I have read about the cultural differences, between African-Americans and European-Americans, of obesity. African-Americans do accept larger sizes, more so than European-Americans (Hancock, A., Smith, M., & Whaley, A. L. 2009). Quite often, we do not find anything wrong with being thicker in the waist. Our men, for the most part, aren’t turned off by a voluptuous, full-figured woman, or as they would like to say thick. Growing up as a child, the skinniest person in my home was my younger sister. She wore a size 0, until the age of 18 or 19. Why she was so small, we do not know, because my family worked overtime trying to fattening her up. Being fat in my family, or in my predominately black community wasn’t bad or a humiliating reason; however, you couldn’t be ashamed or afraid of the question, “honey, are you eating”, especially by our elders. They would go as far as trying to feed you themselves, because of the assumed lack of effort by your mother.
Because I was raised this way, it was difficult to feel that I was abnormal or that something is wrong with me. My dad told me all the time that I was beautiful, and worth my weight in gold, therefore it’s difficult to have a low self-esteem. That’s why I stated in one of my earlier blogs, I did not feel a need to change. I wasn’t sick with hypertension or diabetes or any other associated disease to obesity. I was healthy, for the most part. In fact, most people in my family are fairly healthy, yet fat. Of all the fat people in my family, we may have one case of diabetes, and she is a Type 1. She lost the weight needed to remove that diagnosis, although she never sought skinny. The two cases of high blood pressure, in my family, are of my smallest aunts. They are ‘normal’ size, and have been most of their lives.
In the rural parts of Arkansas, we have to work, and I do not mean clerking or typing. We worked the fields. There aren’t jobs in the Delta, so people had to chop cotton or pick sweet potatoes. This is serious hard labor, and we did it to make our ends meet. I, personally, cannot remember one person that lost weight doing this type of work. We worked from sunup to sundown, yet maintained our weight. Had we started losing weight, people looked at us like we were sick, because being fat wasn’t viewed as a negative. However, becoming to large, where it had begun to create immobility was a huge negative, because not working, and sitting around was a serious no-no.
This information, by no means, excuses our eating habits or waistlines, but does bring light to our mentality. The hardest part is learning how the rest of the world sees you, once you have lived outside of your community. For me, it was shocking and depressing. I come from a background, where you learned to work hard, and then reap your rewards. You don’t steal, lie, or cheat, but get your hands dirty, and all that you have earned will come to you. Statistically, since I began researching obesity, I have found that no matter how hard you work, if you are not a part of the social ‘game’ or look as society thinks you should look, you can easily be discarded. Trying to explain this to my family and friends, in the Delta, would sound like I am sharing a myth. It isn’t easily believed. My dad would ask, “baby, do they do their jobs or are they lazy?” It isn’t socially accepted being overlooked, because you are fat, in the world I grew up in.
To meet the level of success, I want, how small do I have to become? Then I will have to ask myself, how do I go home skinny? Everyone will want to feed me. I don’t think we are all meant to look the same. Skinny is not my goal, and I do not accept the readings and behaviors of negative thinkers about fat people, because I have value that is worthy, and I work hard. In addition, I have not had an overwhelming negative response; if it has happened, it was unbeknownst to me. In this case, I will gladly accept ignorance as bliss.
Hancock, A., Smith, M., & Whaley, A. L. (2009). Ethnic/Racial Differences in the Self-Reported Physical and Mental Health Correlates of Adolescent Obesity. Journal of Health Psychology. October 2011, vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 1048-1057