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Scientific American looks at the racist stigmatization of black women's bodies and obesity

So we already know which graphic we’re going to use with this post … the shot from Cosmopolitan declaring “This is healthy!” as an obese black woman holds a yoga pose. We specify black women because the fight against obesity has racist roots, according to Scientific American, which is one of those magazines that used to have some credibility. Who’s stigmatizing black women’s bodies, anyway? It hasn’t cost Lizzo her share of fame and fortune.

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It turns out this was published in 2020, but Scientific American thought they’d tweet it out again. Sabrina Strings and Lindo Bacon explain that “prescribing weight loss to black women ignores barriers to their health.”

Black women have also been identified as the subgroup with the highest body mass index (BMI) in the U.S., with four out of five classified as either “overweight” or “obese.” Many doctors have claimed that Black women’s “excess” weight is the main cause of their poor health outcomes, often without fully testing or diagnosing them. While there has been a massive public health campaign urging fat people to eat right, eat less and lose weight, Black women have been specifically targeted.

This heightened concern about their weight is not new; it reflects the racist stigmatization of Black women’s bodies. Nearly three centuries ago scientists studying race argued that African women were especially likely to reach dimensions that the typical European might scorn. The men of Africa were said to like their women robust, and the European press featured tales of cultural events loosely described as festivals intended to fatten African women to the desired, “unwieldy” size.

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Strings has also published a book entitled, “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia,” if you want to know more.

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So what’s the conclusion to draw from this? “The most effective and ethical approaches for improving health should aim to change the conditions of Black women’s lives: tackling racism, sexism and weightism and providing opportunity for individuals to thrive.”

Weightism?

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