“Is that all you’re going to eat?” an in-law asked me after seeing that I had only eaten a few French fries and one chicken finger during a family gathering the other evening. And although I’ve been hearing that question since I was a pre-teen, it hasn’t become any less annoying. Mostly because I know it’s not coming from a place of any real concern most days, but folks wondering why I refuse to succumb to the social norm (especially within African-American families) of stacking my plate with whatever has any type of nutritional content in sight and packing a plate for later. No I don’t have an eating-disorder. No I’m not a picky eater. No I’m not being “cute” or shy. I’m just not the hell hungry and the only people who should be monitoring my dietary habits are a dietitian or my primary care physician.
First of all, I have always been a thin person #BecauseGenetics and #TheWayMyMetabolismIsSetUp. I don’t come from a long line of curvy or thick people. Whether I eat one chicken tender or a whole Popeye’s I have consistently maintained 120 lbs on a 5’2” frame for most of my adult life. It’s nothing I brag about and honestly most days not anything I put a whole lot of thought into. I don’t regularly broadcast about the fact that I eat fast food at least three days out of the week and never hit up the gym. In fact, there are times when I wish that some of that Big Mac would hang out on my behind a little longer. I could stand to probably eat better, but last time I went to the doctor my blood work came back fine and I was told I’m healthy. But I also recognize that maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle for some folks and I respect those who battle with diabetes, depression, and other physical and mental conditions that contribute to weight gain. However, it doesn’t give those folks an excuse to clock my plate or my eating habits.
I have had strangers, distant relatives and folks I have just met who think it’s OK to say things like, “You ain’t nothing but a minute, you can squeeze through,” as I attempt to avoid sliding my whole behind across their lap when I need to squeeze by on the train since the assumption is because I’m skinny that gives you an excuse to be a lazy jerk. Then there’s the innocent, but still rude, “You hardly ate a thing. That must be how you stay so thin.” Well not only is that rude (what if I DID have an eating disorder that I was really self-conscious about) but it’s false (#BecauseGenetics and #TheWayMyMetabolismIsSetUp).
Most days I’m not an over-sensitive person and I’ll just smile while I close the styrofoam container on my half-eaten meal instead of clapping back. Honestly, I don’t get how people have the energy to eat AND monitor my plate, but as I mentioned I try to be sensitive to the fact that weight and food are real issues for some people. But if the tables were turned and I made those same comments to folks who do struggle with weight issues, it would be World War III. Could you imagine if I said, “Well I see why you have high-blood pressure, you just had four slices of pizza!” How much do you want to bet it would turn into a brunch gone bad scene from the Love and Hip Hop franchise?
In her Bustle article “Why Fat-Shaming and Thin-Shaming Are Inherently Different”, author Gina Tonic mentions that when thin women are shamed, even with their self-consciousness, they get to return to a culture that in general celebrates their body type:
“When it comes to thin shaming, the sufferers usually walk away with their thin privilege in tact. They’ll step aside from an insult and into a society and media that celebrate their body. Although that doesn’t mean the insult doesn’t hurt, it does means the insult doesn’t usually stick in the same way. When a fat person gets fat shamed, the shame often sticks, reverberating through childhood abuses, families’ weight commentary, and a constant attack on fat bodies by the general public. We have to look within ourselves to recover from it, because there is no such thing at fat privilege.”
While I think there is some truth in this, when it comes to body-positivity there is a difference in the beauty standards of each culture and the truth is in the African-American culture the unspoken belief is you’re not doing something right if you don’t have ample hips, thighs and behind. I can remember many relatives being insulted in my childhood if you weren’t loading your plate with turkey wings, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese and greens. Don’t get wrong, my family loves those foods in moderation. But I also remember my aunts saying my mom was “bourgeois” or thought she was cute when she would incorporate things like lentils or zucchini into our meals. She was a dietitian and well-versed in the fact that diabetes and high blood pressure were real in the African-American community, therefore she wanted to do things a little differently when it came to her family’s meals and their general health.
I also take into account that just because someone isn’t a size four doesn’t mean they are unhealthy or just because someone’s stomach is flatter than a Nick Cannon punchline doesn’t mean they’re the portrait of perfect health. It’s one thing if you’re truly concerned about a close friend or family member’s eating habits, but if you’re self-projecting your own issues onto someone else’s plate, that’s a problem. Maybe you should be checking that before coming with the nutrition facts to someone else, no matter how much they weigh.
Images via Bigstock
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.