As early as third grade, Chloé Hilliard’s mother was sending her off to school with Slim Fast shakes for packed lunches. Albeit elementary school is meant to be a creative playground, scholastic adventure and perhaps brilliant season of discovery, coming-of-age wasn’t as fun for someone like Hilliard. For as long as she could remember, her entire identity was shaped around her towering physical appearance.
Standing over six feet tall and wearing a size 12 in shoe and dress by the tender age of 12, Hilliard could hardly “fit in” while growing up in her largely Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Navigating such an overwhelmingly white and orthodox environment as a young, Black girl surely didn’t soften whatever blows – or bullies – that came with her already-unique challenges.
After decades of fad diets, weight loss pills, and unrealistic expectations, Hilliard made the life-altering decision to stop punishing herself over what she thinks she should look like: “I'm healthy, I work out, I have a trainer, I'm in good shape, but I may never have a six-pack and I just need to be fine with that.”
Hilliard’s moment of truth set her on a path to self-actualization and the results are hilariously illustrated in her new book F*ck Your Diet (And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me), a collection of essays that explore race, feminism, and popular culture. Taking inventory of childhood trauma and society’s reinforcement of Eurocentric beauty ideals, Hilliard, 39, turned her personal misadventures into gut-busting comedy and witty teaching moments.
“When it comes to food and diet, it's a much more complicated conversation than we've been having when it comes to social and political influences,” she explains to BET. “And it's not just genetics; it's where you live, what you can afford, and what you have access to. Once you figure out the bigger picture, you kind of can breathe a sigh of relief, because you’ve realized you’re not the problem.”
She continues: “You also have to factor in economically what do they have access to or don't have access to; a lot of people in this country live in food deserts.”
In the spirit of #2020 vision, Hilliard looks to help young Black and Brown girls everywhere set their eyes on the horizon instead of the scale—because why play small when you can live larger than life? Though she is not a doctor or a medical professional, she has done extensive research in the space and we are curious to know what works for her.
From eating better to dating wiser to working smarter, she gives us a few practical tips to a healthier lifestyle this year. Adapt the ones you think you can, and discard the ones you can't. Everything is all about balance.
F*ck Your Diet out now.
Figure out what works for your particular body.. Understand what your body needs, how your body operates, and how your body works. Which is why you may not be able to listen to everybody and what works for them, because it doesn't work for everybody. Do some research, find out what your blood type is, maybe buy the book or do some research on eating for your type, because you'll be amazed at how your body reacts to different things. Don't compare yourself to other people and what works for them. That's number one.
I consider myself to be very smart, but I don't know how to count calories. I don't even know what that means. I do look at labels; I'll look at sugar contents of course, because you don't want high sugar. But I never try to restrict my diet according to calorie intake. I bought a food scale once and never used it. So I would say don't count calories and stay away from fad diets. I wouldn’t do things that are people-trending on the internet. Try not to do those things.
I do think that more people should know about this because it's probably proven to be the most realistic thing for me in my to-do list the entire 2019. It's so easy. They have a book [to follow] for what your blood type is. If you don't know, you can, I know this sounds super creepy, but you can get a blood test on Amazon. It's like a finger prick test.
My blood type is A, and so once I realized that, and I looked at what I should be eating and what I shouldn't be eating, a lot of the things that it said I shouldn't eat according to my blood type, I already don't eat because I don't like them or I have a reaction to them. So that was very influential with me understanding food because I would consider what I was eating healthy. But then actually according to like my body chemistry, it wasn't working. Some things I can't eat: coconut, bananas, mangoes and cashews. I also have a little intolerance to wheat and gluten, and red meat is not my thing.
When it comes to the idea of beauty for Black and Brown girls, we have to realize that for so long what we thought was beautiful was being shamed. And now you see all of these—we call them Blackfish, right? Yeah. So we have to realize that you should trust your own gut when it comes to your standard of beauty, because you're right for yourself for sure. But we see society ends up picking up what we do anyway. Never second guess yourself. Always trust your individuality. Try not to look like everybody else, because they want to look like us anyway.
I talk about how to maneuver in white spaces. I think that's something that we don't really acknowledge and it's unavoidable. I think if you have a better understanding of what it means to navigate waters, you'll feel a little bit more comfortable. So I have a section where I give a breakdown on working in white environments; I'm being sarcastic but it has a lot of truth to it. For example, I say drop the bass in your voice ‘cause you know, base is the trigger for white people. [Laughs]
Sometimes it’s about talking the way [white people] talk, learning how to engage them. You know? You have your work voice and you have your homegirl voice, you just have to understand [when to code switch]. The biggest thing is about that, is it doesn't reflect negatively on you when you do those things. It's not like you're selling out. It's like this is what the job entails, this is how you need to navigate this place so you can get what you want, you know, so you can climb the ladder or get that raise or whatever it is. It's like if you have a job and you have to wear a uniform, you have to wear the uniform. So part of this is the uniform and you shouldn't feel like it's a slight on who you are, because I've been in places where Black employees protest what’s not part of their job and you begin to see how everybody pushes them aside or treats them differently at work.
When it comes to dating, don't sign up for stuff just because you're trying to get a man like I have. Especially when you have low self esteem. I joke about when you have low self esteem, you make a lot of bad decisions, because you're hoping that they'll see how good of a person you are. If they don't see it from the beginning, they're not going to see it. So don't ever try to be someone's friend, hoping that they'll end up being your husband. You can't make a man do what he doesn't want to do. So don't try. Don't try it. And I think a lot of times when you have low self esteem, you go the extra mile. You try to overcompensate and then you end up being used and walked all over. So you have to be careful of that as well.
When you have body issues, like the biggest thing to me has been getting a full length mirror and looking at myself butt-ass naked in the mirror. I think everybody should have a mirror moment. If you don't see yourself, you don't know what you look like. You know how you think you look, but you don't really know how you really, really look. And a lot of us want to avoid that. We end up making it a monster, “Oh my stomach is terrible.” You stand and look at yourself, especially over time, it becomes normalized and you're not like shocked at how your body looks. The best advice my friend Shanté told me when it came to feeling self-conscious around a guy… she goes, “What you see in the mirror is not what a man sees when you get naked. He don't see your stomach. He sees a woman that he wants to sleep with; a woman that he's attracted to and that got his d*ck hard.
The whole thing about having a mirror [is also about] demystify sex, because I think we also don't really talk about sex. As a Black woman, I think we don't talk about it amongst ourselves enough as far as like to be educational with ourselves, you know? I have some freaky as girlfriends, so we talk about it. I mean, we watched porn to learn how to suck d*ck. [Laughs]
So now you're seeing more people talking about things like polyamory. We have to stop thinking with this super Christian, Black conservative viewpoint when it comes to sex and identity and body image. We’ve been made to feel shameful about a lot of stuff we shouldn’t be ashamed of.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster)
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