s called Waisting Away with Dwight. I started weighing 236 lbs and on 8 medications for high bp. I am now on one pill and will be taken off at my dr appt in a couple of weeks. People need to be quiet if they don’t know what they are talking about. Love your website!(I am a 60 yr old sista now doing bear crawls ..lol)

Necey September 20, 2015 - 8:32 PM

Girl YES!!! Even with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, a recent 52 year birthday celebration, a two hour daily commute to a FT job, a college class, and two grandbabies to help take care of….AND a dog – Black Women Do Work Out! (and we look good doing it too lol)

Tanya September 21, 2015 - 3:47 PM

I’m a black girl and I workout! Can’t wait to get to the gym after work today, as a matter of fact! LOL

Marisa September 22, 2015 - 2:35 PM

Girl, I’m about halfway through this & had to stop & tell you I LOVE YOU!! You giving THE REAL, cracking up at Mr. Trainer’s Google search..Pardon me as I file my nails!!!! Love it! I may not work out as much as I should but I’m proud to say we’re out there. I know Black women of all ages in my close girlfriend group, church and work that’s working out in addition to watching what we eat. My 20-something year old children, nieces & nephews eat healthier than I do, sorry but I’m not giving up pork completely…lean cuts in moderation 🙂 They’ve recently jumped on the wheat bread wagon, which I’ve been on for years, but they looked at it sideways. When I read this kind of mess, I keep it moving because I don’t know where these “case-studies” are being performed, but I know what I see in my community & I live in SW MI…where WE are not the majority.

Comments are closed.