“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?
I think that there are different sets of cultural aesthetics which is why we see so much anorexia in the privileged white community. I don’t know if they are taking better care of themselves, but I think there are differences in communities. In my family, there are women I consider beautiful and are large, which makes my desire to lose weight a more complicated event.
So in your article, you offer an easy solution that everyone can do to change their lives—the 8/8/8 Rule…
The 8-8-8 costs no money. It costs the decision to put yourself at the front of your list and to decide. It is the key to turning things around. Make sure you drink eight glasses of water each day, you’re doing eight miles a week and you’re sleeping eight hours each night. Sleep deprivation is the often unnamed, unrecognized culprit based on hard science. We’re working too hard. We have to learn to get our sleep.
What do you have to say to the critics of your article?
One thing I’d like to ask–don’t we as black people have a right to speak out from our particular experience? I’m speaking out from my particular experience. I said some of us, and some of us is literally true if it’s only me, but I can say from the article being published, I have received dozens upon dozens of letters from women and men who say the same thing.
I want people to know that we have a wide variety of experiences as black women. I was only reporting on my experience and some of the issues that I explore in my current novel. I was not trying to make a blanket statement for all black women; I was talking specifically about some black women.
I hope people respond to me the way I respond to them—in speaking the truth in love. This is all about loving black women and black women’s health, respecting every black woman out there, whatever shape she’s in and respecting her right to have a culture in transformation as she wishes to transform as most possible.
If people take anything from your article, what would you want it to be?
The biggest thing in the article is that we’re in a crisis and how [do] we get out of it. We can debate how we got into it, but we need to be focused on how we get out of it. It’s productive, it’s a conversation about what is the environment that creates the greatest possibility for positive change.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Alice Randall has a lot more to say about the subject of black women and fat. Please stay tuned for Part 2! Questions/comments/concerns? Let’s discuss on Twitter @Rhapsodani and @HelloBeautiful
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