As a child, my family said I was “big boned.” At that time, I didn’t see much of a difference between myself and other kids. It wasn’t until I was taken to the pediatrician for an annual checkup, was weighed and told to my 9-year-old chubby face that I was the “o” word…obese. I had never heard of it before. I grew up in a household with a petite mom, a dad that was a physical education teacher and two slim sisters. I was the odd ball; or should I say butterball? I learned quickly what the word obese meant and how negatively it can affect your life and self-esteem.
Obesity is a medical condition in which one has excess body fat that may have an adverse affect on your health. It can contribute to serious conditions such as Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease and some forms of Cancer. One in three adults in America are obese. Almost half of the Black population in the U.S. (48.4%) is obese, with Black women coming in at 46.9%. Your body mass index (BMI) is a way of determining if you are overweight, obese or normal weight. This quick equation was created over a century ago, and has been the main marker for health in America and the world. In 1997, the World Health Organization recognized obesity as an epidemic. How did we get here?
As time has changed, so has the esteem of being overweight and obese. As far back as the late 12th century, being fat was seen as a good thing. Only the wealthy that could afford more expensive, high fat foods would gain excess weight. The poor were frail and thin and looked down upon. It wasn’t until after the advances in technology in the 18th century that food became readily available for most people. Things were good then…and then it took a turn. After World War II, there was an overabundance of food. Pair that with reduced physical activity and you get the birth of obesity.
The craze of having thin bodies began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s with pale skinned, bony-framed runway and underwear models. Even the 1993 Calvin Klein campaign coined them as “heroin chic.” It wasn’t until the last 10 to 15 years when more curvy and voluptuous women finally got their time to shine. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira were known for their hourglass figures and praised for their body positivity. Add the popularity of Hip-Hop culture, the Kardashians and an 115% spike in plastic surgery and you’ve got yourself a curvy craze.
But is being thick just another way of saying you’re overweight and should we be concerned? Yes and no. Many factors play a role in the obesity crisis in minority groups, especially African-Americans. Obesity disproportionately affects low-income communities. These neighborhoods are notorious for having food deserts, lack of affordable, fresh, healthy foods, an over-saturation of fast food restaurants, and unhealthy food and beverage advertisements. They are also more likely to not have recreational facilities like pools, tennis courts and tracks for physical activity. It is important to recognize the health risks associated with weight gain. However, make sure you focus on those health conditions that may run in your family. Your genetics and family’s medical history is not a predictor of your future health and wellness, but a cautionary tale and guide. Just because big mama and your aunties have diabetes, doesn’t necessarily mean you will also; but the risk is a lot higher than those who have family members that do not.
Whether you identify as curvy, thick or overweight, the most important note to take away is body positivity. As a dietitian and someone who knows what it feels like to be obese, healthy living is a journey, not a destination. Regardless of your shape, size, or figure, we should all aim to consume a well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables and moderate how much salt, sugar and fat we ingest. Know that you are enough and that you are beautiful. No matter if you are loving the way you are right now or trying to lose those extra pounds, try and remember that beauty is not in a size and does not have a weight limit. When life gives you curves, flaunt them. I surely am.
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