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There’s so much out there saying that black women aren’t active, right? Well here’s to black women telling our own fitness stories! 🙂 I had the fab opportunity to interview Toni Carey, co-founder of Black Girls Run! (BGR!), an organization dedicated to (i) bringing together black women for running/exercise, (ii) educating black women on their health & (iii) dispelling the myth that black women aren’t/can’t be active!
1. Can you tell us how BGR! got started?
BGR! was started by me and my co-founder Ashley Hicks in 2009. We were both running at the time, trying to lose some of the weight we’d put on since college. As we attended races we noticed an under-representation of black women at the events. We decided to start BGR! as a blog to provide support for black female runners.
2. So did you envision BGR! as just a website when you started? How did it become an in-person community?
Well in 2010, Ashley and I decided to run the Georgia half-marathon and posted about it on the site. We held a meet-and-greet at the event and were shocked at how many people showed up! Women were asking for us to create running groups for in-person runs. At first we were hesitant- who would organize this? But now BGR! has 69 running groups and over 25,000 members.
3. Love the name! What inspired it?
I can’t say it was something we planned or orchestrated. I just remember being on the phone with my mom telling her how I planned to run a marathon and had just bought some new running shoes. She was like “Uh, black women don’t run!” She then proceeded to tell me stories about women’s uteruses falling out from too much running (and other such silliness). I told Ashley about it and we both thought “Black girls do run!” And the name was born.
4. I’m sure you’ve read/heard about the recent New York Times article on “Why Black Women Are Fat“. You’re on the ground running with black women. What’s your take on black women and obesity?
What we find is that there are multiple reasons for why some black women are overweight/obese. Often times it’s unhealthy habits that are severely ingrained in our culture. Soul food Sundays. Perceptions of being too skinny. The glorification of being thick. Managing our hair while working out. Putting our families before ourselves. It’s really complicated.
At BGR! we start the conversation about how black women can lead healthier lives. I think that starting the conversation is half the battle. It’s not like obesity is a problem without a solution. It just takes education on how to take care of yourself.
5. One of the things often said in the media in order to explain why black women are overweight is that black men prefer a fuller-figured woman. Do you think that black male preferences are a driver of black females being overweight?
I think there’s some truth to it. I remember there was this one woman who ran with us who had been making a lot of progress but then started gaining the weight back. I heard that her husband said that he liked her a little bigger, so I suspect that might have been a factor for her. And I know personally in my previous relationships that when weight would come up a lot of guys would tell me “Oh you look great just the way you are” even when I might have been feeling like I could maybe lose some weight.
These preferences are a reality- why else would people be getting butt implants? I don’t know if the black community will ever be over it but we need to admit that it’s a real issue. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a thin line between having a thick full figure and putting your health at risk through obesity. So BGR! tries to stress “non-scale goals” -coming off of blood pressure or diabetes medication- as a way for women to see that progress isn’t just about weight. These non-scale goals that have nothing to do with the scale and are still really important.
6. There are studies that suggest that black women have a pretty high level of satisfaction and self-esteem when it comes to their bodies (as compared to their white female counterparts). Given our issues with obesity/being overweight, how do you think black women can love themselves within a healthy/healthier context?
I think it’s great that black women have high self-esteem but I also think we’re owning bodies in a sort of detrimental way. It also often seems that in the media black women are treated as an experiment when it comes to understanding obesity. Like in the New York Times, we miss the point because in some ways black women are just put on display without being truly understood. I think articles like these are good because they get people thinking about what it means to be a healthy black woman and what it means to be healthy generally. And when you mentioned health context that’s important too; this is really a global/international issue and also an urban/city issue- why is there a fast food restaurant and a liquor store on every corner in a lot of black neighborhoods? We need to talk about that context as well.
7. What advice do you have for women who are hesitant about running for the first time?
Don’t put limitations on yourself. I always say that if you try something you might not like it, but if you don’t try something you will never know if you could like it. We were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a run not too long ago and there were 150+ BGR! runners with us. One woman approached me and said that she never would have dreamed she could run a race or that she’d enjoy it! You’re not going to run a 9-minute mile right away, but be patient and again, don’t put limitations on yourself.
8. Are there any new BGR! initiatives that we should be looking out for?
One of BGR!’s goals for 2012 is to reach communities that really need us. We’re hosting our first BGR! Road Race in September 2012 in Atlanta, GA. It will be a two-day event: day one will be a conference offering information on yoga for runners, weight lifting and other fitness activities and day two will be race day. The race day will have a 5K and 10K event.
9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I just really want to encourage black women to visit us at www.blackgirlsrun.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlackgirlsRUN and also to get out there and run! There is no formula to fitness, but it starts with setting a goal and going for it!
Do you set non-scale fitness goals? Are you a black woman who runs and/or is a member of BGR! What has been your experience? -CFC
- CFC Review of “Black Women & Fat”, Alice Randall’s NYTimes Op-ed (chicfitchef.com)
- Is BMI Biased Against Blacks and Women? (chicfitchef.com)
- Being Black and Fit: 3 Myths Holding Us Back (chicfitchef.com)