Beyond Thick: Over-Confidence & Obesity In African American Women

Research and numerous published reports and articles have proclaimed that African American women, on the whole, have higher self-esteem and healthy body images, when compared to their non-Black counterparts. However, African American women are also suffering from the highest rates of health disparities, particularly preventable chronic disorders; thus it is clear that the large degree of overconfidence has led to reduce health outcomes and premature deaths.

Culture and preference certainly contribute to the overconfidence, denial, delusional behavior, and elevated levels of healthy body image. Black men, through music, video images, and other forms of media have made it clear that the most desirable females are “thick” or what was once referred to as a “brick house”. For reference of what that may look like, look at old footage of legendary singer Chaka Khan in Rufus, Blaxploitation actress Pam Grier, or catch an episode of “Good Times” and behold Bernadette Stanis portraying Thelma. In short, historically within the culture there is a preference for women to have bodies that are soft, feminine, and curvy, especially in the form of rounded hips and derrière. This is the traditional body type of most Black (African-descended) women.

READ: Black Women’s Confidence, Self Image, and the Problem of Mixed Messages

The problem emerges when this cultural preference partners with poor eating habits, dependency on unhealthy food options, non-nutritional diets, such as the Standard American Diet (SAD), and lack of physical activity, which changes the traditional Front-to-Back sculpted figures into the Side-to-Side body types seen in those who are overweight and obese. The even greater problem is that, according to the federal Office of Minority Health, 78% of African American women, 20 years and older, are overweight or obese, and this leaves them susceptible and more likely to develop  a number of diseases, which include: coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and various forms of cancer. When compared to other nations, Americans are certainly increasing in size, and statistics confirm that Black women are the most overweight group in the population. In fact, Black women are 60% more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic White women. Of course, much of this can be accounted for when looking at various determinants of health, including metabolic and genetic disposition and lack of direct access to quality foods.

Ultimately, obesity is a health epidemic that must be acknowledged, discussed, and addressed. African American women can no longer ignore their ever-expanding waistlines and the replacement of their infamous and alluring “curves” with “rolls”. Yes, a healthy body image is admirable, but it becomes less remarkable when it correlates to an unhealthy body, shortened life expectancy, and a reduced quality of life.

- Cherise Charleswell

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