NY Times: “Black Women Want to be Fat”

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Alice Randall at the New York Times says that black women have a cultural identity in which they encourage one another to be overweight.


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.

Josephine Baker embodied a curvier form of the ideal black woman.

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.

Chemically, in its ability to promote disease, black fat may be the same as white fat. Culturally it is not.

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.





15 Comment

  1. I was a very skinny girl and my mom made me eat, so while my sisters were size 5 & 7 as teens, I was an 11-12 (big) for a teen because at age 9 and 10 I was told eat, eat. Both my parents were small and not overweight.

    I have lost those extra dress sizes as an adult, because I am in gym two days a week. I am so sad when I see preteen and teen girls who look as if they weigh over 150-200 lbs.

    We are setting our girls up for future health issues and self esteem issues, fat is not cute at any age. I don’t judge people on weight, but I am concerned, been there. A size 11-12 may not sound like a lot to most people, but for a teen it is big. Get healthy sisters and teach your girls. Watch how Mrs. Obama keeps her girls TRIM and they look so healthy.

  2. I don’t want to be fat but I dont want to be skinny either. Right now I am 185 and my goal weight is 165. My issues with being skinny is that I feel I would be vulnerable and defenseless. Not saying it is true just most women you see or hear about getting attacked are skinny. Just my opinion.

  3. This is the first time I’ve heard that Black women want to be fat. My sister was fat as a child and our mother had trouble finding clothes to fit her. A friend tells me she was fat as a child and the only clothes she could find were ugly. Clothes for heavy women consisted of muu-muus in ugly colors or loud patterns. Is the author of this article saying that Black girls and women preferred to dress like that?

  4. I am so sick and tired of these stupid and demeaning articles concerning Black women Most of us DO NOT want to be fat. We usually carry our weight differently than white women. And the American diet is hardly any different from one race than the other in this fast food industry. Actually it’s more of a class issue than race; poor whites tip the scales of just 1% lower than Black people. The most obese people in the U.S. are Hispanic and Native American women. Don’t believe me? Look it up! And stop relying on stats from the C.D.C.

  5. This is sadly all too true. As a naturally thin AfricanAmerican woman, it is not unusual but rather the norm, to catch hate from both Black men and women for not being "thick/fat" enough. After many years I finally came up with an appropiate response to this cultural ignorance….u can kiss my narrow black ass!

  6. What’s up, after reading this remarkable article i am too glad to share my know-how here with friends.

  7. I don't think that culturally we desire to be fat. What is cultural is the connection between love and food. We celebrate family, friends, community, church, etc, with food and the strong emotions of love and acceptance. WE are merely not as paranoid about gaining weight as some women of different cultures. However, with the ongoing assimilation into appearing as pseudo-whites, we are becoming more body conscious is this respect. Blacks and Asians have a strong genetic propensity for diabetes, more so then other cultures, which is a serious side effect which is many times triggered by age and high BMI.

  8. I dissagree. I as a black woman who does not wants to be fat. I have always been encouraged to be healthy and lose weight. I have lost weight and am still working to that end. None of the black women in my circle of family and friends have encouraged me to be fat. They encourage the oposite. My family and friends have encouraged me abs we have encouraged each other to be fit There cannot be generalities made about any one culture. I see this as another way to bad myrrh black women which the media seems to like to do.

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