By Darryl James
*I remember in the late 1980’s when Black men first started using the word “thick” to define a woman with ample bottom and/or breasts. We knew what we were describing and it was more about T & A than the result of too many Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Moo-Moos and Cow-Cows.
We also knew that “healthy” was a term reserved for women with a little meat on their bones. They really were considered healthy because they ate regular meals (that they often cooked at home) and had beautiful bountiful bodies to show for it. They were proportionate and anything but obese.
But I remember that the term “thick” was co-opted in the 1990’s by overweight women who wanted to redefine America’s view of women (particularly the ones on the heavy side), and change the way overweight women viewed themselves.
Now, I’m all for people looking for ways to feel good about themselves, but if it is not based on reality and is actually inadvertently promoting and celebrating an unhealthy lifestyle, then it’s not a good thing.
Since the big girls dig brothers like me, some have been aggressive and when rebuffed (even though done politely), they often claim that I’m not a “real” Black man. After all, “real” Black men like big girls.
“Real” Black men like a variety of women, because “real” Black men come in a variety themselves. Some of us do like the big girls, but some of us like the ladies who have little body fat, except where it counts.
Most of us probably know at least one or two Black men who like the big girls.
And, all across the nation, clubs specifically for big girls and the men who love them are popping up on the landscape.
So that means that being a big girl is a good thing.
Now, here’s where I get to use the phrase “never trust a big butt and a smile.”
While some big girls have co-opted the word “healthy” to denote a woman with largess, the redefinition of fat has gone too far.
It’s going too far to co-opt terms such as “healthy” to describe people who are, in reality, far from healthy.
Let us remember that the “thick” and “healthy” women of yesteryear were not obese and more often had body fat in their thighs and buttocks, as opposed to the so-called “thick” and/or “healthy” women of today who likely are carrying most of their body fat in the belly area.
And, that is far, far from healthy.
According to a study conducted at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s
Hospital in Boston, women with waists thirty-five inches or larger have a 79% increased risk of premature death from heart disease and/or cancer, when compared to women with twenty-eight inch waists or smaller.
The increased risk is broken down to twice the risk of death from heart disease and a 63% increased risk of cancer-related death. These risks are carried by women with larger waists even if their weight is otherwise within normal ranges.
So what does this ultimately mean?
It means that women who carry an abundance of belly fat are also carrying an abundance of health risks.
It also means that while women cheer for Monique’s efforts to give fat women a public relations makeover, the potential is for more women to die from fat-related diseases, while feeling better about their body image.
As a Black man who writes and speaks on relationship issues, I frequently hear the propaganda about how many Black men are “oppressing” Black women into following some white American concept of beauty.
Not only is such propaganda false because Black women who follow such concepts do so without much prompting, but, really, not many Black men are enamored with the super skinny body images of say, Ally McBeal or even the extreme thinness of the anorexic looking runway models.
Black women can continue to tell Black men what we like, but even white women who want us know that we still typically prefer the Black woman’s traditional body type, which is why they are getting butt implants at record numbers in efforts to embrace the real universally accepted “best” body type.
Black women are not the only ones who have difficulty with their body image.
Go to the gym on any given day and you will find women of all races on machines with names like “Butt Blaster,” trying to plump up the desired nether region, inadvertently imitating and tacitly praising the Black woman’s traditional physique.
Even celebrating obesity as a part of our natural history is false, because women of African descent only found rampant obesity when they began to adopt European food preferences all over the world, and began adapting to hostile environments by making full use of food byproducts tossed out by slavemasters.
And, contrary to popular opinion, women are giving those twisted body images to each other more than men who watch the twisted body concepts emerge with confusion.
If men accept the blame for women’s obsessions with body image, then women would have to accept the blame for the same when found amongst men.
For example, how many young men turn to steroids in order to artificially build a physique that women are “oppressing” them into pursuing? They scarf down steroids and some men even undergo surgery to implant artificial pectoral muscles and calf muscles and to permanently carve abdominal muscles to give the desired popular appearance.
And, we can look into America’s own history to find that men with heft were once viewed as wealthy, because the additional girth of big men symbolized an ability to eat well.
Yet, the focus is always on what women do to themselves to attract men and how oppressive men are to make them do those things.
Really, the bottom line should be that women (and men) pursue what is in their best interest for health above all else, blaming no one if they decide to alter their bodies for social reasons.
Frankly, the risks of other behaviors are far too great.
As for the big girls who want to employ euphemisms to describe their obesity, the fact is that nearly half of all adults in America are carrying an unhealthy amount of belly fat, which is leading to serious diseases and decreasing life spans.
One theory offered up to explain belly fat’s increased health risks is it’s proximity to vital internal organs, including the heart and liver, as opposed to fat on the buttocks or thighs.
And, since we know that belly fat is increasing amongst adolescents, we would do well to avoid discussions of fault as well as propaganda designed to improve fat people’s self-esteem, and focus on discussions designed to steer more people to weight loss, proper diet and healthy lifestyles.
Otherwise, more “healthy” women and children will be heading to early graves, even though they may have better feelings about their body image.
They’ll feel good about being fat just before they die.
Darryl James is an award-winning author who is now a filmmaker. He released his first mini-movie, “Crack,” and this year, will release his first full-length documentary. James’ appears in the film “What Black Men Think,” an in-depth view of misrepresentations, myths and stereotypes about Black men. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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