Monday, November 29, 2010

Disparity of Weight Perception, by Ethnicity

I was leaving Trader Joe’s the other morning at the same time as an obese White family. After loading the food in the back of the van, the woman removed what looked like a can of Pringle's potato chips, opened it, and handed the full container to the seated child. I have seen Black women do exactly the same thing. This scenario had me curious to the intersection of obesity and perception, and specifically that Blacks and Whites perceive fatness differently, even as they pursue it with the same behavior.

If I was to venture a guess, the White woman surveyed about her weight would snarl ‘yes, I’m fat and it’s none of your freakin’ business’. A Black woman, alternately, might say that she is ‘big-boned’ and her weight is normal for her – and then say it is none of your freakin’ business. But, in a way, it is all of our business. More than seventy-percent of America is overweight and obesity is literally killing our health care system, and us along with it.

I found a study (here) that measures the difference in weight perception across sex and race. The research proves perception differences are significant. Blacks and Latinos see fat differently than Whites, but the researchers do not postulate why. It would not be PC. So, I will take a SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess). Black Americans, with the lingering influence of their geographically challenged West African location of ethnic origin, continue to seek fat storage as a positive indicator of health and longevity against the historical threat of famine. Simply put, fat black women look and feel like better mates under this view, and the behavior of Black men backs this up (and vice versa). Of course, Black folks like sitting on their butts, in front of HDTV flat-screens, just as much as White folks, so perception is just one part of the influence.

White men and women are less influenced by famine perspectives and seek slimness for the more empirically realized longevity and health benefits, resulting from stable agricultural societies (see Fertile Crescent). Hence, the obese White woman with the Pringles is more likely to defend herself and her behavior purely with attitude, and not argument.

Other thoughts on the subject? Remember, these are musings. Rubber bullets please.

James C. Collier


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Sharita H said...

as a 'fat, black woman' all i can say is hmm. Ive been 'big' all my life and its not a bother nor is it anyone else damn concern about my weight. My husband loves it and that is enough for me.

Your SWAG is genius! I think that would explain why i attract men (black and latino)like bees to hunny while white males tend not to be interested. The white males that i have dealt with in my past have referred to it as a 'fetish' whereas my husband will loudly proclaim that its a way of like.

Eh, just a thought from me

Anonymous said...

Not a problem?

When, not IF you get diabetes and they have to amputate your feet, when not IF you get heart disease, when not IF you get high blood pressure, when not IF you get heart disease, ETC, Mr, Collier will not say, "I told you so."

But he DID.

And guess who is causing medical insurance to rise like it has, is, and will be?

People like YOU.

That's why it's other people's concern!

NSangoma said...

White men and women ... resulting from stable agricultural societies (see Fertile Crescent)

Fertile Crescent ??

The Sumerians, a Negrito people were not white.

Sean said...

Europe was not a nice place for hundreds of years. Famines, bad harvests, etc were common and well documented in history. The Thrifty Gene Hypothesis tends to ignore this history.

As an aside, it is interesting watching news footage of Civil Rights marches to see how slim Americans were a generation ago.

James C. Collier said...

NSangoma, we are all Africans under the skin. I think we put too much emphasis on our labile pigmentation.

James C. Collier said...

Sean, it's all relative. Compared to most parts of Africa, food production around the eastern Mediterranean was indeed more stable- and we a talking thousands, rather than hundreds, of years.

As for Civil Rights, in the pre-50's/60's obesity was a sign of laziness, poor discipline, and ltd. self-control, but we are long past the 'tipping point' allowing those assignments. FTR, obese people are not auto. lazy. IMHO.

NSangoma said...

James C. Collier said...

NSangoma, we are all Africans under the skin. I think we put too much emphasis on our labile pigmentation.
8:58 AM

Sumeria, the Biblical Nimrod, was BLACK.

We know that because all the evil people in the Bible are Black, i.e., sons of Ham:
Mizraim (Egypt), Kush, Put, Canaan (Phoenicia),
Sumeria (Nimrod son of Kush).

tallnathan said...

I appreciate your SWAG here, but I don't really agree with your guess.

I would postulate that the difference in perceptions of fat/obesity stems from a cultural history of class and race. (Frankly, don't most things seem to stem from a cultural history of class and race?)

Britain and America in the Victorian era and into the early 1900s saw a fashion trend among upper class white women of tight corsets in a severe hourglass. It made women's waists appear hyper-thin. This fit completely with the Victorian ideal of beauty that was delicate, slight, small, pure, and of course white. This ideal type shows up in lots of artwork and photos of the time.

Women of color, of course, were not present in these portrayals. They could not, by definition, meet this standard of beauty.

White working class women also couldn't meet that standard of beauty, but it was due to economic reasons rather than skin color. More and more white women began to idealize that image for themselves, even if it was unattainable. I would suggest that more women of color simply didn't internalize it as much - they were completely excluded from the dominant discourse.

That Victorian ideal of beauty continued to influence later generations, including American advertising and film. The growth and power of advertising & mass media since the mid-20th century has surrounded Americans with idealized (and sexualized) images of thin and underweight women.

But until the very recent past, these media portrayals have been hugely dominated by images of white women. And they spoke primarily to white audiences. White women internalized the "thinness" ideal of beauty more so than women of color.

Excluded from the dominant media, women and men of color have developed and relied on other channels of communication. Not to say that POC weren't affected at all by the dominant media -- that would obviously be untrue. But when it comes to creating ideals of beauty, other communication networks among people of color have have had more impact.

So yeah, I would chalk it up to systematic exclusion from cultural discourses that fetishize thinness. Not so much a latent fear of historical West African famines.

But I could, of course, be wrong.

Anonymous said...

"(Frankly, don't most things seem to stem from a cultural history of class and race?)"

When all you've got is a hammer...

sungod said...

let me interject my SWAG to then...i have less regard for history but i do think tradition esp for Blacks is a large(pun intended) problem. Back in the dayz(Pre-Jim Crow) healthy food was scarce(i.e. massa have us scrapes) so many Blacks had to do what we do best(adapt and survive) so we used unsavory methods to cook for instance fried chicken has been a mainstay in the Black community for yrs.

I do think ethnic backgrounds have a diff perception on fatness. Whites(women esp.) i think tend to think being able to see ur ribs is sexy and healthy. This is an obvious faux paus; hence the term "Ms. 6'oclock-str8 up and str8 down..poppin those "noazzitol" pills lol.

I see a lot of big black women and though some extra is cool too much(i know itz relative) is unhealthy and just aint cute boo boo. I cant stand when black women are always big and complain about being big and dont do anything about it take yo big azz to the gym. There are more white women than black women excersizing hands down. Lets face it it goes beyond just race itz also gender too.

Anonymous said...

Could this difference in perception be because black women tend to store their fat in a more "flattering" place?

Most of the bigger black women I've seen store fat around their hips, thighs, and buttocks (and sometimes breasts), and not so much on the waist, leading to that desirable hourglass/pear figure.

Meanwhile, most of the white women I've seen seem to store their fat around their waist and chest, with very thin legs.

This is just a generalization, but could it have something to do with it?