Black Health Womens - It's Time To Take The 'Big' Out Of Black!

This article tackles specifically a black health womens issue that has long seen many Caribbean and African American women embracing an ideology that is detrimental to their fitness health and well-being.

That notion is, that being "big and black is beautiful. It is time to take the big out of 'black is beautiful'.

Black is most certainly beautiful. Glorification in being big when excessive weight gain is a result of poor nutrition and diet, is most definitely not. Real beauty starts from within! Who am I to dare pass judgment on this black health womens issue?

Having grown up within a culture where a 'big' sturdy woman was a symbol of good living, or of wealth and where a hearty appetite and 'having some real meat on your bones' was a measure of a black womans health and fitness status, I fully appreciate how in black health, womens perception of 'bigness' has become centralised.

I am also fully sensitive to the fact that there are many women among you whose weight issue is solely to do with medical reasons as opposed to un-healthy eating habits, so this does not apply to you, although you might still find this article informative and useful.

It seems ironic that in a mainstream society where being 'slim' or 'thin' is a highly valued health and beauty aspiration, in black health and beauty, womens aspiration is the very opposite.

Yet it could be argued that in very much the same way that many non-black women have succumbed to media pressure to conform to a stereotypical image of health and beauty, many Caribbean and African women's internalisation of the 'big is beautiful' myth, emerged a long time ago out of the 'family' and a 'male-value- laden' belief system.

black health womens perceptions - exploding the 'big' myth

Some researchers have pointed to cultural eating traditions being the cause of black womens un-healthy eating diets and high incidence of obesity and other chronic diseases.

Other studies alert us to the possibility that black womens eating patterns might be more to do with a coping strategy for psychosocial stresses.

While the above observations are all worthy factors for further consideration as regard black health womens experiences, they are by no means the only contributors to the black health womens issue of diet and excessive weight.

And though not dismissing a contributory factor of low income, coupled with the pressures and responsibilities on the shoulders of the high number of single parent families can lead to unhealthy food choices or even over-indulgent eating habits by some, the very high incidence of obesity among many black women is not just down to poor food choices, low income, or being single parents.

The black health womens issue of 'bigness' and obesity goes right across the board and involve black women at all income levels.

To find the answer, black women perhaps need to look much closer by examining clearly our belief systems and how historically and culturally these have been shaped. We also need to assess with a greater degree of self-honesty, what it is that has and continue to make black women so strong on the issue of the 'big' body-image esteem, yet so wrong on the health implications.

Over many generations, obesity has been a major black health womens issue that has been deeply rooted in our culture and traditions.

As a group of strong, resilient and family- oriented women, whether we are mothers, carers and/or nuturers, there is a staunchness about our belief systems and our values. These values have historically been shaped by our families.

For instance, the 'womanly' characteristics that were deemed desirable to our men folk; and by the requirements of our traditions, especially those that govern our eating habits and body-image esteem.

'Bigness' has been seen as a symbol of being 'womanly' as well as indicative of a woman being of good child-bearing stock. To some extent, this view is supported by Ruth Johnson, an associate professor of nursing (Fayetteville State University).

In an article analysing obesity trends in black women, Johnson states that on a subtle level, African girls learned that African men and families valued larger women and that those cultural values were brought to the United States during the slavery years.

It is perhaps this deeply ingrained tradition of expectation, that has made many black women model themselves in a fashion that is desirable to all else but themselves? That dictate has typically included other expectations such as exceptional housekeeping, culnary and maternal skills which were deemed pre-requisites to 'securing a good man'. This may well be at the grass root of many black health womens issues today.

What this clearly demonstrate, is that despite mainstream society's emphasis on the more slender body-image, cultural ideaology still exerts a strong influence over many African American and Caribbean black women's perceptions of what constitute a desirable body-image.

These early ideals may well be shoring up consequential implications for black health womens fitness and future well-being.

As you can see, the conditions and mechanisms that pressure many non-black women to conform to a stereotypical body image type of slenderness today, are not very different to those experienced by many black African American or Caribbean women now.

One way or another, it is simply a case of a power driven ideology by a few yet, it is one that hold countless women, - Black or White to ransom.

Whether driven by the mass media or by outdated cultral traditions or ideals, ask yourself this! 'Who stands to gain?'

black health womens body-image esteem

On the issue of black health womens high body-image esteem, many black women have long held an enviable degree of self-confidence, pride and self-acceptance about their body shape.

One research study even commented on the positive findings of healthy self- esteem held by young black women in this regard. But in light of all the above, how accurate is this really?

The study in question, which was conducted by Boston College in 2004, found that their subjects held high positive self-esteem about their body image and did not buy into the common notions of weight or 'thinness' held by their non-black counterparts.

While this finding would appear to support black womens evident self-love and positive self image, which is after all a healthy thing, esteem founded on the strength of outdated cultural and potentially harmful ideals is most certainly not.

Self-esteem and Self-love comes from true self- awareness, self-knowledge and self-acceptance of who you really are. Esteem is also about making informed choices that are your own and which are right for you. It is not based on embracing or hiding behind an ideology, or a system of past indoctrination that is now proving un-healthy and detrimental to black womens health.

black health womens - cover-up?

Irrespective of size or race, to some extent, we all wear masks or use props to either make us feel better or to disguise what is really going on inside or outside of ourselves. In the 'hiding' scenario for instance, some women may present emaculately made-up faces in an attempt to conceal the fact that they are less than happy with their looks.

Some women may don a smile to hide just how miserable they're really feeling inside. While others may choose clothing that will camouflage their lumps and bumps.

In much the same way we can choose to hide or to cover our emotions in an attempt to present a different reality to the outside world, we can also elect to hide behind outdated ideals or beliefs systems.

However, to what extent is using them as license to engage in un-healthy eating habits, impinging on black health womens longer-term physical and emotional well-being?

Despite the wealth of widely available health-related information, guidance specific to black health womens issues is in short supply.

What is widely available however, are the alarming figures on black health and womens higher incidence of chronic diseases which speaks loud and clear!

Statistics from the Office on Women's Health (OWH) shows the risks to black womens health and the higher mortality rate from heart disease, stroke, and cancer than non-black women.

Other health associated risks include obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure which occurs more frequently among black women than white women.

Far too few women hold a positive Self-Image and self-love. While I truly applaud my black counterparts' staunch sense of self and positive body image, let it be well directed and for the right reasons.

Leaning toward past cultural ideals as an excuse for being over weight to the extent where your health is at risk is not self-love. Please my sisters, it's time to 'wake up and smell the coffee' - the 'big is beautiful' mentality is killing you softly.

It's never too late to take positive steps to change your life for the better. To help you, there's a wealth of freely available resources throughout this site. Why not now take that first step toward optimising your black health womens status.

You will find a list of recommended further reading below. In the meantime, there is some excellent guidance on setting your personal health goals at: Personal Goal Setting. The entire section is a useful read and can help you decide on the health areas in which you want to set your personal goals.

If you have a weightloss goal, or a healthy eating goal, you'll find some helpful strategies here.

In addition, I'll be adding some new goals guidance along with FREE goalsetting worksheets and forms each month to help you.

So go on, take that first step! I'll be right here if you need any further assistance.

"Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives" (Anthony Robbins).

Self-Help Resources: black health womens

The following list additional resources you may find beneficial.

Office on Women's Health (OWH) within the Office of the Secretary of HHS, is the focal point for women's health research, service delivery, and education programs

National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) 1-800-994-WOMAN (1-800-994-9662) TDD: 1-888-220-5446

The information on this site is purely of educational value and is not intended to replace your seeking medical advice. You must consult your doctor over all your health concerns.

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