Home The Op-Eds The NYTimes Offers Reasons “Why Black Women Are Fat”

The NYTimes Offers Reasons “Why Black Women Are Fat”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

…for crying out loud… good grief.

I had lots of thoughts about this op-ed, simply because I struggle with the reality that so much of women’s body issues are tied up in dating and mating, not their own health. I’m not downing those who have made that decision – that’s not my place – I just wonder if those women truly wind up getting what they originally wanted in the end.

I’ll explain that later. For now, on to the article.

I had to chop this up into bits and pieces. It’s so hard to read, that every time I go to paste a new paragraph, I feel like sticking my virtual finger out and saying “B-b-but…” because it misses so much of the point.

Maybe I’ve been writing about this stuff for too long.

At any rate… the article starts out with a photo of Josephine Baker, with the caption “Josephine Baker embodied a curvier form of the ideal Black woman.” This highlights a huge problem with a lot of Black women as it is, today: we don’t understand sizes, our bodies or “curvy” because “curvy,” like “thick,” has been misappropriated so many times that it no longer has any meaningful definition.

“Curvy” simply means that you have curves. Josephine Baker – and, by correlation, Marilyn Monroe – does not have the same kind of curves that many Black women (hell, women period) refer to when the say “curves” today. Josephine’s waist isn’t any larger than a 28; her hips, no larger than 40 inches. Not by a long shot. She might be curvy, but she was small. Petite women and smaller women are also afforded the ability to be curvy. Maybe if we embraced and accepted that idea, we’d stop clinging to the notion that “curves” can only accompany a larger frame. It simply isn’t true, and I’m annoyed by the author’s attempt to use Baker’s photo to imply such.

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.

Surely, we don’t believe that all $174 billion of that is spent on the Black community, right? I mean, we’re what – 13% of the population? With approximately 60% of the entire Black population suffering from at least being overweight, we’re maybe 7% of the entire population. Do we really think $174 billion is being spent on us?

All I’m sayin’ is that this isn’t a necessary guilt trip. We know the numbers are bad. But taking it to this comparison… there’s a reason it hasn’t been done before.

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.

So…are we “fat” because we want to be, or because “our men” want us to be? Wait…there’s more:

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.

A dancing teacher doesn’t have “fat” thighs, she has muscular ones. You don’t have to pray for them… you have to work for them.

How many men legitimately know what 200lbs looks like on a woman? If your husband is weighing you every morning and buying you super sized burgers and fries every time you hit 201lbs, your husband might be creepy. Regardless of how handsome, “sane,” tenured and successful he is, he is not excluded from being a scumbag.

Unless you are upwards of 5’9″, you’re going to experience problems due to your weight and the means by which you’re keeping it on, provided that it’s mostly fat. And if you aren’t experiencing them now, you may look forward to them in the future. The fact that a husband, who is supposed to want you around long enough and healthy enough for you both to live together forever, doesn’t know that and holds his wife to such a silly standard (Does he want her literally above 200lbs, or does he simply want her to maintain a curvy figure? Must her curvy figure be a 43-35-50, or would a 38-26-40 suffice?) even if it risks her health…. he’s a creeper. If your husband has the audacity to hinge the health of your marriage on you remaining a way that results in your jeopardizing your health, he’s a creeper… and you might wanna change the beneficiary on your policies. Sorry.

And really… “the sugar down below?” The food you eat might affect how “sweet” your “sugar” is, but unless his “stuff” is the size of a tree trunk, he’s not going to notice anything sexually that can’t be fixed with – yep, you guessed it, a little hard work. Emphasis on “hard.” Emphasis on “work.” Separately… and together.

…but I digress.

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.

Now, I actually ordered this book and, with any luck, will have it by Thursday. It’s a short read, but I don’t want to disparage a thesis I haven’t even read yet. However… this feels tone deaf to me. If a “fat Black woman” is supposed to serve as a political statement against the idea of the “fit Black slave,” where does that leave “fat Black men?” It’s far more likely to me, at this point, that the invisibility of Blacks to predominately-white marketing teams contributed to the fact that Black women don’t get the “message” to hyperextend themselves in the quest to be thin. Not that we passed down this idea that Black women “need to be fat to protest against the idea that we should simply be workhorses,” because if that were the case, then we would’ve stopped being nannies, midwives, or even…ahem…portraying them on film.

I’m still gonna read the book, though.

I live in Nashville. There is an ongoing rivalry between Nashville and Memphis. In black Nashville, we like to think of ourselves as the squeaky-clean brown town best known for our colleges and churches. In contrast, black Memphis is known for its music and bars and churches. We often tease the city up the road by saying that in Nashville we have a church on every corner and in Memphis they have a church and a liquor store on every corner. Only now the saying goes, there’s a church, a liquor store and a dialysis center on every corner in black Memphis.

…which is no different from Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas or any other state that’s a part of the bible belt. Overlay a map of The Bible Belt…

…with a map of obesity rates…

…with a map of where Blacks are living in the US…

…and then overlay that with a map of poverty in the United States.

If you wanted to refute your own point about Black women being fat “because we want to be,” this was a great way to start.

The rest of the essay was all over the place – apparently, according to Mrs. Randall, fat Black women are the reason the $1 trillion will go towards obesity-related illness (not, say, poor prioritizing on behalf of the government… because we sure can find trillions of dollars when it comes to the defense budget or, say, our politicians’ own inflated salaries and benefits), “sliced cucumbers, salsa, spinach and scrambled egg whites with onions” is a great “go-to family dinner” worthy of mentioning in her essay, and mentioning the “six” almonds she eats with her greek yogurt was also important – but a few things stand out for me.

For starters, as the wife of a lawyer and a “writer in residence” at Vanderbilt,I can tell you that she has access to far more money than most Blacks in America. Why? Because approximately 50% of all Black wage earners are making less than $25,000. In fact? The number of individual Blacks making more than $50k? I can’t even remember the number, but I’m almost certain it’s not high enough (edited to reflect). (And before you rattle off all the affluent and upwardly mobile Blacks you know, also think about how small those circles are and how there are still well over 32 million self-identified Blacks in America. There’s a reason you wind up seeing the same folks at the same events.) The fact that she has that money is a large part of why real, legitimate issues like “lack of fresh produce” or “affordability” or “the time it takes to learn about cooking and actually cook” don’t make an appearance in her op-ed. This is the contingent that merely worries about their husbands leaving them, should they lose their collective booty (or, maybe not, because if he hasn’t left her over that “go-to dinner,” then…I’own know. He might love her more than she thinks.)

Secondly, can we briefly discuss the fact that there’s no legitimate information in this essay that we didn’t already know? Those of us who have the free time to commit to reading the NYTimes already know the dire straits the community is in when it comes to health, but was it supposed to be some epiphany that she chose to correlate “lack of education funding” to “fat Black women” (not, mind you, health concerns in the Black community, even though dialysis centers were mentioned)? Because we legitimately think that if the government was surprised with a windfall as a byproduct of the success of the “no fat Black chicks” campaign, it’d spend it all on education? Chile, please.

I also don’t know how to reconcile this idea that “our men want us fat” with the conversation we had a couple of weeks ago, discussing the fact that losing weight actually opens up your opportunities in dating, and women’s pursuit of such. It sounds much more like men trying to protect themselves from having to compete with other men for a woman’s affection…and for that to spill over into a marriage, where [ostensibly] you’re there ’til death do you part? It’s creepy.

And, lastly. I know, I know, I get it. We’re unique. We’re special. We’re Black. We’re different. But there’s not a single damn reason that applies to us that doesn’t apply to the rest of America, either. Everyone is affected by lack of knowledge. Everyone is affected by the lack of access to fresh produce and healthy meat. Everyone was bitten by the processed food bug and, although poverty disproportionately affects Blacks, everyone is affected by issues of time and affordability. Singling us out and then applying foolish reasons that sound more like Sheena Easton songs than legitimate husbandly concerns winds up harming us all, leaving those of us with legitimate concerns rendered invisible, and severely discredits those of us who simply don’t know better. It makes us look like the “burdens on the system” we’ve always been painted out to be, and plays right into the hands and mentalities of those who think we are lazy, shiftless, and foolish. Stop trying to separate us from the rest of society, and for goodness sakes, stop blaming Black men for our weight… because, truth be told, they’re just as overweight as we are.

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Tamara May 7, 2012 - 12:29 PM

As soon as I saw the photo of Baker I was about done. By the time I finished the article I could have given myself whiplash with all the shaking of head.

It’s one of those moments were if you squint, you can see the point she was aiming for.. but then you realize just how far off the mark (any mark, really) she was.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2012 - 12:32 PM

My question to her is… If Josephine Baker has the curves you desire… do you think she weighs 200lbs?

Judi July 16, 2012 - 12:20 PM

Yes! Oh, my gosh. Josephine Baker looks FABULOUS! To correlate her size and build with the level of obesity that exists among women in our community today is ludicrous! Why do we keep rationalizing black obesity?

Jame May 7, 2012 - 12:38 PM

Thanks for this reply. I was really puzzled when I read this article. It was really clear, she didn’t 100% get it. Or even comment that this rise in obesity is a pretty recent thing (that coincided with the switch to all of the processed foods and moving away from the homegrown foods many of our parents grew up with…..)

Tasha May 7, 2012 - 1:09 PM

Thank you Thank you! Forget that crazy article, THE MAPS!!!! That was unbelievable! I would also like to see the dialysis, diabetes and heart disease maps to see who those numbers line up!

Monique May 7, 2012 - 1:15 PM

I read this drivel and I have no words. It’s the same ole, same ole. Blacks are to blame for everything, the housing crash, health care crisis and the crucifixion of Jesus…and I’m not a “religious” person but damn, some folks need to get a life. She should worry about her husband and her almonds and leave the rest of us out of her pathology.

Anna-Teres May 7, 2012 - 1:59 PM

Do you think they meant that 174 billion was spend on medical expenses in connection with illness due to obesity? Also wanted to say that I truly enjoy your blog and thank you for being a woman that dare to speak, ask and have opinions. Keep doing what you are doing.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2012 - 2:06 PM

I do – I’d have to question the logic behind bringing it up in the first place in an article railing against Black women for being overweight, if that wasn’t the implication, you know what I mean?

It’s like…Black women are no more than 7-8% of the population…surely, you don’t think we’re the problem when it comes to the US Budget, right? Right? LOL

Rudie May 7, 2012 - 2:54 PM

Sweet. Baby. Jesus. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but perhaps having and educated, health-minded, non-stereotypical black woman at the right hand of the POTUS has made black woman bashing exceptionally popular in the last few years (including the “scientific publication” about black women being less attractive). I think the following statement sums up much of how I felt about the article : “It makes us look like the “burdens on the system” we’ve always been painted out to be, and plays right into the hands and mentalities of those who think we are lazy, shiftless, and foolish. Stop trying to separate us from the rest of society…”.

Dr. Goddess May 7, 2012 - 3:22 PM

Erika, a long time ago, after you terrorized me for some horrendous diet rule I’d broken (and admitted to) on Twitter, you wrote “it’s what I do *files nails*” LOL!!! Well, you did the damn thang on this article. I LOVE The Maps because I love for folks to be duly informed. Alice Randall is a wonderful satirist but I am so disappointed in her article and so glad you responded so well, I feel my work here is done. *files nails*

Marva Nelson May 7, 2012 - 3:49 PM

I’m with you. The sister was all over the map with her op-ed, and that’s just what it is: an opinion of one black female which, hopefully, will not be taken as the gospel.

She should read Ernst Mayr’s “The Biology of Race and the Concept of Equality”. Mayr’s thesis discusses how geographical location created evolutionary adaptations, some of which may explain why women of African descent tend to have broader hips.

Also, a Yale study conducted about 12 years or so ago, discovered that women who were under a lot of stress tended to store more abdominal fat. That would definitely be black women, especially those, but not exclusively those living in the South! I fall into that category, and I’m willing to bet a ton of us do, having to deal with family, work, money, life issues on a much greater scale than a lot of other folks.

Thanks for the response to the NYT op-ed piece. Ms. Randall is also author of “The Wind Done Gone”, a satirical re-write of “Gone with the Wind”; Yes, that “Gone with the Wind” of movie fame.


Xay May 7, 2012 - 6:54 PM

That’s what I know her from! “The Wind Done Gine” was terrible!

Quinnette May 7, 2012 - 4:42 PM

I think weight is just the last thing anyone can try to hold on to, the issue is really “How DARE you be comfortable in that FAT skin of yours when the rest of America idolizes women that have body like boys!” My ultimate size would have me in a 14-16 and that is what I am striving for. I ran 12 miles a day in high school and still weighed 219. If adults around me focused on the fact I was built like Serena Williams as 12 instead of trying to have me trim down, I would be so much better off now. In my family all was good, but the crap my mother got to put me on diet from her wannabeskinny friends was ridiculous! I am obese (right now) and have normal vitals and I am certain I am using NONE of that reported millions on healthcare!

Capretha Jones May 7, 2012 - 6:46 PM

Your response brought me back to the same place. Because the scales said one thing and my do for pushed at my parents soooo hard about me being obese, I too was subject to questions of why I couldn’t get passed 160lbs (even though I was a dancer/athlete) and was forced on so many diets and often deprived of food…..just to fit in that mold. Now that I have a choice….I often feel like my body is confused. Maxed out at 300lbs….I continue on this journey. Where is the $174 mil/bil to help people like me with no health insurance. And for the “almond eater” to dare say that I want this?…..almost makes me want to cry.

Quinnette May 7, 2012 - 9:33 PM

The funny thing Capretha is any trainer or health care specialist whose area of expertise is in the realm of weight and are not trying to get money off you by selling you a pill will tell you that the goal set by the media and money maker doctors is not realistic. No one wants to talk about how our body compositions are different through breeding than when our ancestors originally came over through the middle passage. My friend said once when her trainer had her on some crazy deprivation diet “i just want to be normal”, to which I replied “my friend you are 5’11 and I am 5’10, I wear a 12 shoe and you wear an 11, no matter how much we lose, we..will..never…be normal.” All we can do is love ourselves and exercise and keep moving. I am striving for 230. I wish I knew what my bmi was back then, I am sure it was within healthy parameters, but science aren’t interested in cases like mine…Chin up!

Armanthia Duncan May 7, 2012 - 5:03 PM

Hello Erika,

I was first introduced to this article yesterday by my partner. I am a PhD student in the Sociology department, and my research examines the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and obesity among African American females. Last semester, I took a race theory course that was outstanding, and the final paper I wrote for that class, and the title was: “Why are African American women obese?: Structural versus Cultural Explanations.” In this paper I attempted to debunk many of the very cultural explanations that this author posits. I loved the use of the maps. Relating obesity to poverty is so essential to this argument. Here is a small snippet of my paper:

“As a result of these startling statistics there needs to be more research that focuses on examining the susceptibility of this demographic to the contraction of this condition. Despite the dearth of literature that focuses primarily on the susceptibility of this demographic, there is much literature that makes mention of black women and their complex relationship with food. However, it tends to focus more on individual level problems and not on larger societal issues. In this paper, I seek to examine literature that discusses both the cultural and structural problems that are affecting the susceptibility of African American women to the contraction of obesity. The paper is thus divided into two parts, first the structural part examines the multiple oppressions that black women are subjected to then the history of residential segregation and how this practice has resultantly affected the poor health outcomes for this group. The second part examines and critiques cultural arguments addressing why black females are possibly susceptible to obesity first examining the counter-hegemonic constructions of body aesthetics and then examining the history of the derogatory label of mammy and the strong black woman paradigm.”

There needs to be more discussions that examines not the amount of money that one perceives is being spent on obese black women and consequential related illnesses, but I would argue the money being spent to keep us obese and ill (e.g. pharmaceutical companies, fast-food restaurants, junk food manufacturers, etc.). This is just my two cents. Love the blog, and I follow it daily, and have purchased a couple of the meal plans ;-). Keep fighting the good fight.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2012 - 5:10 PM

I would LOVE to read that paper, if you’re up to sending it to me.

And yes, thank you! You too! <3

Shelter May 8, 2012 - 11:12 AM

I’d love to read the paper too. Can I look it up somewhere?

Armanthia Duncan May 7, 2012 - 5:15 PM

Also Erika, I would encourage you to potentially email this to the writer of this article, or even submit this to New York Times as an op-ed piece of your own. Just my recommendation. 🙂

Lenore May 7, 2012 - 5:39 PM

I just called to say I love you.

Seriously, that article was a joke and I was dying for a response like this. Well done.

Armanthia Duncan May 7, 2012 - 6:01 PM

I just sent it to you. Let me know your thoughts after you read it. I am still working on it and it will be part of my first comprehensive exam paper required for my program. I will be submitting it to journals around the end of this year. Thanks for showing interest in my work. 🙂

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2012 - 8:03 PM

Just got it, and am excited to see it. I LOVE that so much work is being done about this topic. The more the work done on this topic, the more we realize the truth and the more we pressure our politicians to DO something… or our community members to DO something. I’d be happy with either or. LOL

Stephanie May 7, 2012 - 6:56 PM

I too love the maps, I think that was the largest flaw in her argument was that she didn’t go below the surface and didn’t account for any reasoning aside from her flawed thesis that “Black women like to be fat.” My biggest issue with the op-ed was that despite her positing statistics about health most of her attack on fat Black women comes from a physical standpoint and not based on health. This op-ed was ill informed and harmful to the Black community.

Msladee May 7, 2012 - 7:11 PM

Wow. I had to wait hours to comment on this article because I was at a graduation at which the speaker was none other than the writer of this article. Imagine my surprise as I read your post on the way back to my tragic black community in Memphis (there isn’t enough eye rolling in the world to express my disdain for SOME Nashvillians’ air of pseudo superiority in issues of blackness and poverty compared to Memphis, especially with a homeless rate so high and a large immigrant population that is mostly ignored by those same schools of “prestige” … but I’ll take a breath and ignore my personal undercurrent of rage).
I really WANT to be offended by the simplification of black women and their body perceptions, but it’s just so prevalent that I think even the so called “elite” of black women- you know, the ones allowed to speak at us, about us and supposedly for us- have bought it without thought. It’s like the “we aren’t monolithic beings” meme skipped black women’s health (or rather body image) dialogue. Some black women may be obese because they feel it’s aesthetically pleasing… and by some I do mean a much smaller percent than these articles would have us believe. But to say that this is the main reason and the only story negates those who have emotional eating issues, physically don’t have resources for better food, have simply given up because of this constantly repeated message of hopelessness or threat of loneliness if you choose to do better for yourself, etc.. I’m not upset with her viewpoint, but I am scared that she is passing it on as fact. I’m scared that my relative, the young woman I saw graduate today, will read this article tonight and walk into the world thinking this is her reality. This is her commencement into black woman adulthood.

pb May 7, 2012 - 8:07 PM

i’m glad I’m not the only one that saw that “go-to dinner” and thought ‘ummm…ma’am, that sounds quite unfortunate’

i loved this article as usual. those maps really drove the point home. if only everyone was as well-informed when they decide to submit a nationally published piece on a subject

Erika Nicole Kendall May 7, 2012 - 8:15 PM

Listen. I think this is a cold thing to say, but it sounded like someone who was afraid of food, and was instead eating every super-low-calorie thing in sight. I understand, but I also don’t think that should be given a platform like the NYT, either.

Veronica May 7, 2012 - 9:22 PM

Alice is a very talented black American writer(The Wind Done Gone). I believe she means well with this article and though she is off in many areas her heart is in the right place. She is a sista who wants to loose the weight and is trying to encourage the masses to take the leap as well. Poverty or not, I am over the excuses. The info is out there. But here in Harlem folks are still feeding their kids Mickey D’s and soulfood. People are writing papers and studies on this problem. Lets Move and take responsibility. the help is out there. This blog is a resource. we need to show some ownership and take back our lives. and most of all stop lying to ourselves because brothas by and large do not want us to be obese. that’s an illusion! Josephine Baker was hot and curvy, but not by the loose definitions of today. today thick and curvy is often overweight and obese. so ridiculous that the perception of our bodies and what is healthy and attractive has become so distorted. lets get fit, period. And No, Alice was not qualified to speak on this matter in the NYT….but i do love her other work.

Lisette May 8, 2012 - 12:09 PM

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The author might have meant well, and her heart might have been in the right place, but “articles” such as these do nothing to support black women in taking charge of their health.

Although this is an op-ed piece (and she is definitely entitled to her opinion), this will be taken/manipulated by many to be the “facts” about all black women and our health/fitness/body image issues.

Kristen May 7, 2012 - 11:18 PM

Erica, I love your site, and as always, your analysis is spot on.
I agree with an earlier comment that your should forward this rebuttal to the NYT and to the author. My head was spinning, but I’ve calmed down a bit just knowing there’s someone out there who speaks my language!

Alexandrea Ward May 7, 2012 - 11:54 PM

This is the second article that I’ve read that is a reaction to the article in the NY Times. I’m afraid to the read the actual article myself, I have a feeling that it would just make me mad all over again, after reading the two reactions (yours and another from a journalist posting through Madame Noire). I’m not sure what to say to this exactly because I am so tired of seeing new articles pop up every other month telling Black women why they are single, or why they are overweight, or why they are this or that. It just frustrates me! The author of that article seriously needs to be taught a thing or two.

honey May 8, 2012 - 3:20 AM

Thank you for this. That article was an abomination.

Shani May 8, 2012 - 10:30 AM

Please submit this to the NY times as a rebuttal, because it shows the many flaws of her article. Erica, thank you we need women that examine this nonsense and give “us” another side. Honestly it just gets so tiring to read yet another article aimed at how the black woman isn’t “good enough” for whatever idiot reasons thay can find. If we aren’t the welfare queen we’re unattracive and in this case the fat one…

Shelter May 8, 2012 - 11:20 AM

It sounds like the writer of the NYT article has some issues of her own to deal with regarding her own body image and self worth. It is irresponsible of her to write an article and comment on why black women are fat. It is a gross over generalization based on her own confusion and it makes me sad that this article was published ‘on our behalf’. This woman doesn’t speak for me or the vast majority of regular folks who are genuinely trying to figure it out. All this does is muddy the waters further and make it harder to decipher truth from fiction.

CJM May 8, 2012 - 12:11 PM

I had two thoughts after reading her article. The first was Vandy has some great nutritionists in their system. Someone please introduce her to one because unless she presented the least satiating/nutritious/soul feeding day in her meal planning I’m scared. The second was perhaps her motive was to encourage discourse and the shortest route there for her was to author something inflammatory. The rest of my comment (erased before i hit post) was unkind so I am glad I thought twice.

Anne-Marie May 8, 2012 - 12:49 PM

Excellent, rebuttal. I agree that you should submit it to the “New York Times.” I like your blog!

Gizzle May 8, 2012 - 1:02 PM

I love you. I was waiting on your response to this foolishness.

Michezulu May 8, 2012 - 1:04 PM

I didn’t take offense to the article like a lot of the readers of this blog did. I think these are the author’s perception. She’s a Southern black woman who sounds like she has body image issues. On the one hand she is correct. Black women are keepers of the home have to healthy because we are the glue in our communities.
Okay, the Josephine Baker reference is a little wacky, but we cannot deny that in our culture to be a woman blessed with thick muscular legs and butt, with a small waist, and big boobs is desirable. Even in our current culture young rappers dream about that. That’s what our men like.
Black women are heavy whether or not they have a man, and that’s fact. This weekend I went on a bike tour in NYC, and I dreaded wearing the bicycle shorts showing off all my “assets” and getting the comments. The solution was to wear the shorts, and light nylon pants over them. I had wonderful bike related conversations with men of all types and ages who were friendly and inviting. A women pedestrian even told me in a joking way, “that she was mad I had an ear to ear grin on my face.”
The point is that black women have to work to be happy and healthy. All of our blood and sugar levels need to be at normal or below normal. We need to have good muscle tone and flexibility. This is what is important. Not how much our butt shakes or what the larger culture thinks of our bodies. We are able to jump high and run fast because of our natural body types. I don’t believe that BMI charts take into account our muscular nature. Leave that stuff to the larger culture, and develop a matrix that reflects what’s healthy for you.

Fassgal May 8, 2012 - 2:15 PM

Great response!

ernestine May 8, 2012 - 9:21 PM

Thanks so much for the article–excellent!!

Totally Wrong May 9, 2012 - 12:37 PM

I think you’re seeing more fat black women as a result of sexual abuse. When Monique told the world she had been abused, I said I told you so. I had told so many of my friends that black girls seem to move towards a food addiction when they are raped or abused as young girls. I know because it happened to me. I didn’t want to be fat and most men, black men included, do not like fat women. No black man would take Monique over Kelly Rowland or the even skinnier Michelle Williams. Yes, what we call a lil meat or big thighs back in the day was how we described our natural body as oppose to that of white women who were generally flat and shapeless. It didn’t actually mean fat. Our natural bodies are now appearing on women like Kim K because they are buying it. But remember for years that is the body that was called fat and unattractive by the masses (white).

Fast food is another culprit. They line the streets of black communities. We should go back to eating the foods we always ate. I’ll eat my mama collard greens and neckbones before I’ll eat the mystery meat that is known as Chinese food. Soul Food has taken a hit when in actuality, we ate it for years and weren’t the many of us are now.

Lastly, though I do see more fat black women than ever on TV, I can’t say the same for real life. Some of this is hype and BS. 8 out of 10 black women I see daily are not fat or even overweight. I think there is a deep conspiracy to destroy the image and sell worth of black women. Take whatever we feel good about, like our curvy bodies, associate them with whiteness (Kim K and other) and then link the black body the unhealthiness, fatness and disease.

Just something to think about.

Heliconia4 August 30, 2013 - 10:34 AM

I agree so much with you. In my own case I was not sexually abused but I was sexually harassed constantly from the age of 10 (early developer) onwards – at work it did not help that I’m in a male dominated career. I hated to walk in the street, even in my school uniform as a girl. There exists encouragement from black men though – interested in you but probably who also see a heavier woman as easier to control – in retrospect, they may have seen my education level as a problem, even though it never occurred to me then. I also think that obese and black women are over represented in Hollywood – the reality is different on the streets. I also see so many obviously under weight black women that it is sometimes alarming when you can’t even tell if its a woman or a boy.

Cheryl B May 9, 2012 - 4:39 PM

NYTimes: Black women are fat as a form of political resistance? Or because we want to be, or our men want us to be? Nah. Black women are fat because we are addicted to carbs and fat. We are fat because we don’t exercise because of our hair. We are fat because of pain from all kinds of abuse and neglect and food (or shopping) makes us feel better. We are fat because we are in denial, like the NYT op/ed piece. Does the writer really believe that craziness or is this only designed to start an argument?

James May 9, 2012 - 8:10 PM

Just a note on income:

Median household income is about $32k meaning 1/2 above, 1/2 below.

Individuals it’s 1/2 over $35k (men) and 1/2 over $31k (women): http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/acs-09.pdf

Meaning that if we had greater marriage rates probably close to half our households would have earnings over $60k.


Black households earning more than 50k is about 30%: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032011/hhinc/new06_000.htm

Either way, above the $50k mark is way more than single digits, easy, EASY.

That part jumped out at me, I feel as Black people we often exaggerate negativity when it comes to economic conditions and other issues.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 10, 2012 - 11:50 AM

One, I appreciate your numbers – I had two different sentences in mind and didn’t edit myself properly, and I’m editing it now. I appreciate that.

Secondly, let’s be clear on something:

“I feel as Black people we often exaggerate negativity when it comes to economic conditions and other issues.”

I can’t just be an individual who simply thinks ALL households are suffering/struggling right now? It’s got to be “because Black people do X?” Yeesh.

Erin May 14, 2012 - 2:04 PM

Thanks, Erica, for a piece. I loved the maps. One minor stats point. Given your numbers, 7% of Americans are black and obese, which is not the same as being 7% of the obese population as you say above. If 1/3 of Americans are obese, then about 1/4 of the obese population is black in America, but I also think 60% is too high. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsObesityAdults/

Erika Nicole Kendall May 15, 2012 - 2:01 PM

You are absolutely right. That was a typographical error. Touch screens and a manicure will have you putting words where they don’t belong.

What I meant was that it’s irrational to mention the full numbers of what’s being spent on obesity-related illness in regards to Black women, because we (the Black and obese) represent such a small portion of the country altogether. That number is reduced even further when you consider “Black,” “obese” AND “female.”

Even the numbers I used for our percentage of the population are guesstimates (I didn’t have the full, most accurate numbers on me) but I do think the post could benefit from having more hard numbers, since it only makes the point much clearer. Thank you for sharing them. 🙂

Darla Wells May 16, 2012 - 1:05 PM

What I got when reading the article is that if a person put “southern” in place of almost everywhere it refers to “black”, you would have almost the same article and a similar bs quotient. The argument that fat is a form of political resistance or rebellion is one I have heard applied to fat women, period. The country’s phobia about fat and desire to demonize fat people just moves from one group to another according to who is writing about it. What if fat is just fat? Not a political statement, not a racial (although race is not a legit category any more really with dna showing that many people aren’t whatever race they think they are), not the latest moral failing, and not the biggest cash cow for the diet industry? I wonder what conversation we would be having then.

J Serens May 16, 2012 - 5:28 PM

The NPR interview is just atrocious. “My piece was a wake-up call for Black America.” This was definitely a move to promote her new book, which she could have done without writing that article.

kristen May 17, 2012 - 11:14 AM

Randall was definitely on the defensive during the NPR interview, as she souls have been! Seriously, she has issues!!
Maybe Erika, you should talk to Neil Conan of Talk of the Nation to be on his show to broaden the discussion of excess weight and our community. He often does follow-up pieces a week or so after an initial piece sure.
And for sure you should get in touch with Michel Martin of Tell Me More…your thoughtful, informative discussions are right up her alley.

Myeshia June 2, 2012 - 2:54 AM

Why on earth do people keep accounting for black people. We are free now. Quit it! I bet they won’t write an article about why Mexican women are fat because their people would start a revolution over their women. I mean Josephine… the banana pic… there are absolutely no fat white women…


Jean Wr June 28, 2012 - 9:43 PM

I believe the main reason is a sedentary lifestyle.This is changing with each passing year. I have not changed my eating style in the last ten years, but I have become active daily which helps keep the weight down.
It’s true that many men do prefer larger women. A few will not date anyone without a certain distinctive body type in the hip area. They are not in the least bit concerned with what Hollywood thinks.

Thomas May 27, 2013 - 2:55 AM

Actually, the last comment, that Black men are as fat as Black women, is incorrect. Please check the Office of Minority Health, the Center for Disease Control. or the American Obesity Association for data. Black men are overweight, but not more overweight than white or latino men. Black women are more overweight than all populations in the U.S. (male/female).

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2013 - 8:19 AM

Actually, let’s do exactly that.

The Office of Minority Health says that the obesity rate for non-hispanic Black men is at 70%; for non-hispanic Black women, at 80%. There’s only a 10% differential between the two, but BOTH are still higher than the national average. Black men’s obesity rate is lower than that of non-hispanic white men, higher than that of white women, who have the LOWEST out of all four populations AND still are the only population to be BELOW the national average, and yet still they aren’t safe from scrutiny, either.

So, let’s do some critical thinking — oh, wait, I covered this already:

“What we rarely hear about, though, is how 70% of Black men, age 20 or over, are currently overweight. When it comes to high blood pressure, men have the ladies outnumbered; 26% of Black men are sufferers, in comparison to 23% of Black women. Type 2 diabetes? More Black men are being diagnosed with the disease and, unsurprisingly, 30% more Black men are succumbing to diabetes than women.” [source]

With all that being said, since you seem to think that having the highest affected percentages in a category means you deserve this, why aren’t Black men up for scrutiny? All of that death and disability, and still Black men evade criticism. I’ve yet to see enough mainstream media commentary on Black men’s poor health to fill up two hands, let alone one.

Surely, you’re going to blogs for Black men and sharing this info, that on a grand scale they’re only ten percentage points behind Black women in obesity rates and (since you’re so familiar with the OMH) going far beyond them in other categories related to metabolic syndrome, right?

Peggy August 30, 2013 - 9:06 AM

II so loved this article. I have been reading your blog for the past year. It has been very helpful. I have maintained a 40lb weight loss for three years and I just internalized clean eating (letting go of processed foods) and now I am down 50 pounds from my highest known weight. Twenty-five pounds to go….your articles and the responders inspire me.

Dante Sherman February 19, 2016 - 1:33 AM

As a dietitian who lives in he south, works as a research consultant for the CDC and North Carolina Health and Human Services I have to agree with the article more than this thoughtful post you have written. We are too fat, way too fat and we don’t care about losing weight. Our community is going to be the first generation who lives a shorter life span than our parents. Our babies are even getting huge in spite of the fact that most Black babies are on WIC and mothers are counseled by a highly trained nutritionist. We have stopped taking responsibility for ourselves and always make excuses and it isn’t just with weight. It is sad that we blame others and so rarely turn the mirror on the real culprit, ourselves.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 19, 2016 - 10:36 AM

It is grossly embarrassing that someone who works as a “research consultant” for an organization as important and essential as the CDC equates understanding root causes with ceasing to “take personal responsibility” and “blaming others.”

As I type this, I’m literally listening to a CDC report on the increase in the spread of the flu, as people not only report on why the spread has grown increasingly more prevalent and what needs to be done to protect the public from the flu and the consequences of it.

How is this any different from what should be done with obesity?

And since when is discussing root causes for the prevalence of a condition in our country tantamount to “blaming others?”

Should we all take “personal responsibility” for our health? Absolutely. Are there financial barriers to being able to do so? ABSOLUTELY. Does acknowledging that absolve people of that responsibility? NO. If anything, acknowledging those barriers helps us give others more pointed and realistic advice to help them achieve their individual goals, instead of forcing people who might not want to settle to do so.

Perhaps you have a bias that prohibits you from being successful at your job. You might need to consider something else.

PS: Unsurprisingly, I cannot find a single ounce of data to support the idea that “most Black babies are on WIC.” Although, since WIC covers over 51% of infants in the United States altogether, it seems like this isn’t out of the ordinary… which makes me wonder if you are just as hard on the white American population, where around 50% of them, too, are overweight. Or – gasp – perhaps it’s something more important that these populations share that might be contributing to their obesity level… something like…poverty!

You have a unique habit of attributing things that are spread across the Unites States specifically to Black Americans, as if to imply we suffer from some unique form of pathological failure. Perhaps you should consider why that is.

Miss Nancy October 15, 2017 - 7:42 AM

The Democratic run liberal media will tell you to be comfortable and proud in your size, even if you are >300lbs. They forgot to mention the ones that had their toes removed because of diabetes!

Erika Nicole Kendall October 20, 2017 - 10:02 AM


You’re not very good at this.

Sad to inform you, the “be comfortable and proud in your size” squad is decidedly bipartisan. The whole political spectrum is in there.

Cheer up, buttercup.

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