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This Week In 'What Is Wrong With Black Women'
May 7, 2012 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Nichelle Gainer (whose Vintage Black Glamour blog was seen previously on MeFi) responds insightfully to a NY Times editorial by author Alice Randall called "Why Black Women Are Fat."
posted by hermitosis (44 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
i had not heard of nichelle gainer but i'm glad i have now. thanks for posting this.
posted by nadawi at 8:01 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll almost be happy when we black women just go back to being invisible.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 8:18 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I liked the article (Nichelle's) but I didn't understand her point about Josephine Baker in the banana skirt.
posted by sweetkid at 8:19 PM on May 7, 2012


Somewhat interesting, but it's overhearing a conversation between two people who are talking past each other. Neither is right or wrong, they're just both different.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clutch online magazine has a similar theory on what the NY Times is up to with this.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:37 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clutch online magazine
-> Do you click and comment when the headlines aren’t so sensational?


Oh sure sometimes, but the top headline on Gawker right now is literally a description of John Travolta's penis. Take from that what you will.
posted by Winnemac at 8:52 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's kind of sad that the author has to oh-so-carefully go down a list of things that she's not saying. Not her fault, given the touchy subject matter, but it gets a little awkward trying to fish out what she's actually trying to communicate.
posted by Malor at 8:58 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


(admittedly, by the end it's pretty straightforward, but about the first half is really a snarl.)
posted by Malor at 8:59 PM on May 7, 2012


sweetkid: "I liked the article (Nichelle's) but I didn't understand her point about Josephine Baker in the banana skirt."

Josephine Baker embodied a curvier form of the ideal black woman.
posted by stbalbach at 9:21 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read the Randall piece and didn't bother researching "Ada's Rules." Glad Gainer put that into context, because now Randall's screed makes much more sense. Drumming up press = semi-inflammatory op-eds.

I didn't think Gainer was so much snarling as contextualizing.The Randall piece said much more about her (her social group, location, age cohort) than black women as a whole. My circle (younger, northerly urban dwellers) consists of avid runners and/or gym goers who struggle with our bodies just like other urban, middle-class, highly-educated women do and our men, of a variety of races, while loving us, are not asking us to be north of 200 lbs. I read the Randall piece with confusion, frankly. Gainer just nailed what a lot of us were thinking, which could be boiled down to: "Huh? You serious?" It was oddly reductive and not representative of the breadth of issues, and in what could be argued to be a semi-hostile space.

Seconding nubianinthedesert.
posted by OompaLoompa at 9:32 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]



sweetkid: "I liked the article (Nichelle's) but I didn't understand her point about Josephine Baker in the banana skirt."

Josephine Baker embodied a curvier form of the ideal black woman.


That's the caption on the nytimes link.

This is the part I said I didn't understand, from The Nichelle Gainer article:

let's just say that I'm a little disappointed that a picture of a more seasoned Baker wasn't used. There are some Ernestine Shepard's out there but, for the most part, I think using young Baker as the ideal here was a misstep.

Don't understand why a "seasoned" Josephine Baker picture would have been better.
posted by sweetkid at 9:35 PM on May 7, 2012


I think that part may have been a purely aesthetic preference of Gainer's part... as someone who encounters a lot of pictures of Baker, she things a more seasoned photo (instead of the same tired old bananas) would better communicate the artist's charms.

I'm sure they just chose the bananas one because of how naked she was.
posted by hermitosis at 9:40 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm with Clutch. Randall can rationalize for 1000s of words, but the content (fat black women) is not the point; it's all about the headline getting that click. Much like Kutcher's recent sensation with Popchips. Black women will never again be invisible. The outrage quotient is way too high.
posted by Ardiril at 9:48 PM on May 7, 2012


Dear Black Women,

There's nothing wrong with you. You are awesome.

Love,

Louche Mustachio
posted by louche mustachio at 9:49 PM on May 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


I find this interesting, not really something I'm getting very worked up about. I think people forget that a lot of black women don't really have the same body issues that white women have. I mean, from what I've read, statistically, black women have much higher self-esteem than white women. In my experience you rarely hear black women getting worked up about the size of their asses. The issues society has placed on us with our looks is usually about our hair, skin color, dating men of different races. I think it's interesting what I see, sorta applying the fat acceptance movement to this issue. I don't know if it really works, I think it's more complicated than that. Everything from Michele Obama's anti-obesity campaign (which is continuously criticized) to the fact that a large percentage of black women are obese. Is that fact not true? Is that a good thing, a bad thing, just a thing? What's the purpose of not pointing that out if it's true?
posted by girlmightlive at 10:12 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the NYT article the other day. Thought it was interesting.

I think Nichelle Gainer is kind of missing the point of Alice Randall's article:
I honestly can't imagine that a woman of Randall's considerable intellect and versatility would say that "many black women are fat because they want to be" without also saying that "many black women" are fat because we are like any other human being. We may be fat because of unresolved emotional issues like past sexual abuse and choose to self-medicate with food. We may be fat because we are working (and commuting back and forth from work) and taking care of our children (and our husbands, parents and/or other people's children) and don't have the time to exercise properly. Maybe we are too tired to exercise by the end of the day. Maybe we live in a dangerous neighborhood and are afraid to walk outside for exercise. Maybe we just like to eat.
Sure. But by far the biggest reason people want to lose weight is to be more attractive. If someone thinks being chubby is attractive, that's obviously going to have a major impact on their motivation to actually lose weight.

Obviously Randall's article wasn't saying "This is why every single fat black woman is fat", but rather she was explaining a cultural factor that could play a major role.
posted by delmoi at 10:50 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I didn't think Gainer was so much snarling as contextualizing.The Randall piece said much more about her (her social group, location, age cohort) than black women as a whole. My circle (younger, northerly urban dwellers) consists of avid runners and/or gym goers who struggle with our bodies just like other urban, middle-class, highly-educated women do and our men, of a variety of races, while loving us, are not asking us to be north of 200 lbs. I read the Randall piece with confusion, frankly. Gainer just nailed what a lot of us were thinking, which could be boiled down to: "Huh? You serious?" It was oddly reductive and not representative of the breadth of issues, and in what could be argued to be a semi-hostile space.

Agreed.

I do think that black women tend to have fewer body issues and many certainly don't seek to be in single-digit sizes but I don't know any black women wanting to be north of 200 pounds, either for vanity or male preference and certainly not with the known health risks. Black women tend to have fuller hips and thighs, even when at single-digit sizes. We're ok with that. A lot of black men like fuller hips and thighs (and so do a lot of other men). But nobody wants health problems.

In black vernacular, some women are 'thick' like Serena Williams, sixpack and all, and some are fat like Sidibe Gabourey. Many black women are fine with being thick, not many are fine with being as heavy as Sidibe, whose weight really does look unhealthy. Serena probably couldn't look like Christy Turlington, they're about the same height, even if she tried. Nor would she and a lot of other black women want to. Beyonce is never going to look like Jennifer Anniston, and vice versa. There are cultural differences as well as different body types.
posted by shoesietart at 11:01 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The following is cut from Nichelle Gainer's post:
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic Black women are more than twice as likely as Non-Hispanic White women to be overweight and, even in models adjusted for age, education, income, marital status, self-reported health, and self-reported medical diagnosis of overweight, Blacks were 70% more likely than Whites to misperceive their weight. Black people, not just women in that instance. (bolds mine)

I would have thought that there would be a large divide based upon education and/or income but this information states otherwise.

Almost certainly people who have more education behind them will have higher income, black or not. And in the end, most everything is diet and exercise, and an inexpensive diet -- which is more likely to be eaten by people with less money -- is the worst, full of grease and corn sugars and refined garbage and tons of chemicals no one can pronounce.

Shopping at the local supermarket and purchasing items that are positioned to be seen first (as they cost the least to produce yet have high margins, even if the "food" is inexpensive compared to a healthy diet), if you shop how you're encouraged to shop, you'll be buying and taking home a cart full of the prelude to diabetes every week. Damn shame.

People love grease and salt and sugar, they're damned hard to resist; stores love it, they slap that glop into brightly colored plastic bags or boxes and they're going to sell a lot of it.

Anyways, I found that bit surprising, that piece about education / income not moving the obesity in one direction or the other.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:28 AM on May 8, 2012


I am perhaps being picky, but the phrasing of that sentence makes me think that the 'even when adjusted for age...' bit only only applies to being '70% more likely to misperceive their weight' and not to the likelihood of being obese.
posted by jacalata at 1:16 AM on May 8, 2012


I'll almost be happy when we black women just go back to being invisible.

Wait...you can do that?

Are you watching me now? Were you watching me about half nine last night? Because that wasn't what it looked like.

Also, it was quite cold.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:28 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Zuh, obiwanwasabi? Zuh?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:28 AM on May 8, 2012


correction: It was an OP ED piece and not a NY Times editorial
posted by Postroad at 3:57 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's odd to me that no one questions the framing of this obesity misperception study. Black women are 70% more likely than white women to be comfortable with their weight, and that's, like, a health crisis? Public health advocates are pushing for more anxiety among black women?!?

I liked Gainer's extreme charity with Randall: she's not attacking, just sharing a different experience and interpretation, and she spent a good deal of time celebrating the novel. But they can't both be right, either, and I know a lot of my students (born in the nineties) side with Randall: if we all necessarily make body image choices based on our lovers' expectations, let's at least hope for lovers who will celebrate what we are and not what the magazines say we should be.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:14 AM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that's the difference. Talking about the high rate of obesity among black women is not the same as talking about body issues. This is not saying black women are ugly because of their thighs and hips, it's talking about how black women are disproportionately obese. I don't understand why it's scandalous to talk about that, because isn't it true? Telling us black women we're beautiful the way we are may work when we're talking about the eye-rolling ad nauseum conversation about our hair and our skin tones, but this is a different issue.

We African Americans are subject to the same thing as everyone else--food deserts, fast food and convenience stores on every block, lack of pedestrian-friendly streets. Everything that contributes to a high rate of obesity. But instead of fixing these issues we coo, "you're beautiful the way you are!" That does a disservice to us all, I think.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:10 AM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think that's the difference. Talking about the high rate of obesity among black women is not the same as talking about body issues.

That's my reading, too. To the extent that there is a connection between weight and health, one would want to have an accurate understanding of one's body. That is totally separate from one's conception of one's attractiveness; I wish the two weren't so routinely conflated.
posted by Forktine at 5:37 AM on May 8, 2012


Please don't start with the food deserts thing.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/health/research/pairing-of-food-deserts-and-obesity-challenged-in-studies.html

The main problem is food choices, not the availability of wholesome food.

Food is very cheap in this country. Americans spend a historically low percentage of their income on food.
posted by etherist at 6:34 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I said, I think Gainer's article is wonderfully sensitive, and it's certainly an important contribution to "real conversations about finding balance, eating better, exercising for real and slimming down without getting too skinny without moralizing and attacking people." But because beauty ideals and health ideals are inextricably linked, it's not a balanced conversation when the conclusion is that new ideals of femininity require more slimness than old ones, so shape up! That shouldn't be the end of the conversation especially when the interlocutor demanding more slimness has had an eating disorder.

Beauty and health aren't two unrelated experiences. Healthy is beautiful and beautiful is healthy. That's why the magazines and the white ideals of womanhood are so troubling: they deliberately confuse women's (and men's) ideal of beauty at the formative stage by glamorizing unhealthy body types. Lust and jealousy don't listen carefully to careful, charitable conversations about "eating better" or "exercising for real." And while some of the concerns with obesity (like Obama's push related to healthy eating and childhood obesity) are directly related to health, the differences between Randall and Gainer are primarily about different healthy ways of dealing with weight in the context of beauty. They're about what the beauty ideal should be, given what we know about health.

And given what we know about health, I think that older beauty ideals deserve a second look. There are healthy black women over 25 BMI, and women who are unhealthy in that range: that's why BMI is bogus. But the use of the flawed metric puts an unfair finger on the scale for Gainer's bulimia and the cult of skinny.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:36 AM on May 8, 2012


Does anyone know if the title of the article changed at some point (perhaps after a certain amount of backlash)? When I pull it up, the title I see is "Black Women and Fat" - arguably a less inflammatory title. The URL still contains the phrase "why black women are fat," but that title doesn't appear above the article itself - at least, not when I pull it up. Merely curious.
posted by pecanpies at 6:48 AM on May 8, 2012


Look for my blog post next week titled "Why White Men Can't Jump."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:56 AM on May 8, 2012


Yes, it did change, at least since I made this FPP.
posted by hermitosis at 7:33 AM on May 8, 2012


Yes, this is an obvious variation on the "what is wrong with women" trend. As the author points out, though, racial overtones make for juicier click-bait.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:52 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]



You know what. How about I worry about me, you worry about you. How I look, what I eat and how fat I am is MY business.

You don't get an opinion on how I look. Or, rather, keep your opinion to yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:59 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a shame Black folks can't have a place to discuss internal issues without worrying about how it's perceived by whites. See also: Chappelle's Show, The Boondocks. We can't comment on any part of our culture without worrying it's being co-opted, that there's a secret message of racism/self-hatred, that racists are laughing along, etc.

We are still being bought and sold. Yeah, so are white people, but less uniformly/oppressively. There really are few places we can go to express ourselves to ourselves, less so/not in quite the same way as the folks in the majority can. It's hard to put into words, and it's taken decades for me to become conscious of. So, I may not be explaining it well, but it's there. And it's every bit as insidious as the sort of marketing that plays to majority-white audiences, but with the added baggage of history and slavery and racism. We don't even have the illusion that we are not property, that we belong to ourselves. Or perhaps we don't have anything but that illusion. Shoot, I'm only half-Black (hooray, one-drop rule!), so do I even stand a chance of understanding it?
posted by Eideteker at 9:11 AM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


The female black beauty standard, to the extent that it differs from the white female beauty standard, is the healthier and more attainable. I don't believe that being overweight to the point where it negatively impacts your health is aesthetically preferable or sexually attractive to people of any race in any real numbers. I think the reason black women are heavier than white women are mostly cultural and socioeconomic. So yeah, the New York times article was interesting I guess but it asks a question and then answers it by selectively picking through a century or so of culture for examples that support it's poetically chosen thesis. So yeah, that's bullshit.
posted by I Foody at 9:44 AM on May 8, 2012


I guess I still don't understand how some people are reading that Randall is imploring black women to be thin. I mean, diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure are actual problems and they are caused by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. What does that have to do with fashion magazines?
posted by girlmightlive at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was absolutely fucking terrified by the portion of the Alice Randall article where she describes an audience at Harvard applauding Daniel Lieberman as he suggested that exercise should be mandated by law - it's like watching the birth of a new War on Drugs.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:59 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was absolutely fucking terrified by the portion of the Alice Randall article where she describes an audience at Harvard applauding Daniel Lieberman as he suggested that exercise should be mandated by law - it's like watching the birth of a new War on Drugs.

So ... the government that can force us to pay for others' healthcare can't for said others to take better care of themselves. If healthcare is an entitlement, shouldn't the people footing the bill be entitled to get value for their money?

While we're add it, let's have government ban saturated fats (in progress), extreme sports, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and promiscuous sex. Then we'll see the total cost of public healthcare go way down.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:12 PM on May 8, 2012


"Force" ... not "for" (dammit).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:17 PM on May 8, 2012


Department of why serious conversations about race and health are so hard to have: The author of this piece opens with the stark fact that "One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes," and all anyone wants to talk about is how *their* friends are healthy, and cultural differences are important, and how lame the photo is, and how mean it is of the author to single them out, and chiming in to say "I love black women just like I should", and blah blah blah. All the while, people are losing limbs and suffering terribly and dying young. But hey, thanks for reminding us that beauty standards don't equal health! That will be very reassuring when the foot gets amputated.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:33 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's odd to me that no one questions the framing of this obesity misperception study. Black women are 70% more likely than white women to be comfortable with their weight, and that's, like, a health crisis? Public health advocates are pushing for more anxiety among black women?!?

I'm not sure if you're serious or if you're being obtuse, but if people are misperceiving the risks of a health issue, then yes, that's a public health problem. If smokers think "it makes me look cool and it's not as bad as they say" then it's harder to get them to quit. That's exactly why we have PSAs, product regulation and labeling and other forms of health education.
posted by desjardins at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2012


If it were just obesity (BMI over 30) that would be different. But the study lumps obesity and overweight together (BMI over 25) and that includes a lot of people who are at a healthy weight for their frame or are older when BMI over 25 can be protective.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2012


"Department of why serious conversations about race and health are so hard to have: The author of this piece opens with the stark fact that "One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes," and all anyone wants to talk about is how *their* friends are healthy, and cultural differences are important, and how lame the photo is, and how mean it is of the author to single them out, and chiming in to say "I love black women just like I should", and blah blah blah. All the while, people are losing limbs and suffering terribly and dying young. But hey, thanks for reminding us that beauty standards don't equal health! That will be very reassuring when the foot gets amputated."

The article wasn't titled "Why One out of Four Middle-Aged Black Women Has Diabetes," it was titled, at least initially, "Why Black Women Are Fat." Arguably, the new title is more representative of the content, and the link-bait nature of the original title was a a large part of the reason many people were taking issue with it. I don't see how broadening the conversation the way Gainer did means we're having a less serious conversation about it, I think it helps us have a less reductive one, which is more helpful in my opinion, not less.

If the author's point was "Black women are fat because we want to be," and she then goes on to cite a 45-year-old Joe Tex song, a friend's husband asking her to keep roundness to her backside, and a 25-year-old poem about broad hips as indicative of current cultural norms, I do think it's fair to point out that those norms may have altered among a younger, more educated, more affluent group of us.
posted by OompaLoompa at 3:57 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, she's writing for the NYTimes, so her audience averages 40+ already.
posted by jacalata at 5:03 PM on May 8, 2012


I've been thinking about these articles for a few days now. I couldn't really put any thoughts together until after I read this Crunk Feminist article on dating while black, female and fat. I still can't put all my thoughts together but wanted to share that link.
posted by Danila at 7:59 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


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