When Did Overweight Become "Normal"?

Jennifer Hudson's admission that she never thought she was all that large highlights a trend of Americans having serious misconceptions about their weight.

Posted: 05/03/2011 01:51 PM EDT
Filed Under obesity

If any celebrity has done a complete 180, it's Academy Award–winner Jennifer Hudson. Since she became the spokesperson for Weight Watchers, she has gone down from a size 16 to a six. In an interview with British mag Grazia, Hudson admitted that she never thought she was really overweight prior to her lifestyle change of working out and eating healthier.

 

"I never thought I was overweight. I thought my old look was pretty normal. That was how all the girls looked growing up in Chicago. I didn’t have any problem with it. It makes me smile to think back to myself when I did ‘Dreamgirls’ with Beyoncé. I did see all these women in Hollywood, all very slim, and I thought, ‘Wow, these ladies are very into themselves.’ I loved that I stood out in a room. You knew when you saw this woman it was Jennifer Hudson.”

And I get it.

Many of us embrace thickness and curves as a rite of passage for being a Black girl, while we reject the white standard of beauty and a skinnier frame. And it makes sense to me that we would compare ourselves to the people around us, and if statistically many of us are overweight or obese, I can see how self-perception can be jaded.

 

But that doesn't make it Okay. Almost 2/3 of adult African-Americans are overweight or obese.  

 

And what's interesting is that Hudson isn't alone. She represents a growing trend of Americans who have accepted being obesity as the norm.

 

In March, researchers from Columbia University in New York City found that the larger women were, the larger the misperception of their true body weight. They also found that these same women then in turn had serious misperceptions of their children's weight, which only perpetuates the cycle of obesity.

 

To see how much of the mother's skewed perception of weight had rubbed off on their children, researchers presented children with a series of cards bearing silhouette images of body types and were asked to select the "ideal" or "healthy" size for their mother. They tended to pick body types that were, in fact, unhealthily large.

 

Researchers admit that the study was too small and too ethnically homogenous (mostly Latinos) to support any firm conclusions, but they are clear: Perception was skewed. And they also admit that past studies have shown similar trends among African-Americans and whites.

 

But what's dangerous about this trend is that this lack of realistic self-perception is contributing to a slew of health issues from disproportionate rates of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. And it's simple: If you don't think you are overweight or obese and believe that it's harmful for your overall health, you are not going to do make any necessary lifestyle changes.

 

That's really scary.

 

In a society that tells us every day that we are too fat, too dark and too nappy, we have to love ourselves for who we are, regardless of what we look like. But at some point, we need to take off our Shallow Hal glasses and see ourselves for whom we really are and have the will to actually do something about it.  

 

Our lives—and our children's lives—depend on it.

(Photos, from left: Rob Kim/Getty Images, Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

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