“Many black women are fat because we want to be,” Alice Randall stated in her NYTimes Op-Ed piece that sparked a firestorm of online criticism and backlash. Randall wants to make one thing clear, “it is one woman’s opinion. I am not speaking for all black women but I am speaking for a group of middle-aged women, out of the experience of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama where I have deep roots.“
I understand Alice Randall’s opinion on why black women are fat. As a Black woman who was raised in North Carolina, once weighed 350 pounds and is now 250, many of Randall’s observations closely mirror my own personal experience with body image and weight.
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While Randall is essentially advocating for healthy living and increased awareness amongst the Black community, many criticized the notion that all Black women are fat because they want to be, Black men appreciate it, and/or it signifies ancestral strength and beauty. Many, tired of what is perceived to be a media assault on Black women’s success, marital status (or lack there of) have grown weary of the “Black women are…” chatter. While Randall’s experience may seem foreign to many Black women, I can relate. I remember losing the affections of a man who saw me 100 pounds lighter and expressed his disdain in my appearance, telling me I’d gotten “too skinny.” As a size 18, I looked at myself in the mirror in confusion, wondering how my thick thighs and round belly were considered “skinny?” Yes, some men do love that extra jiggle and therefore many Black women would rather keep the bodies they’ve acquired than try the latest workout craze.
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Randall’s bold statements stem from her own personal experience as a Black woman who grew up in the South and married a Black man who appreciates his woman with love handles. In order to close the gap between Randall’s detractors and her true intent, I spoke with Randall, who recently released her fourth novel “Ada’s Rules” which chronicles weight loss journey of a Southern preacher’s wife, about her passion for Black women’s health and her reaction to the “Black Women and Fat” controversy.
Many of your critics zeroed in on the statement, “Black women are fat because they want to be.” Do you really believe that?
My statement was that many black women are fat because they want to be. I said the word, “many,” there was no “all.” When I talk about, “want to be,” I use an example of husbands. Let me use an example that’s even more profound to me—grandmothers. My grandmother was big as three houses. She was a brilliant, strong woman who ended up having grandchildren and great-grandchildren that went to Harvard and MIT and the like, to do big things.
When I think of what it is to be powerful and beautiful, I think of her. That’s something I wanted to be. In the heart of my hearts, when I think of strength and beauty, the first thought I have is of her. I am acknowledging her influence on me.
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Other than “wanting to be fat,” why do you think black women are fat?
People want to say we’re overweight because we’re lazy, don’t exercise or eat right. Some of that may be true, but many of us are heavy because we made the choice to work double or triple shifts. We made the choice to serve the community above taking care of ourselves. Now, I am saying we’ve got to make another choice.
I wrote and published four novels in 10 years. That’s doing a lot of work. The way I get that work done is not sleeping much or taking time to exercise and take care of myself. Those are choices I’ve made.
I haven’t gotten fat because of eating horrible foods, but by overwork. That’s a choice that most blacks make—going out and working the job as a domestic servant. Women that get up before day, come home deep into the night to clean their own houses—those are choices we make and are proud of making. That choice has a price and one of those prices is obesity. When I compare it to women who spend their whole day not serving the community and working out with a trainer for two hours—that’s a choice too. I chose.
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Do you feel as though white women take better care of themselves or have the opportunity to?