If you hadn’t heard, Huffington Post’s Black Voices section has featured me in their “Own Your Power” series for not only my weight loss story but also a few tips I gave in avoiding resolution pitfalls. (The article was also featured on the front page of AOL.com, which should explain if you were unable to access the site yesterday.)
One of the first rules of HuffPo is… don’t read the comments. And that’s not a knock at the website, but it is a critique of the people who use anonymity to make some pretty untoward comments on a large stage. Don’t get me wrong – the typical “fat whore” and “finely-aged hooker” comments (both of which I’ve received, here) come with the territory. As a woman (a Black one, at that) who covers issues relating to body image and women actually eating… you just get used to it. Women aren’t supposed to have ownership of their bodies, they aren’t supposed to eat (we’re supposed to perpetually diet, fear food and strive to shrink ourselves down to toothpicks with two watermelons at the top…because even though our bodies are supposed to have NO fat in them, we’re supposed to have huge boobs too… boobs, which are ALL fat) and they for damn sure aren’t supposed to speak, be it out of turn or IN turn. The “she looked better fat” and the like comments weren’t what annoyed me.
What really got my goat was the number of “OKAY HERE WE GO WHAT IF THERE WAS A WHITE GIRL’S GUIDE TO WEIGHT LOSS? THAT’D BE RACIST AMIRITE AL SHARPTON WOULD BE ON US OMG WTF BBQ NAACP WOULD HAVE OUR HIDES REVERSE RACISM DEATH SQUAD AHHHHH INORITE” comments. There’s even the gem of “When I talk to people, I don’t see color.” in there. I mean, I’m just stupefied by this. This isn’t a rebuttal to the commenters who didn’t give enough of a damn to take five minutes to read a single article on the site, namely the one where I address whether the blog can help non-Blacks as well as nongirls. This is for the people who, with trepidation (and rightfully so), enter a space that they feel may not be for them or with them in mind, but believe this could be a place where they garner valuable information.
Why do I write this for you? Because I, along with every other Black woman who has even a passing interest in fitness, can relate. It’s what we go through every day, and I think it’s only fair that I address you and your concerns in a way we wish ours were addressed.
Let’s legitimately look at the question, though. Why isn’t there A White Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss? If I felt like being snarky and dismissive, I’d ask you what the hell a lot of the current fitness magazines are out here. Alas, I’m honestly willing to answer it.
The reason my blog carries the title it does is not because it is “a guide to weight loss for Black girls; it is a guide to weight loss by a Black girl. That means the author is Black and female. The acculturation that created the mentality behind the blog posts on this site is Black and female. What is Black female acculturation? The idea that while society places limitations on what I am capable of as a woman, I have to dually face the challenges of facing those limitations as well as the limitations society places on me for being Black. Society has a very specific idea of what “women” should look like. Society rewards those who look that way, and shames those who do not. My friends who are struggling to keep their brunette roots from showing under their blond hair may simply like being blondes, or they may be trying to fit into society’s definition of beauty. My friends who are starving right now may just not have time to eat, or they’re starving themselves to fit society’s definition of beauty.
I exist in a society where the people who set the standard for what is beautiful are not “women,” like I am, and they certainly aren’t Black, like I am. I contribute to a culture (because culture is, in fact, dynamic) where the people who set the standard for what is “beautiful” and “desirable” may be Black, but they certainly aren’t women. The standards for these two places are, in no parts, similar. At all. Ever. The ridiculous part of this all, though, is the fact that beauty is subjective. All things aren’t beautiful to all people, but all people are beautiful to someone, most importantly themselves, and that needs to be okay. We don’t work that way in America, though. Someone else sets the standard for what is beautiful. The rest of us suck it up and buy the products and get the procedures it takes to be desirable. (See: consumerism.) As a Black woman, though, I am given a safe haven from the bashing. Even though I’m morbidly obese, I’m “still beautiful” and “don’t need to change.” Even though I’m morbidly obese, I’m told “I love a big fine woman,” because male attention should be the deciding factor in my self-satisfaction. Even though I’m morbidly obese, I’m told “you can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don’t lose that butt.” I’m not a human with a brain, I’m a two-legged (sometimes four-legged?) stand for a ginormous booty.
In a society that shuns me because I look so different from the “ideal,” I’m lulled into comfort by my own culture that tells me that my (talking about myself, here) inability to cope through anything but food, lack of physical activity, poor habits that were causing improper functioning in my legs and the consequences of such were okay. It’s wrong, the way society harps on women and demands their thinness, but it’s equally questionable how acceptable poor health can be in my own culture. That… is the intersection of being Black and a woman in fitness.
When I seek fitness, on a general scale I may not see too many people who look like me. I have to go against what I believe (however inaccurate it may be) to be the accepted standard in my culture, leave behind what left me feeling beautiful in search of living a healthier life. All women should be granted the space to be beautiful, but that doesn’t outweigh the necessity of being honest with ourselves about our bodies. Are our bodies, and the habits we have that make them and keep them in their current condition, healthy? And if not, are we willing to relinquish our perception of and value of that beauty to achieve that health we desire?
I appreciate any person who, in this day and age, can say “I don’t see color when I talk to people.” I think that’s fantastic.
That being said, it’s difficult for me to take the idea of “a color blind society” seriously when, just this past Sunday, I had an elder white woman shout – loudly, mind you – “Nigger!” at me three times as my daughter and I crossed in front of her in a Whole Foods. (Grew up in the whitest city in one of the whitest states in the Union, and the first time I’m called a “nigger” is when I move to New York City.) No one apologized, no “I’m so sorry you went through that,” no one even looked at me. My daughter, completely oblivious to the entire event, was the only reason I simply laughed as she turned the aisle. I can appreciate the fact that you, Miss Color Blind, can “overlook” that I’m Black. I can not. I’m reminded of it often, when little white women can attempt to debase me in front of my child and no one offers me even a look of sympathy, when presidential candidates can make statements about how Blacks need to go out and earn their own money (as if we aren’t already… as if something like 70% of welfare recipients aren’t white) and when there are still stories of redlining (and reverse redlining – hello, recession!) happening in America. I just… I don’t have that privilege of “not seeing color.”
So while I can appreciate the people who talk about color blindness, I don’t believe that “forgetting” or “ignoring” culture is the answer. The real answer is to respect culture and the beauty it brings. Fight for its representation, even if that means taking a back seat. Respect that while the lives led by people of different cultures may share a lot of similarities, there are nuances created by culture that make a difference.
All in all… everyone is welcome, here. I work hard to keep the community chill, and I hope you find value in what we share here. And, just as we Black women venture out, fearing and fearless at the same time, and find kinship along the way…. I hope for the same for you. Besides, we don’t bite around here. Unless it’s food… then we’re gnawin’.