Spreading the word
This is the message many bloggers like Olisa are sharing with readers. In the last few years, dozens of black women’s health sites have cropped up on the web and many emphasize embracing curves along with a healthy lifestyle.
“My readership consists of women who are tired of being told they’re not perfect because they’re not thin,” said Erica Nicole Kendall, the blogger behind Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss.
She said the women who read her site are “not attached to the idea that being healthy means they have to be rail thin.”
“But they’re not going to fool themselves on where they stand with their health right now,” she added.
The discussion around African-American women’s bodies and their sizes is a controversial one with many conflicting opinions. Some say black women are fat because they want to be.
To this, Kendall, who has shed over 150 pounds and shares health tips on her blog, responded, “That’s just not accurate and it’s also not fair.”
“There are lots of reasons why over 60 percent of this country is overweight. There are lots of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with ‘well, this is the size I want to be.’ There’s every kind of issue from stress to food availability to the kind of desk job you work.”
But a more important discussion is whether black women can be considered healthy, even when it doesn’t always translate in their outer appearance.
Taylor Townsend, 16, is considered the number one junior women’s tennis player in the world. She is the reigning junior Australian Open singles champion and the junior Wimbledon doubles champion, but despite all of her accomplishments, the U.S. Tennis Association isn’t happy with the way she looks.
The USTA refused to finance anymore of her tournament appearances this summer until she slimmed down and got in better shape.
The 5’6″, 170 pound tennis player was understandably hurt. World tennis champion Serena Williams, whose body has also received a fair share of criticism, weighed in.
“For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary,” she told the Associated Press. “Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.”
Olisa shared the same thought. “I think each one of us is unique in a million ways and our weight should be one of those things.”
“People think that they can look at you and tell you what your health history is, and that’s just not the case,” she told theGrio. “There are token overweight health problems … I know I don’t have those issues, but I work out and I eat well so that I don’t. I know weight is definitely a factor, but I don’t believe that we’re all meant to be a size 2.”
And while it’s important for others to understand that, African-American women may have to learn how to disassociate health and weight as well.
Kendall noted that one misconception black women have about themselves is that if they work out too much, they’ll lose their prized curves.
“Having fat on your body is not the only way to be curvy. It’s just not,” she said. “No, you can have a great booty and it doesn’t have to just come from choosing not to work out.”
She explains her point in a post for the The Washington Post, “It’s not about what you look like, it’s about what your body can do for you because that’s what your body is for. It’s not to be cute, it’s to perform. Can that body perform? And if not, then you need to reconsider if being thick is really worth it.”
So the consensus seems to be that black women should shift their focus from losing weight to maintaining better health, instead of focusing on what dress size they wear.
Diane Williams, a former plus-size model, a personal fitness trainer and the creator behind Curvy Goddess Lounge, emphasizes the importance of black women getting up and getting their move on.
When Williams first decided to get in shape, she said she noticed she started feeling differently about herself and her body.
“It’s almost like my personality had changed,” she told us. “I was confident. I felt capable in my life. And from those changes, it made me believe I could change other things in my life.”
She added that going from being unfit and depressed to feeling confident about her body’s physical capabilities was an amazing experience.
“You feel like you’ve opened up a different world,” she said.
It’s the same advice Kendall gives her readers.
“Whatever your goals are, achieve them with your health and wellness in mind,” she said. “Don’t do anything that sacrifices or sabotages your daily energy levels. Don’t do anything that sacrifices your mood, your sanity, your health, the health of people around you.”
“This is an act of love,” she says about getting in shape. “It is an act of self-care.”
Follow Ugonna on Twitter at @ugonnaokpalaoka