“This is the last day I am going to be fat,” I say to myself as I try on yet another pair of slacks. I am panicking because this meeting is too important to be late. “Tomorrow night I am going to start at that new gym that opened down the street.” Even though that’s what I said last week today, I mean it.
“Mommy,” my six-year-old Kyrie says through the doorway, “Hurry up because I am going to be late for school.”
“When did you get so impatient?” I ask her, turning into the mirror to check out my plentiful backside.
“You are taking too long and being a messy mommy.” She was stating the obvious. I had tried on at least five suits.
“I’m almost ready,” I snap at her as the button on my black size 18 slacks to my Ann Taylor suit tears away from the thread and leaves me with my stomach hanging out. There’s no way I can wear these too little pants to meet with the president of the company. Maybe I will call and reschedule. I have to get dinner ready since my husband invited our closest friends over and told them I would make my famous extra cheesy lasagna. I sigh to myself and say out loud, “Lord, how did I get like this? I need some help.” Then I walk back into my closet to the fat clothes in the back.
The above scenario could happen to any woman, on any day, in any city, at any time. However, there are some households where this happens more often than not. Research indicates that 4 out of 5 black women are overweight, 3 out of five black women are obese, and 2 out of 5 black women are morbidly obese. So if you aren’t the overweight person in your peer group, chances are 4 of your friends are. 80% of African-American women in the United States are struggling to reach and maintain a healthy weight. These numbers are astronomical in comparison with other minority groups and whites in America. I would venture to say that these numbers may be even higher depending on the region where these women reside. Linda Lockhart of St. Louis Public Radio stated that “in St. Louis, African Americans are more likely to die earlier than people of other races from a variety of illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. In many cases, these conditions have a direct link to obesity.”
Unfortunately, not being able to fit comfortably into clothing is a small problem compared to the health disparities resulting from being overweight. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Affairs, people who are obese are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and LDL cholesterol — all risk factors for heart disease and stroke. In truth, Black women are becoming ill and dying at alarming rates from an illness that is curable obesity.
Notably, even with all the information and services available, African-American women continue to have the highest obesity rate of any group of Americans. My own story is similar.
Body image has always been a thorn in my side. I grew up with what the elders called ‘baby making hips’ and a plump behind. My mother wanted to be sure I never got fat because she was struggling with obesity. Every diet she went on I went on too. I was able to keep my weight in check while my mother grew horizontally. She died at the age of 48 because of complications due to obesity. It was hard for me to deal with the loss of my best friend. She was my entire support system. I found myself at the age of 28 raising two toddlers alone and confused about what to do next. I knew for sure I never wanted to see another son or daughter lose a parent to something as curable as obesity. When my mother died, she told me she didn’t want her death to be in vain. While mourning her loss, I lost my sexy. I gained weight and struggled in my career. In my recovery, I realized that I could be the one to make a difference. I started researching fitness and vigorously seeking out meal plans and diets that fought off cancer and disease. It took me nine years to prepare, but in 2010, I opened a fitness center. I learned from my own experience that weight loss and unhappiness go hand in hand. Therefore, I wanted to create a space where women could let go of the cares of this world and have fun with fitness hence the name, Keep It Sexy Sistas Fitness. This foray into the fitness world was not an easy one. Several things have made this transition difficult. I learned a lot about myself and about the women I served. Allow me to share with you my thoughts regarding what three things are making black women fat.
1. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Often, our men are underemployed by a society that has shown again and again that it does not value the black man. The responsibility to rear children and supplement household income falls on the woman who has to encourage and support her children as well as her husband. We are over-obligated, underpaid, and underappreciated. Suddenly, we find ourselves in drive-thru’s, or as like to call them, die thru’s trying to provide a decent meal for our families after having worked all day. We are just tired. Tired of being tired. Tired of being overlooked in so many areas and tired of balancing fine china on our fingertips, while walking on eggshells, and standing on one foot.
2. We never learned to eat healthy as young people.
I tell every client who comes through the door, “You lose weight in the kitchen, and you get fit in the gym.” They almost always say, “Oh” and the conversation ends. Truthfully, the people who loved us most, they taught us how to fry chicken, cook candied yams, and jiffy cornbread. So many people ask me, “what is a quinoa and why should I eat that?” And don’t get me started on tofu. The turned up faces that I see when I mention I eat tofu and kale whenever I go to SweetArts Bakery on the Southside. Shame on you right now if you aren’t eating raw vegetables too! I could talk about this for days.
3. Health and fitness is an inconvenience.
Learning about health and fitness is a full-time job and commitment. It is almost impossible for over programmed women to put something else on their plates. There is so much information out there that it’s easy to make the wrong choice. I always feel bad for someone who enters the studio and says, “tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” There are national chains that have made a fortune from people who won’t open a recipe book or try a new fruit or vegetable.
When I take a minute to think about what we should do about helping women to lose the weight, I return to the same three thoughts. I’m not singling out one person but speaking to black women collectively.
1. Stop giving the job the best of you!
You are working so many hours trying to prove to the world that you deserve to be respected that there is no time for fitness. You are exhausted at the end of the day and too tired in the morning to let go of that pillow. I’ve worked in Corporate America and the public school system and I am aware of the plight of black women. We are always proving our worth. Let that go. Do your job because that’s what it is, a job. It’s not your life, and it’s not who you are as a person. Has it ever occurred to you that you haven’t gotten the promotion you need because no one believes in you since you don’t believe in yourself enough to get physically fit? If you took the time to take care of your body, there’s a higher chance you would get the promotion you are killing yourself to have.
2. Mothering is harder than it’s ever been, now what?
You work all day barely taking time for lunch, and you come home to needy children who miss you and are starving physically and emotionally. Should you leave them to go workout? I’ll never tell you the answer to that. You have to decide for yourself. I will say that my mother gave us so much of her that she died and now all we have are memories that are fading with time. Raising kids is hard. My question is, do you plan on being around for your grandchildren? If you stay on the same inconsistent path, you won’t be.
If you are homebound most of the time or finances won’t allow you the freedom to workout at the gym, there are apps and Youtube videos to indulge your fitness goals. Of all the apps, Peloton is my absolute favorite. No, I did not purchase the $1,999 spin bike, but I did find a used bike for $100. The Daily Burn is another excellent app. I enjoy hot yoga. The monthly membership in my neighborhood is $130. Search Bikram Yoga on Youtube, heat your room and plug in a humidifier. Issa workout! Be creative. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you.
3. Stop embracing fat!
It’s never ‘ok’ to be obese. 4 out of 5 black women are obese. That’s 80%!!! No, you aren’t ‘big boned, ’ and obesity doesn’t run in your family. It’s unhealthy. That’s the bottom line. Your body was designed to move, and the food on your plate is making you ill. I’m telling you now enough is enough. Stop eating your self to death. For every “I don’t know how to eat healthily” there is a website or an app that will teach you. If you don’t want to meal plan, grocery shop, and meal prep my go-to favorite workaround is BlueApron because they deliver food and menus to your front door. For a budget-friendly option, live on Pinterest. You can plan a year’s menu by clicking on your favorite pictures.
I am appealing to each of you, one sister to another. Please commit to fitness. Not just for a couple of days or a couple of weeks. Commit for a lifetime. Your family needs you. Sign up, attend, and get healthy. Don’t wait until Monday. Do it today. Invest in your community. Invest in yourself.
Kem M. Smith, author of Sexy By The Weekend: 7 Keys to Living an Extraordinary Life