Health and Black Authenticity

Why are several unhealthy lifestyle choices deemed authentically Black while the healthy ones result in people calling you into question? There is no authentically Black way of eating or staying fit, just like there is no authentic way of being Black PERIOD. Ever have those family events where the conversation starter, is “It’s about time you gained some weight. You’re looking nice and healthy.” Or, being from a southern family, the moment you say you don’t eat pork, you get the side eye. While I do think that you can somewhat gauge a person’s health by examining the outside, i.e. clarity of the eyes, wear and tear on the skin, etc. There is so much going on in the inside that remains invisible. I can be the thinnest person around and have clogged arteries, poor lung capacity, hormonal imbalances, irritable bowel syndrome, etc. Why? Because I live my life based on how the media, friends, family, etc. define healthiness rather than becoming attuned to my body. Below are three controversial issues when it comes to health and black authenticity.

1. You’re gentrified if you go gluten-free

How many folks saw the video that went viral a while back showing how the stores in NYC changed what they sold once they were gentrified? See below.

Hahaha, mad funny, but while I definitely get this, being gluten free, vegan, HEALTHY has somehow become more synonymous with whiteness or wealth. I’ve been interrogated because I live a gluten free lifestyle. I even had a friend hint at the idea that I had some sort of condition in which people obsess over what they eat. Well, let me set the record straight. Deciding to go gluten-free was a 4 year journey for me in which I learned to deeply listen to my body. For about 2 years I noticed a change in my functioning, I had no clue why things suddenly shifted, and I felt pretty defeated. I had very low energy, constant bloating and constipation and acne flare ups. Finally, I started doing some research, spoke with my doctor, and eliminated gluten. What do you know?! My energy shot up and my skin began to improve. It’s still a journey, I have slip ups, but every time I revert back to feeling like crap is more motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle for me. Plus, now that I better understand what’s happening internally, i.e. auto-immune responses and a decrease in my ability to absorb nutrients, I’m more motivated. So, bottom line, if you have no personal experience with gluten sensitivity or haven’t taken the time out to sense how your body responds to it, don’t buy into the assumption that folks are following a fad. More importantly, don’t tell them that one little cupcake won’t hurt nobody. More on what I’ve learned about gluten sensitivity and Black folk later.

A bit on veganism and vegetarianism. I can’t speak much about this from a personal perspective, but anyone remember that video of the 70 year old black woman in florida who looks 40? ‘Nuff said. This is something I’m beginning to explore more.

2. Why you working out you already thin? 

We have truly been led astray if we think that working out is just about being thin. This goes for thick and thin people alike. Many thick folks take pride in their bodies and see a resistance to working out as a resistance to mainstream norms. Thin folks claim that they don’t need to work out because they already are thin. Again, one’s authenticity often gets called into question because supposedly Black women in particular are supposed to be thick and working out is seen as counter-productive to this. Either way, our emphasis is being placed on the wrong things. We are so focused on our external physical selves and forget about the internal. It’s also not about working out, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Our body thanks us in so many ways when we are active. This activity can take the form of walking, taking care of the children, playing a sport, sex, dancing, hitting the gym, hiking, bicycling, etc. Our energy and mood is better when we are active, our internal organs get the oxygen and blood circulation they need in order to thrive, and the muscle mass improves our metabolism. This is not at all to say that physical appearances don’t matter. And of course, there are times when I notice the bulge in my belly and I want to do something about it. However, if I’m more in tune with my physical needs, I’m less driven by superficial distractors, which leads to more positive self talk. Get active. Get aware. Love yourself.

3. We don’t do therapy

In so many cultures, it’s taboo to go see a therapist and/or get counseling and the black community is no exception. We are supposedly too strong for therapy, and yet, we suffer. While we might attempt to support each other as best as possible we can carry all of the burdens on our own. I can support my sista as best as possible, but her needs might go beyond my capacity. We need to face our emotions and our psychoses in order to continue healing. Avoiding our problems can worsen matters. The challenge is that there are practical reasons why we need to maintain this appearance of holding things together. Society does not afford Black people the space to show weakness. However, we need to delve into our souls, face ourselves and our communities in order to grow stronger. Let’s also recognize the multiple ways to engage in therapy that go beyond sitting in a room with white walls across from someone we have never met before in our lives. I do think that finding the right therapist can be extremely helpful, but therapy can also come in the form of meditating, exercising, listening, speaking to confidants, taking a break, journaling, doing a hobby, etc. Most importantly, it boils down to listening to your social, emotional, and psychological needs and doing something about it, rather than avoiding it. For more on this topic, I highly recommend Terrie M. Williams’ Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.

So, did you notice a trend here? My final message is that the more we listen to our nutritional, physical, and mental needs, the more in tune we are with ourselves, the more fulfilling of a life we can lead.

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3 responses to “Health and Black Authenticity”

  1. crysg83 says :

    I’m sure I’ve sent this to you before, but wanted to share again the web series BLACK FOLK DON’T. In several episodes they tackle head on the idea that black folk don’t – do therapy, do yoga, go to the doctor, swim. Def worth a look if you haven’t checked it out already:

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