On Blacks and Fat: Shannon Barber

This fat-acceptance advocate and blogger says that being healthy is not an obligation.

Courtesy of Shannon Barber

I really tend to view weight in the same way. And I don’t think that health is an obligation. I don’t have to be visually attractive to other people; other people aren’t responsible to feed me … my fat acceptance is very much rooted in bodily autonomy. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to police other people’s bodies.

I’m really not a fan of the health-and-diet industry, either. It’s abusive and hurtful and is based on lies. I don’t believe those famous TV trainers who tell you that if you just try hard enough, and if you exercise until you throw up and you buy the things that they sell, then you, too, will be an awesome human being. It’s just sick and abusive, and it’s toxic to people. And more than the “obesity crisis,” I feel that is what is leading people to so much sickness and death.

TR: If you could make just one suggestion for people to implement in their daily lives with respect to weight and health, what would it be?

SB: I would say that the most important thing, for me personally, was to have a moment where I understood that nobody owns my body. All of the people who would take issue with it, or walk by me and call me fat ass or talk about the food I buy in the grocery store — I had to figure out that none of those people was responsible for my body or for taking care of me. I would remind people of that.

TR: What cultural, historical or psychological issues make the black community’s relationship with weight and heath unique?

SB: Weight, I think, has become a really divisive and ugly thing in the black community. I’ve seen — probably in the last 10 years or so — this shift [among] young women trying to fit this very white, European standard of beauty that, unfortunately, they’re just never going to have. And then you have other people that are trying to uphold the kind of very sexualized thick image of the perfect woman, and that’s highly problematic as well.

And then of course we have other people in our community, you know — a lot of us just don’t have time to care. A lot of people in the community have so many other things to do. That’s just not even on their radar.

When it comes to the numbers of African Americans involved in the fat-acceptance movement, the number is way smaller than it should be. But like every other movement that’s been started, [getting followers] can be difficult.

Next: Dr. Gayle Porter of the Gaston & Porter Health Improvement Center.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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