Being Black & Fit – 3 Myths Holding Us Back

I was having a heated conversation with a female friend of mine a few days ago about whether there’s a stigma associated with being black and fit/healthy. Are black women who are health/fitness conscious the ‘odd women out’? Have black people come to view being fit/heath-conscious in negative terms? I’ve heard the following comments among black women when discussing health/fitness:

“I like to eat and girl, healthy food is bland.”
“Those black girls at the gym are just trying to be skinny white girls.”
“I’m thick and my man loves it, so why should I work out?”

Here are three myths I think get in the way of black people becoming more fit and healthy & why I think we need to let them go!!

Healthy = Bland

Let’s talk about that first quote for a second. I think part of the issue here is that there’s a perception that healthy food just can’t be flavorful. And whether you’re African-American, Latino, Asian, whatever your culture- it’s the kiss of death for someone to come over to your house and call your food bland. But not all healthy food is as bland as a rice cake! In fact, healthy foods are FULL of flavor. You just have to remember that flavor doesn’t just come from salt and pepper, it comes from a variety of herbs (like cilantro!) and spices (like fenugreek!) That’s one of my goals in creating this blog; to dispel the myth that healthy food can’t have the same spice, tang and kick that can be found in delicious cultural/ethnic foods.  Tandoori chicken and Escoveitch fish are both ethnic foods that are flavorful and (if carefully prepared) can be very healthy. The same goes for fish tacos! So if you think healthy has to mean bland, you’re missing out on the ways foods can do double duty: delicious & nutritious.

Fit = Skinny

I remember back in the day -before she lost weight coincidentally- Monique was famous for using the term “skinny b*tches”. She threw the term around early and often & to be clear,  she wasn’t using this term to talk about women who were actually skinny (see the picture above of the late Ana Carolina Reston). Monique was using “skinny b*tches” to describe anyone who wasn’t plus size. I think this “saying” was a classic case of trying to make fitness seem extreme (by using the word “skinny”) in order to make people who were plus size feel better about themselves. I don’t think that everyone should be a size 2, but shouldn’t everyone be trying to be the most fit and healthy that they can be? In the same way that it’s unfair to ridicule someone for being overweight/obese, isn’t it unfair to put down someone who doesn’t want to eat certain foods because they’re watching their weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc? Before you make a comment on why a dear friend is turning down your famous mac&cheese recipe- remember that being fit is about an individual achieving their “health best”, not yours.

Sexy = Thick
Where do I begin on this one? The Coke-bottle, 36-24-36 figure has long been coveted. Women everywhere want a curvaceous body like Kim Kardashian, JLo and Nikki Minaj. In the black community, people often make jokes about women who don’t have a voluptuous body shape as being flat-chested or having a flat behind. Coupled with this is the worry that if a woman diets and/or exercises she will “lose her curves” and become less attractive to her man. But at what point does the desire to be thick and have curves give way to the need to take care of our bodies? At what point do black women need to be more selfish when it comes to doing what’s best for their own health (regardless of what cultural norms may dictate)? I would argue that having a shape should never take priority over having a healthy body. You may lose some of your hips and thighs, but you may gain a new appreciation for what your body can do and how much better you can feel!

***What do YOU think? Are there certain myths you’d add to this list? Have you ever found yourself being criticized for trying to be more health conscious (skipping certain unhealthy cultural foods, being told you’re losing your curves)? Sound off!***

-CFC

P.S Check out my thoughts on the criticism of Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas’ Hair here!

P.P.S. Check out this hilarious Funny or Die skit with Blair Underwood on being a black hiker: Funny or Die: Black Hiker w/ Blair Underwood

(Photo credits (in order of appearance): enlivenmagazine.com, wikipedia.com, photo.cefapa.com and nickiminajmusic.org)

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About ChicFitChef

My "deserted island" checklist: a BCBG dress, a healthy & diabetic-friendly meal and a few workout DVDs. ;-)
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19 Responses to Being Black & Fit – 3 Myths Holding Us Back

  1. Cecelia Thomas says:

    Thanks so much for this blog post. I have heard many of these comments but the most prevelant being the one about being “thick”. A lot of women use the “black men like thick women” excuse to eat poorly and not take care of themselves. I see a lot of that back in Detroit (my hometown). I am curvy and enjoy having hips and large rear end but i do not think that being unnecessarily large in other place on my body is sexy lol. Another thing that you maybe should talk about in your next blog is the number of black women who don’t work out because it messes up their hair. Now that is definitely a something i’ve heard even more than the thick excuse and its another barrier that our women have regarding working out!

    Great job on the blog my love!

    • ChicFitChef says:

      Oh Cecelia!! I’m planning on doing a post about black women and hair- it will be fresh though and provide a new take on the issue! Stay tuned and thanks for commenting on the blog!

  2. A male friend of the blogger says:

    Ha! Good points. I know very few women who actually fit into the sexy/thick category. And the ones that do are ironically those with naturally larger frames who work out a lot. In fact, a large part of my judgement of whether or not someone is physically attractive good are their diet and fitness habits. If you’re not making good choices on those now, it’s almost certainly a bad news story in several years, no matter what you look like now.

    • ChicFitChef says:

      Thanks so much for giving a male perspective! I agree that diet and fitness habits are the **BEST** indicator of someone’s attractiveness, present and future! As we age, it’s THOSE habits that matter the most.

  3. JG says:

    Interesting post! Since I decided to change my exercise and eating habits in early 2011, my family and friends — Black and everything in between — have been nothing but supportive. I think resistence comes when we make personal decisions for ourselves and try to impose them on others. E.g., my parents — despite their sodium and cholesterol-related health problems — really resent me lecturing them/making them feel bad about eating the occassional porkchop. In an ideal world, we would all aspire to optimize our health, but there’s room for all body types/health-fitness levels in the Kingdom! 🙂

    • ChicFitChef says:

      Hey JG! It’s awesome that you’ve gotten positive feedback as you changed your health habits! And I agree that pushing health choices on other people should not be the goal. However, I will say that I’ve found that now that I’m a self-proclaimed “fitness/health junkie” ppl I know are very self-conscious about eating around me! It’s weird, I think they assume that because I’m focused on health I will want them to be too- which is not the case. I think we all need to cut ourselves some slack and take our own health journey in our own way, at our own pace.

      Separately, I think it’s hard when you know that a loved one is suffering from a health-related problem, but still doesn’t change their eating habits. How do you care without being judging? Might be the subject for another post! 🙂

    • Marvel says:

      JG, your point about the lecturing lending to resistance really resonates with me. I’ve found it difficult not to impose my health goals on my boyfriend–he’s supportive of me, but he’s not on board to start optimizing his own health (which scares me). But I’ve recently come to realize that–just like I did–he needs to have his own “come to Jesus” moment. And the best thing I can do is be supportive of him when that happens.

  4. CocoaPlatinum says:

    I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of your third and final point. Whenever I ate right AND worked out consistently, I would absolutely lose my curves, and in all the wrong places! Family and friends would also comment for me to not lose anymore weight because I was getting to thin. But back to your point – I am with you. I would rather be physically healthy and fit than have my curves in all the right places. Gym, here I come! Now, to find quick, easy, HEALTHY, affordable foods to assist in getting back in health/shape!

    • ChicFitChef says:

      The whole “losing your curves” point is a tough one, because it’s often painted in extremes! You can be fit and healthy and still have the curves you like on your body. In fact, if you’re weight-training, I think being fit ENHANCES your curves (see my guy friend’s comment above). So it’s really a win-win!

  5. CNK says:

    Thanks for posting this…I can’t count the number of times that people — often other black women (and sometimes black men, too) — have come at me for being, shall we say, dedicated to fitness/healthy eating.

    That said, some also very much appreciate it! I think there’s def the curvy aesthetic, but I think people also appreciate, e.g., the “track body” aesthetic.

    • ChicFitChef says:

      CNK- I feel you boo! I had one guy say to me that I looked like “I needed a doctor”, when I finished Insanity in 2010! Mind you I’d lost 7inches but only 2lbs so I was actually more toned than ever! Sometimes it’s just hating after a certain point. Be proud of your body, the fact that you take care of it and your track body build!! 🙂

  6. Not skinny, but fit says:

    Great post! I would just like to testify to the fact that it is absolutely possible to be healthy and fit without looking skinny… I have come to terms with the fact that I just can’t buy pants off the rack because my large butt and thighs will always be of very different proportions than my relatively skinny waist, and that it’s a rare and wonderful year that I find high-heeled boots that will accommodate my calves, which have soccer player proportions. But once these absolute fashion horrors had sunk in… that’s a really small dent in the complete comfort I get from knowing that my body is exactly where it was meant to be. Thanks to my wonderful parents, my diet has always been in great shape and I work out every other day (everything except my thighs…). In the end, I disagree with you guys a little bit… I think it comes down to finding that equilibrium that you are comfortable with and that your body gravitates to, and making sure you enhance that place with the flexibility and muscle tone you desire (even if it doesn’t show everywhere), and the cardiovascular fitness and diet that will ensure you a long life to enjoy with that body. You obviously won’t know where that place is if you don’t let your body find it without distracting it with bad fitness and eating habits, but once you’re there, I think you’ll find (and it sounds as though you all have found) that the only thing hotter than healthy habits themselves are the happiness and ease they bring to the bearer. Nothing glows brighter than the smile of a person completely comfortable in their own skin.

  7. The Doc Is In says:

    This is a great topic! I’ll just cosign on what most of you all already said about the skewed view towards the fit physique in the Black community. Someone starts to tone up and all of sudden they “look like a crackhead”…really?! Sheesh do you say that to naturally slender people too?

    Also, to your first point…not only is true that healthy food IS flavorful (like all your blog recipes 🙂 ) but the palate can also evolve in terms of what is perceived as good and flavorful. We’re so used to fats and artificial sweeteners we think those things make food “taste good”. For instance, I was never a soda drinker (thanks parentals!) but I grew up loving juice and canned iced tea and HATED water. A few years ago I started eliminating empty liquid calories…fast-forward to now where probably 90% of what I drink is water and unsweetened teas…they taste GREAT to me and are what I crave when I’m thirsty. Now on the rare occasions when I have “artificial flavor red juice drank” or whatever I find it sickeningly sweet with a horrid aftertaste. I’ve had that happen with countless other foods too; it’s funny how there’s a physical transformation that takes place in addition to the mental change regarding food.

  8. Thanks so much for this post! I used to believe all of these myths until I was inspired by 10 year old son to get off the couch and complete a triathlon. My body, spirit and most of all mid has changed for the better in ways I could ever imagine.

    • ChicFitChef says:

      Thanks for your comment! And BIG congrats on completing a TRIATHLON! The longest/toughest race I’ve done is a half-marathon and that was no joke! My hats off to you for completing a tri!

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