Do Black Celebs Promoting Weight Loss Encourage Us?
By Kellee Terrell
programs. Almost everyone I know (myself included) is trying to drop those pesky extra pounds. But what did stand out to me was how many Black celebs were in these commercials.
Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, who has been promoting Weight Watchers since last spring, has lost a whopping 80 pounds. Her newest commercial has her old larger self singing to her new smaller self. But other R&B divas, namely Mariah Carey
and Janet Jackson, have joined in the weight loss game, pro- moting Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, respectively.
On one hand this is a good thing. Not just for their
pockets, but for the everyday Black woman. Perhaps Black women can identify with celebs
who are not scary skinny and look more like them, and who can therefore encourage us lose weight just like them. Which is something we desperately need to do. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, in 2009 Blacks were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight or obese than whites. African-American women are 60 per-
cent more likely to be obese than White women and about four out of five African-American females are now either overweight or obese.
But, on the other hand, I do have a few
reservations about whether these ads will be the catalyst for better health among black women. First, with any celebrity, regard- less of race, boasting that these meal plans have helped them lose weight always garners somewhat of a side-eye reaction.
Why? Most of the celeb spokespeople are not of color, making it
difficult for many of us to see how these programs relate to us. But perhaps women we can identify with who are not scary skinny can encourage us to do the same, which is something we desperately need to do. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, in 2009 Blacks were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight or obese than whites. African-American women are 60 percent more likely to be obese than White women and about four out of five African-American females are now either overweight or obese.
This is a serious problem, and perhaps these types of pro- grams will foster a better understanding about what it means
ver the holiday season and into the New Year, it’s not abnor- mal to see commer- cials for weight loss
to eat healthy, the importance of counting calories and checking food labels.
But, on the other hand, I do have a few reservations about
whether these ads will be the catalyst for better health among black women. First, with any celebrity, regardless of race, boast- ing that these meal plans have helped them lose weight always garners somewhat of a side-eye reaction. These people get paid for their looks, can afford private chefs and personal trainers, have time to work out 2-4 hours per day, and have assistants and life coaches to make sure they adhere to their strict diets in order to achieve these amazing results. So if you are expecting to have Janet’s six-pack after 6 months by eating prepackaged food, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
Secondly, while I understand that these companies are strict-
ly promoting their food programs, the reality is that no one can eat their way out of obesity. In order to lose weight, you have to do cardio workouts and strength train. No matter how svelte Jennifer’s waist or how toned Mariah’s thighs, that came with exercise — something that they don’t really mention in these ads. This is a shame, especially given that the women these ads are geared for exercise the least.
And finally, past literature has suggested that
because of cultural issues, many Black women embrace thickness and don’t see it as a prob- lem, don’t acknowledge or know that they are overweight and are more comfortable with their size than their white counterparts. Now granted, these findings aren’t an exact science, need more supporting research and are way more complicated
than they sound, but because these ads are focusing solely on what losing weight does to someone’s outward appearance, these messages might fall
on deaf ears for Black women. What would be helpful is if food programs
such as the ones in these ads (and countless ex- ercise programs) would promote that weight isn’t just about what you look like, but about overall health. Being able to fit into skinny jeans is great, but lowering your blood sugar, or being able to
take one less pill for your cholesterol or not having as many blockages in your arteries, is even better. And this message is getting lost in the rhetoric that losing weight is all about the aes- thetics when, really, losing weight is about saving our lives and improving the quality of life.
In the end, we do need inspiration to get on the right track.
These ads might be a start, but they are not the end-all, be-all. Editor’s Note: Kellee Terrell is a regular contributor to black-
, a leading source for culturally relevant healthcare information. Blackdoctor.org
is an editorial partner of LivingWELL Magazine.
LivingWELLLivingWELL • August 2011 5 • February 2012
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