~Keep (and get) the curves you want by understanding black beauty culture and debunking these 4 health and fitness myths.
FOUR out of five black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes….How many white girls in the ’60s grew up praying for fat thighs? I know I did. I asked God to give me big thighs like my dancing teacher, Diane. There was no way I wanted to look like Twiggy, the white model whose boy-like build was the dream of white girls.” - ALICE RANDALL, for The New York Times.
The pinnacle of black beauty: thick thighs, full hips, “I could balance a wine glass on my peach”, and nipped waists. While not all of us women of color are born with curved thighs and hips, creating pressure to obtain that look, some of us find confidence in possessing a curvaceous figure.
It just so happens those curves that give us so much confidence aren’t negatively impacted by a less-than-healthy diet. It’s conflicting, making it hard to put a face to what health and body confidence looks like for those of us who aim to be “thick”. A driving question becomes: where do health and beauty standards collide within the black community?
What benefits will I get if I shift my focus: caring less about maintaining the weight that gives me my curvaceous shape, and instead caring more about my overall wellness?
Will getting healthy mean I have to be smaller? Will being smaller make me scrawny and undesirable? Will losing weight position me as trying to conform to white beauty standards?
That’s a lot of questions to unpack and a lot of myths. But here’s one simple take-away if you take nothing else: health should come first and your goal of being #ThickFit will follow. You know the saying stop looking for love and you’ll find it? Well, we can start by not going to the gym for a cinched waist and instead having a regular functional fitness routine around health and longevity.
So let’s unpack some fitness and nutrition myths. Clearing the way to getting what you want (body goals), and getting what you need (achieving wellness).
We believe a lot of women want to alter their bodies in some way. Whether it’s a larger backside, slimmer waist, or getting rid of the flab on their arms. The contradiction happens when they don’t want to change other areas of their body. “I’ll keep my thighs, slim down my waist.” In this approach women aren’t really looking to lose weight all over their body. “I like my thighs and backside, so why would losing weight make life any better?” This was a common sentiment researchers found as they interviewed black women on body image and weight loss.
Then there's the fact that some women aren’t working out for preventive health reasons, they aren’t trying to lose weight but tone and tighten. Their focus is spot training.
Here’s why that approach should be abandoned:
- It doesn’t address health
- It’s founded on the myth that the human body can be spot trained
- It’s reinforcing the narrative of beauty over wellness
- It will keep you running in circles after your goal
Although it is true that fat is used as fuel during exercise, your body doesn’t care where the fat it burns for fuel comes from — and muscles do not take fuel from just the fat immediately around them. Weight loss is a result of total body metabolism. Often, factors that are beyond your control, such as genetics, determine where on your body you will lose weight first.” -Johnson Fitness and Wellness
This is a good point to examine your own fitness routine. Are you only doing core workouts because you want to lose stomach weight? Are you having any success? Information is king. Even if you want to believe spot-training works, take the time to look for information that doesn’t confirm what you want to know. Don’t research: “exercises for a tighter stomach.” Do research: “steady-state cardio or benefits of climbing stairs.”
Spot reducing fat isn’t something your body is capable of.
#2 “If I Workout 5-days A Week I’m Going To Lose All Of My Curves.”
This one isn’t necessarily true. Since weight loss is made up of nutrition and fitness. Even if you workout frequently with substantial changes to your diet you’re unlikely to suddenly become Twiggy, overnight.
So don’t be afraid to hit the gym. In fact, any changes you see are going to be so incremental you’ll have time to change up the routine if you aren’t liking what you’re seeing. So, becoming too skinny, go ahead and wipe that from your fears surrounding healthy living. Keeping a diet high in protein, including strength training, and becoming scrawny won’t happen.
#3 “Weight Lifting Will Make Me Look Like A Man.”
Now, I am pretty sure that most women do not force feed themselves by mistake. Extreme muscle mass gains are not something that occurs out of the blue. You have to really want it for it to happen. It is pretty safe to say that muscle gain is much, much harder than fat loss for most people.” -David Frankovic, bodybuilding.com
If going to the gym and weight lifting three times a week was all that was needed to gain massive muscle everyone would be ripped. There wouldn’t be a need for fitness competitions. Gaining muscle as (or after) you lose weight is actually how you’re going to be able to stay curvy while focusing on wellness.
Muscles can create a shapely body and that’s how women get that sculpted perky look. So you can’t be afraid of them. Like Frankovic said, if you really want a lot of bulk you’re going to have to eat, and eat A LOT.
One last thing to keep in mind. If someone starts going to the weight room without adjusting their diet they could look bulky, the culprit is usually the fat still sitting atop the new muscle.
If you are building muscle, but not losing fat…you will look bulky…and that is not the fault of the exercise that is strengthening your muscles. It's usually the fault of your diet. When you have a layer of fat over your new muscles, you won't really achieve that sleek look you probably want.”-fitkatbykatrinabowden.com
#4 “I Like My Body Shape; Therefore, I Don’t Need To Watch What I Eat.”
Becoming proactive about being healthy doesn’t translate to being thin. Health is about longevity, independence, and happiness. When our gut is healthy we are less stressed. When we have more muscle our metabolism is better. We can prevent diseases like diabetes and heart problems. We can chase after our cousins, siblings, or children long into our forties.
Healthy doesn’t mean thin, it’s about finding the right weight for our frames, joints, and comfort. If more oomph is needed in the rear, look to muscle and not quick snacks.
Summers fast approaching, and if you don't want to draw attention to your new health goals don't worry, you don't have to announce it to all your friends and family. If there's a gathering where there's food, just skip the soda and take half your food home with you to eat later.
If you're worried about people perceiving you as less than confident (or conforming), just remember our confidence runs deeper than our food choices. You still stand for everything you believe in. You're not trying to be thin. You're just making healthier choices. Take the societal pressure out of 'healthy'. You're going to do great.
---BCRX CONTENT CREATOR, KLARRISA ARAFA