Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Black Women want to be Bootylicious over Healthy

Andrea Riggs was ready to take on the competition when she opened her personal training studio in Black Jack. The niche for Body Beautiful was to help black women get into shape, be healthy and look good. The competition she ran into, however, wasn't Bally or Gold's or 24 Hour Fitness. Instead, her greatest competition came from attitudes about exercise and diet from the people she wanted for her clients: black women. "They told me they didn't want to lose weight," Riggs said, recalling her efforts to recruit clients. "It's cultural expectations and pressures. African-American women seem to say, 'We want meat on our bones, and we all want to be bootylicious and appeal to African-American men.'"

People who battle health disparities in African-Americans agree with Riggs. But
they admit the topic rarely is broached because of fear of political
incorrectness. Still, that well-meaning sensitivity may contribute to killing

The facts

African-Americans aren't the only people to feel the effects of cultural
impediments, but they're at the top of many lists for having bad health.
The American Obesity Association says that cultural factors related to diet,
exercise and weight among African-Americans play a role in interfering with
weight-loss efforts. The association also says that 78 percent of black women are overweight, and that includes the 50.8 percent who are obese. Providers of health care know that being overweight or obese is a path to life-threatening diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black women suffer
higher percentages of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer
and premature death. And, the CDC says, when they get these diseases, they have
more severe cases than white women.

Yet compared with overweight white Americans, overweight black Americans are
two to three times more likely to say their weight is average — even after
they've been diagnosed as overweight or obese by a doctor, according to

"There's been less pressure for blacks to lose weight because of a cultural
acceptance of higher body weight and heavier body shapes," the site reports.

Local recognition

Dr. Michael Railey, medical director of the St. Louis County Health Department,
says that health disparities are reaching a crisis level for black women and
that it's time health officials take gender into consideration for any health
concerns because one size doesn't fit all.

For example, Railey says, "For black women to exercise, there needs to be a
social connection. Studies tell us that black women will work out in groups,
but not alone. Men are more likely to work out alone."

Also, to get black women to exercise and adopt healthful lifestyles, you must
take hair and appearance into consideration, Railey says.

"If a woman spends hours in a (salon) chair and spends $60, she's out of the
gym for at least two days," Railey says.

"Black women who want to build relationships with black men are still forced to
try to catch a man by looking the best they possibly can," says Railey. "Until
a (black) woman is in a culture where the man says, 'I love you just like you
are; I love your kinky hair and I select against long hair ...

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Share your thoughts!


Anonymous said...

So I'm late in viewing this post, but this is exactly what I'm interested in. I'm in a master's program in Health Promotion, and I'm writing my thesis on this very topic. It's a poignant article and an extremely important aspect of our culture that tends to be overlooked in programs designed to change health behavior.

So we know what Black women believe when it comes to exercise, but how do we work to change those beliefs? And it goes beyond the beliefs about exercise; we have to critically examine the history of and our relationship with our cultural foods.

Thanks so much for posting this!

NaturaLocs said...

Interesting read. I'm a black person who was told earlier this year that I was overweight. I have to say from what this article has covered it seems pretty on the mark. Culture does play a big role. I don't personally belong to a "black community" and so I'm rarely influenced by the trends and behaviours of that crowd i.e. I don't get my hair done to keep up with friends, I'm not looking for a black partner and I do go to the gym by myself.

I suppose my only exposure to black culture comes from family gatherings where my aunts, grandmothers, and some female cousins are over weight AND many of them are in happy relationships too.

One grandmother is a fitness fanatic now and lost a splendid amount of weight and she's been happily single for over 20 years.

I often wonder if I'd have taken the doctor so seriously if I'd had a boyfriend at the time...