Week 3 of the Racism & Body Image series
When I was around nine years old, I remember standing at the stove next to my mom. “Why am I fat?” I asked her as she cooked. “You’re not fat,” she assured me. “That’s just baby fat.” My mom was a brilliant nurse who knew better. Five years later, my dad signed me up for Weight Watchers. Mom restricted my diet over the next several years, and Dad commented on my clothing choices. Stop sign one.
Culturally, my parents had lots of African and African American art, books, and toys in the house. We grew up proud of being black, but my parents warned us about how the world would see us. Stop sign two.
When my parents gave me more responsibilities than my two younger brothers, they taught me I had to be stronger than boys. Outward appearances were everything since my dad is an Episcopal priest. Stop sign three.
When I was very young, I learned to eat to soothe my pain. I experienced extreme trauma at a young age from a boy next door. I kept those experiences a secret for two years. I didn’t need to know the words or wear certain clothes for food; it always gave me the same response: comfort.
As I continued to grow in height and girth, the stop signs kept their places along my path. Stop eating that; it’ll make you fatter. Stop making that face; people will think you’re angry all the time. Angry Black Women don’t get hired, married, respected. No one likes ABWs, and definitely not fat Angry Black Women.
Despite these challenges, some of my life’s stop signs yielded flashing yellow lights thanks to friends and elders like Joy. Joy lived across the street and taught me what it meant for me to believe in myself. She was my first elderfriend. Joy was a strong, brave, badass black woman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who showed me unconditional love and affirmed me in every way I can remember. She taught me to create a corner of the world for myself and that I deserved it. Thank God I choose to believe her.
Questions for Reflection:
How has your childhood impacted your current self image? What’s changed and stayed the same?
What stop signs did you encounter along the way growing up?