Alice Randall is a New York Times Best Selling Author who recently penned her fourth book, “Ada’s Rules: A Skinny Novel, What she wrote in her “Black Women and Fat” Op-Ed piece in the New York Times is only scratching the surface of how Randall feels about her own journey through living as a fat Black woman.
In her fourth book, “Ada’s Rules: A Skinny Novel,” Randall depicts the weight loss journey of Ada as she navigates the busy life of a preacher’s wife. The novel is both a juicy page-turner and a transformative call-to-action for women. While Randall’s skewed opinions cut deep, she understands that having time to make better choices is a luxury that many Black women may not be able to afford and she’s passionate about igniting a fire for change.
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In this conversation, Randall opened up about “Ada’s Rules,” growing up restricted from physical activities and the self confidence of the fat Black woman.
How does “Ada’s Rules” expand on your “Black Women and Fat” article?
I dedicated my novel to Fannie Lou Hamer. She was a large black woman at the height of her power. She fought for our freedom and said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She made the choice to do all the hard Civil Rights work and that choice may have left her large. Dr. King was not a thin man. He wasn’t a big man, but he made the choice to go from one church to the next instead of taking a hike or working out. These were real choices. We’re making hard choices, but we need to make harder choices—women of color have to learn to take care of ourselves at the top of the list of what we do. I’m talking about real health issues.
“Ada’s Rules” is the story of a Black preacher’s wife. She’s running a day care center. Ada is in the vestry of the church. She takes care of two adult daughters and parents—one of who suffers from Alzheimer’s. These are the real burdens of real women. Being an upper middle class black woman that has a life in the black and the white world means that we have to do double duty in our lives, not just in our work lives. There’s so much opportunity for exhaustion.
Ok, so not having the time or energy for Black women to focus on their health seems like one of the obstacles to staying fat. What about those big Black women that are more confident in their bodies than their smaller White counterparts—isn’t loving yourself as is an obstacle to losing weight?
I believe that we should all–every man, woman and child in America—love our bodies exactly as they are. But loving a thing does not mean I can’t improve it or change it. Love the body you have today, but love is not complacent.
I don’t believe in blame or shame; I believe in engagement and evolving to something new. It’s not about the body, it’s about the body chemistry. It’s not about the way you look, it’s about the way you feel–the joy and the ability to literally move in the world comfortably. I can’t speak on women who loathe themselves because I’ve never been one and no one in my family was ever like that. My grandmother loved how beautiful she was and everyone in the family loved her too. And big or small, I have enjoyed my body. This body gave me my baby. This body wrote four novels. This body has walked a lot of walks. This body walked both my parents–my mother particularly to her grave. This body has done too many things for me to despise it. But it has also done too many things for me not to speak about how to take care of it!
There’s such an interesting dynamic with curves becoming a trend. These days, women want to look like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. They inject all types of things in their bodies to achieve that. What do you think about these women that seek out curves?
All women of all ages should be looking for their health. I have no interest in plastic surgery or suggesting anyone get rail thin. I stress in the article and in my novel that women should consider—when appropriate—getting under 200 pounds. A 10% reduction in body weight equals a 50% reduction in Diabetes risk. I am not looking at the body as how is should look. I believe in accepting the body in how is does look when our bodies are getting the right sleep, drinking water and eating high quality food—then see what happens. I’m not dictating anyone’s life at all. I am advocating that we be mindful in the complexity of our choices.
Are curvier bodies more accepted in the Black community?
If you ask people in the Black community if they love someone in their family, their church, their lives that’s over 200 pounds, the answer is yes. If you ask them if they’re beautiful, it’s yes. In the White community, particularly privileged, and ask them the same, the answer is no. We think of Rosie O’Donnell and different White women in the public eye that are larger; they can’t get the respect. Everyone respects Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison—beautiful and brilliant women. We [Black people] take a more passionate and complicated view to this.
Growing up around big Black women, was health important to your family?
My father played basketball in high school and he took that away from me when I was a little girl. He said, “That’s not for you,” and that was what my second novel was based on. When he went to college they always wanted him–in his opinion—to throw a basketball or a football. When he looked at a football field, it reminded him of a cotton field. It was a place where people wanted Black people to be fit and to use their strengths, but not for their own purposes. My father wanted me to sit with books in a pretty room and do all these intellectual things. He didn’t want me to go work and use my body. The idea of exercise for the sake of exercise was not even a notion for him. What he knew about physical exertion was the cotton fields in Alabama and turning over car bodies in Detroit. It was a physical labor of even using your body to earn your college education with an athletic scholarship. He wanted something different for me. That is a part of our culture too that our physical labor and fitness has been exploited. For Black women who were exploited in the cotton fields of Alabama and Georgia, it is a completely different thing to be fit.
If you could have your readers take anything from your words about “Black Women and Fat”, what would it be?
Four out of five black women are seriously overweight. Something is not going right. I will also say to my critics–they have been talking they way they have been talking before I said what I said. Clearly we have try something new and I am suggesting that we do just that. Doing as we have been doing is leading to Diabetes, cardiac complications and more. Anyone that tries to silence this voice is going to have to take some responsibility to that!
What would you like people to know about you?
I am a novelist, that is my cornerstone, that is my gift, that’s where you get my much more complete statement about all of this. I don’t want to think of myself as a victim, even though the odds are stacked against us in so many ways, I choose to acknowledge that change is possible if I make it.