Coffee Rhetoric: NY Times Writer, "Black Women Want to be Fat"

May 11, 2012

NY Times Writer, "Black Women Want to be Fat"


In case you’ve been napping from the fatigue beating a dead horse induces and haven't heard, brace yourselves, because yet another article has surfaced, throwing Black women under the bus. Black women are not only the Face(s) of Spinster-hood apparently. Now this country's obesity problem is being framed to be an affliction suffered solely by that demographic.  In a growing list of articles and blog posts seemingly aimed at acquiring a paycheck and garnering blog hits as opposed to informing, thinking critically, and helping resolve; writer Alice Randall penned a “Black Women are Proud Fatties; Proud Fatties are Black Women” piece that ran in this past Sunday’s New York Times op-ed section. Through a couple of personal anecdotes and random stories about acquaintances, Randall surmised that most Black women are fat, because they want to be that way. And you do know that Black women are a monolith sans the capability of acting and thinking singly, right? (This is asked with the utmost sarcasm, of course).
“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."  Randall writes in her op-ed piece.
She goes on to opine…
“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.”
Needless to say, Randall’s article sparked a flood of rebuttals via New Media, mostly penned by Black women, fed up with being publicly dissected and made to shoulder a burden that should be shared by Black men and actually a good portion of this country.  Go ahead and add this post to the 'exasperated' list of folks who eye-rolled at Randall's article.

While I've gleaned that Randall is attempting to advocate for health and wellness, I can’t help but take her to task for using her own personal experiences to speak for and judge everyone else. Across my social media platforms and/or timelines, I read nothing but updates by Black women (including and especially women of size) checking-in at the gym and touting the benefits of “cleaner eating”. A lot of us are in fact, taking our health seriously. As a relatively healthy, fuller-figured Black woman myself-- (full-disclosure, I did have a brief stint with an eating disorder when I was a teen and again as a young adult, in an attempt to will my body slimmer) --  and contrary to what Randall suggests; I don’t walk around fist-pumping in the name of fat nor do I have an aversion to healthy eating habits-- (up until about five years ago, I’d been a long-time vegetarian)-- or being active. More importantly, I’m not fuller-figured via some man’s request and my experiences don't mirror every other plus size woman's. While I admittedly grapple with my body's fluctuating weight, I don't wrestle with the idea of being mostly comfortable with myself like many people would prefer... at least not beyond the norm of any woman who fusses over her looks. And it took a bit of work to learn to accept maintaining my body in its fullness, while shirking the opinions and judgement of others who haven't a clue about my well-being or social life. 

Randall also makes the foolish (and common) mistake of generalizing the preferences of Black men (once again, due to her own personal experiences), suggesting that most of them prefer a woman with a fuller-figure and will express dismay at their partner’s weight loss…
“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.”
The backlash from Randall's article has been palpable, and she has felt the impact and responded to it:
“My statement was that many black women are fat because they want to be. I said the word, “many,” there was no “all.” When I talk about, “want to be,” I use an example of husbands. Let me use an example that’s even more profound to me—grandmothers. My grandmother was big as three houses. She was a brilliant, strong woman who ended up having grandchildren and great-grandchildren that went to Harvard and MIT and the like, to do big things.

When I think of what it is to be powerful and beautiful, I think of her. That’s something I wanted to be. In the heart of my hearts, when I think of strength and beauty, the first thought I have is of her. I am acknowledging her influence on me. I wrote and published four novels in 10 years. That’s doing a lot of work. The way I get that work done is not sleeping much or taking time to exercise and take care of myself. Those are choices I’ve made.

I haven’t gotten fat because of eating horrible foods, but by overwork. That’s a choice that most blacks make—going out and working the job as a domestic servant."  (source)
And there she goes once more... Alice Randall has made a blanket assumption about Black men, based on her experiences. Even when she attempts to personalize the article in her follow-up statement by asserting her own internal issues with her body, she seemingly projects it onto other Black woman.

This brand of writing, which analyzes Black women’s bodies, rarely ever features anything particularly revelatory we aren't already aware of or haven't read lately. The emphasis is always put on Black women and is often written by other women (who are just as culpable for trying to police female bodies).
Living our best lives is important. Indulging a sedentary and excessive lifestyle is detrimental to anyone's health, so enough with the "Fat Black Women Represent Obesity in America" trope; last year it was "Single, Educated but Sad and Unattractive Black Women” -- and that one gets resurrected every now and again.  When it comes to Black female bodies and obesity,  there’s an amalgamation of factors at play and it’s not as cut-and-dry as Alice Randall -- (who has a agenda book to promote, apparently) -- and other people would like it to be, whether you like and/or agree with it, or not.

For once I’d like to read an analysis about the issue of Black people's (not just women) health and wellness, which advocates healthful lifestyles, but is supportive in its exploration while presenting carefully documented reasons and solutions. I’d like to read more commentary from licensed experts, who’ve done the field work and painstaking research. Because honestly, these Bloggers, quasi-social scientists, and journalists playing couch-Physician while wagging their fingers at Black women for not “fitting-in” or to try to shame them into submission, is not the way.