Black women: Is body positivity a good thing?

  • Obesity is a health crisis in the United States.
  • Obesity is associated with disease, including increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
  • Obesity disproportionately affects the Black population, in particular Black women.

Black women have the highest rates of obesity and overweight compared to other groups in the United States, with around 4 out of 5 Black women who are overweight or obese. In the U.S., Black women are 50 percent more likely to be obese than White women. There are tons of reasons for this. This post delves into one of the reasons put forth by researchers — cultural acceptance.

Cultural norms and body size perceptions contribute to acceptance of larger body sizes among Black women. Studies indicate that overweight and obese Black women are generally more accepting of larger body sizes compared to their White counterparts. Although many Black women know the risks of being overweight, they might still think it’s better to be bigger because it’s accepted in our culture.

Some of these women might not even realize they’re overweight (according to BMI measurements) and believe it’s normal or even good to remain that way. These beliefs about body size can affect how Black women try to control their weight, leading to limited weight loss efforts and deviation from health recommendations, which can impact their cardiovascular health risk. And research findings show that often Black women report they feel pressure to stay a certain size, and that being “curvy” is often seen as attractive, so many women try to have fuller figures.

The perception of obesity is at issue here: obesity as a social issue in one context and as a health problem in another. Obesity as a health issue is clearly established. But another emerging trend also influences how people think about excess body weight: the body positivity movement.

Sistas, we must put this notion in its place.

Body positivity is a movement that challenges the idea that there’s a single ideal body type and promotes the acceptance and appreciation of all body types, encouraging people to feel confident and comfortable in their own bodies regardless of shape, size or appearance. It eschews the idea of societal beauty standards and promotes self-love, inclusivity and respect for diverse body types.

The embrace of body positivity and the non-judgmental acceptance of obesity has gained in popularity. This acceptance, however, can make it harder to fight cardiovascular disease risk factors linked to obesity, like high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, inflammation and diabetes. Of course, we don’t want to make fun of people who are overweight, but if we continue to tout body positivity while ignoring the obvious health risks of obesity, we might miss the message about how important it is to prevent or treat obesity.

While it’s great to accept yourself, it’s also important to know the health risks of being clinically obese, especially having too much fat around your abdomen. Knowing about these risks, along with being positive about your body, can help keep up the progress we’ve made in fighting heart disease. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence of celebrities on the topic of body positivity. We wouldn’t want to permit a public figure to define or influence our understanding of excess weight, health or beauty.

This is important, especially for our sisters who are perhaps more impressionable, especially teens. It’s critical to refrain from looking to celebrities to form your stance on body positivity. It’s worth noting that there have been overweight or obese Black women public figures who have embraced excess body weight wholeheartedly and happily (publicly, anyway).

As for the fans and onlookers, it can be alluring to look at the jewels, the wealth, the adulation, the smiles — the external view. You’ve no idea how these women experience their private moments and the management of their daily activities. What is most egregious is when a scornful overweight celebrity launches disparaging comments at those who are at healthy weights (many of whom work hard, day in and day out to get that way and stay that way).

And as we’ve seen, some of these same celebrities have taken steps to reduce their weight and achieve a healthy body weight, versus remaining at unhealthy body weights — the same body weights they were previously championing. And so, if you’re looking at celebrities, look again.

Whatever your position is on body positivity and embracing obese and overweight states, I just want it to be your own, based on the understanding you arrive at based on the knowledge and information you acquire — not on what a celebrity is pitching.

Let’s cut out the noise, respect science and get healthy! 😊 Please share this if you think it will help someone.

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