Can Black Girls Get Eating Disorders?

By: Kashia Wells

“I ain’t never seen a black girl starve herself!”
“That’s stupid, all black girls want to be thick.”
“That’s some white people stuff.”

These are some of the comments I’ve seen and heard, both online and in real life from other black people. I have memories struggling with my weight from such a young age that I always assumed that’s how everybody thought. I always heard my older family members make comments about what new diets they were trying (that were rarely successful, by the way), and how they refused to go up a size in clothes—because that would be detestable, huh? Wanting to lose weight was something that I understood; it was something that I could sympathize with. What I didn’t understand was how they could laugh when they were done talking about it and go on to another topic so casually. It was like they had completely forgotten that they had just been conversing about this thing that in my mind, should have brought them to tears the same way it did me.

They just didn’t care. It took me nearly a decade to realize that they didn’t care. Their weight to them was just another thing that if it changed, “great,” but if not, it didn’t matter because it didn’t define them. My weight defined me. At least I felt like it did. It seemed like the only thing people saw when they looked at me was the fat kid.

I vividly remember my uncle telling my cousin that I was fat with me watching when I was around 10 years old, and how my aunt’s mom would call me fat whenever I walked into the house; but I wasn’t to be offended because she was “sick.”. I also remember all the times my friends have made sly comments or done things to intentionally make me aware that I was the fat friend. Well, those friends grew up and while I’m sure they don’t remember half of the things they’ve said, I certainly do.

This is where we get to the part that inspired me write this article. While I’ve skipped and meal or two in a measly attempt to drop a few pounds, I’ve never had an actual ‘eating disorder.’ However, my experiences growing up have definitely given me an obsession with weight and I do know what it’s like to have a disordered mindset.

This is something that I’ve kept to myself the majority of my life because of embarrassment and fear of not being understood or ‘attention-seeking’ of some sort. And while those fears may be generic for any adolescent girl dealing with body issues, the biggest fear I had was being dismissed or laughed at for “trying to be white.”

Going to a predominantly black high school, I quickly learned that being ‘thick’ was in. That’s what guys wanted and what girls wanted to be. It’s what they strived to be. But not me. The first time a boy called me thick, I choked back tears because I didn’t understand what it meant. Even once I knew what it meant, I knew that wasn’t something that I wanted. Don’t get me wrong; I think a curvaceous body is beautiful! I just didn’t want it for me, and no one understood that.

Now that I’m almost 20 and I’m taking steps to become more comfortable with my body, I realize how messed up it was that I was ever afraid to say something to begin with! My obsession with weight was essentially my salvation because seeing what eating disorders can do to your body showed me what I didn’t want for myself.

But what about girls who don’t know? What about the black girls who aren’t eating or making themselves sick and are afraid to be ridiculed for faking a white girls’ illness? What about the one’s that don’t even think they’re capable of getting an eating disorder because they are so looked over in black communities?

A 2006 study found that doctors were less likely to diagnose a black girl with an eating disorder based on these harmful stereotypes. After talking with some friends who expressed that they had similar issues with their weight growing up, one who said she would go days without eating, I felt the need to do more research on black girls with eating disorders.

Sadly, though not surprising, there was very little research on the topic. Past that, there was very little conversation in general. It’s not something we talk about in the black community because it’s viewed as a nonexistent problem. Guess what? It exists! And the longer we continue to ignore this problem and shame little girls into feeling like they don’t like being black, the bigger and more dangerous it will become.

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6 Comments on "Can Black Girls Get Eating Disorders?"

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4 years 10 months ago

This is amazing and inspiring, I have struggled with bulimia for four years and I am an African-American female it is not right that our stereotypes override our treatment. Thank you for speaking out about this.

4 years 10 months ago

Thank you for your article. I am a 26-year old woman who has battled anorexia, obsessive-compulsive exercising, bulimia, and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). I developed a full-blown eating disorder by the time I was 16, and I can tell you that eating disorders are absolutely devastating to both your physical and mental health. I thank God every day that my family was able to provide me with the best treatments available, along with unconditional love and support which contributed to my recovery. I sincerely hope that you have made progress and continue to make progress in accepting your body –… Read more »

4 years 9 months ago

I’ve searched forever for an article like this. I needed to hear a black woman’s experience who also struggles with an eating disorder, or at least who has had a mindset of it. I know its stupid… but I obsessed with the idea of having an eating disorder. I’m in undergrad and last year I found myself especially fascinated with anorexia. I even dabbled in pro-ana chat rooms, but I kept chickening out whenever anyone offered to be my “pro-ana buddy”. I’m overweight. I’ve always been. And I’m tired of it. I can remember from a young age my mother… Read more »

4 years 6 months ago

Great read and you are a great writer. I can definitely relate. I had my own little phase when i was growing up.

4 years 6 months ago

I am SO happy to see this. I’ve dealt with EDNOS/OSFED on and off since hearing about the “pro-Ana” movement when I was about 12. I was never necessarily overweight as a kid, but I went through puberty early and was always much bigger than other kids in the predominantly white neighborhood and school I went to and it got to me and screwed my body image up at an early age. I was the girl you’d never think could ever have an ED (relatively popular, outgoing, and of course black) but by the end of high school ED behaviors… Read more »

R. R.
2 years 1 month ago

I just want to say that this article holds sooo much truth. As an African-American in my early 20s, I grew up hearing the same things mentioned in this article. “When you gonna lose some weight?” “You need to workout more often or join a sport at school” “You need to watch what you eat so you don’t end up like so-and-so.” It’s truly sickening. In the black community, your appearance comes before your health more times than not. Whenever I asked my mom why she was so obsessed with my weight or even my sister’s when it’s not hers… Read more »