How could anyone think that fat Black women have it easier than fat white women?

The world has a very clear view of Black women.

The world has inherent stereotypes and biases that people cling to in order to maintain their place in society.

As a fat, Black woman, these stereotypes run the gamut from the regular insult of laziness to the more positive in nature. The image of a strong Black woman is a harmful one.

Black women are impervious to ills that plague their non-Black counterparts. Black women are fat and include diet culture.

Our experiences with diet culture are isolating and demoralizing. The myth of the strong Black woman makes us contend with a society that demands we play both victim and hero.

Black women were not spared from diet culture, and in the absence of compassion, we had to save ourselves.

Two Black women standing for a portrait.
Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images

In the early 2000s, there were several widely-circulated studies about the media’s impact on girls’ body image. Increased access to the internet opened up a whole new world for adolescents. Now, the TV, movies, and the web were working in tandem to fuel our insecurities about the way we looked.

A few of these studies sought to compare weight and body image perception cross-racially. One 2012 study of school-aged children deduced that Black girls were the most satisfied with our bodies when compared with our white and Asian counterparts.

Another study, covered the same year by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Foundation, proclaimed: Black women heavier and happier with their bodies than white women. Over the years, the “than white women” quietly dropped from the headline.

The conclusion was that we were protected from the realities of fatphobia because of the acceptance of fatness in the Black community.

“I can’t stress enough how dangerous that line of thinking is.”

Growing up, my mother told me that I had “two strikes” against me: I was Black, and I was a woman. She failed to mention that being fat was my third strike, a fact I would be reminded of often — even by other Black people.

My mother told me that I had been treated differently because I was black and female. She was giving me the strength to fight for a long time to try and get some semblance of equality, knowing that I was already behind.

She failed to mention that being fat was my third strike, a fact that I would be reminded of often.

I fear that people confuse “fat” with “accepted” because the concept of “fat” looks different in my community.

While having a round bottom, thick thighs, and full hips is celebrated, it is not a good look. I can assure you that singer and actress Gabourey Sidibe and singer and actress Jill Scott are not treated the same.

The classic video vixen look requires excess fat around the hips, butt, breasts, and thighs, and it is much harder to pull off than just losing weight.

The brilliant Dr. Sabrina Strings says that diet culture is firmly entrenched in white supremacy.

In her 2019 book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, Strings un-blurs the lines between medical fact and history to understand how fatphobia and anti-Black racism are inextricably linked.

The book was pivotal to my personal understanding of diet culture as a Black woman, as it uncovered some deeply troubling truths about the mistreatment of my ancestors simply for being larger.

Sarah Bartmaan was a performer in a freak show in the 19th century. She was a fat black woman stripped of her humanity and turned into a walking talking strange.

She died penniless and alone.

Knowing the historical shame attached to fatness and Blackness, how could anyone look at me and think: wow, fat, Black women have it easier?

Heads up from Healthline

It can be tempting to try to do it right when it comes to nutrition.

If you feel guilty about your food choices or engage in restrictive diet, you should reach out for support. These behaviors may indicate a problem with food.

Regardless of gender identity, race, age, body size, or other identities, eating disorders can affect anyone.

They can be caused by a variety of factors, not just diet culture.

Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.

Black women have an attitude towards fat.

Historically, lack of representation, cultural incompetence, and other barriers like cost mean Black women are not as likely to seek and receive treatment for EDs. We aren’t a cause for concern for most ED advocacy groups or the broader medical community.

Even I was surprised when I was diagnosed with binge eating disorder.

I have never seen an eating disorder image like frail, young, white women under-eating. I think eating too much was a sign of my inability to control myself, not a symptom of a larger problem.

Traditional research was a dead end, since most of it only pertains to white women, while Black women are underrepresented in eating disorder clinical trials. So I did what any millennial does: I turned to the internet for answers.

I found a robust digital anti-diet culture space run by thin white women.

It took me three months to find a registered dietitian who could help a black woman with an eating disorder.

That is not to say I only accept treatment from people who look like me, but after a lifetime of medical fatphobia and cultural insensitivity, I would rather find a provider who is at least interested in my actual problems and won’t tell me to “lose weight” anytime I have an ailment.

It became more urgent to be a voice for fat women of color when I worked to decolonize my mindset around body acceptance and diet culture.

“I am not blaming people who are not black. diet culture is a global problem and we can’t eradicate it in the same way as other problems.”

But if you’re non-Black, I urge you — implore you — to stop envisioning fat, Black women as self-confident androids and remember that we’re people, too.

We pour into people who deserve it, just as much as we pour into others.

People who are victims of diet culture and are on the same journey toward acceptance and self-love are the same people you are.

A note on weight discrimination

Nutrition research rarely accounts for the role weight stigma and discrimination play in health. Discrimination is one of the social determinants of health — the conditions in daily life that affect our health — and it can and does contribute to health inequities.

Weight discrimination in healthcare can prevent people at high body weights from seeking medical care — and those who do may not receive accurate diagnoses or treatment, because doctors may attribute their health concerns solely to their weight.

A person may have a health condition that is more advanced by the time they receive a diagnosis. Eating disorders and other mental health challenges can be included.

Meanwhile, experiences of weight stigma in daily life, even outside of medical settings, are associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes.

Everyone deserves appropriate and compassionate medical care. If you’re interested in finding weight-inclusive healthcare professionals, you may want to follow the work of the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which is developing a directory that will launch in summer 2022.