While the internet continues to buzz around conversations of Pagans and obesity, I can’t help but contemplate how that is just a dot on the canvas of concerns within the lives of many people. I have always struggled between moments of concern over health to sheer anger that others in society take the liberties to have an opinion about my outsides. It makes me reflect on generations of my family and the layered levels of life that manifest into extra pounds and an assumption that healthy living is not a priority.
My family is from the South, my mother and father were raised in different parts of Alabama. Growing up I had more connections with my mother’s side of the family and had some conversations with various members about the history of my family and where they come from. I heard stories of segregation, struggle, working as maids for “White folk” and a belief rooted in the community of the church. They often talked about the meaning of communing with others, sharing of food representing love, sustenance, respect and caring. It was common to share a meal after service and later that day with the Pastor at my grandfather and grandmother’s house.
I remember the many conversations with my mother about what I thought was random foods that seemed to be a commodity within the homes of Southern Black families. I could never wrap my mind around the pickled pigs feet and I stopped eating chitlins when I saw my mom cleaning them when I was in my early teen years. I never fully understood why they smelled so bad at that phase until I saw what she cut off. (still gives me shivers).
My mom would talk about the southern cuisines that I could not understand and reminded me of the privilege that I had being born and raised in a time when I did not have to survive on the scraps given to me. It was these moments that I really began to understand that much of our cultural foods were built from slave times and learning to make lemonade out of lemons, or dinner out of pigs intestines.
Food to my family has always meant more than the narrow view of nutrition and was a reflection of our ancestors, culture, history and a moment of sharing.
The gravity of the symbol of food within our culture gives me a better sense of how I am so often hurt by the assumptions that people who don’t live on asparagus must not care about their health. It is also another example of the survival of a group that are then judged on the merits of the methods they used to survive.
In my adult years I have come to think differently about what it means to be a Black woman. In our community being “thick” or “big boned” is something that is often referred to as desirable. The cultural stereotypes of having a big butt and hips are considered attractive. I do not know what my ancestors from Africa looked like and if they also had the same genetic bubble butt or round hip shapes that we do, but then again I don’t know who my African ancestors are. I do know my African American family members and most of them look like me; hips, butt and all. Whether or not that is due to our genetics, cultural food choices or a combination of both I can’t say but the “fat” does seem to go in the same places. (sounds like there is some genetic stuff in there to me).
When I was growing up I tried to deny this concept, that I would be a round one in my adult years. Since I grew up in a predominantly Caucasian area of the Bay Area, it wasn’t a surprise that my two best friends in high school were thin ladies that did not look anything like me. I had my share of body image issues, as many teenage girls do, and no amount of diet made my curves or large breast go away. I did not look like them and never would; our ancestors did not look alike either.
Today I look back at those pictures from high school and I know I wasn’t fat, I was just Black. I was “thick” in the right places and had nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the internal and external messages that I had been hearing. I was beautiful and a reflection of all the faces in my lineage.
In the last few years I have made some decisions about my health that I wanted to see manifest. My husband and I started back at the gym about 2 years ago to honor the death of my mother. I told my husband, when she died, that I never wanted to see my children cry over my body because I did not do all that I could do. It was not about weight, it was about health and making healthy choices that felt good to ME.
Have I lost weight? Yes but the point was not about that and more about how my body functioned and how I felt inside. Let’s face it, those obesity charts are not made for Black women and I don’t know that I have weighed my “ideal” weight since 3rd grade. I quite enjoy not looking like a bobble head and so I do not think I will attempt the western version of ideal weight for my height any time soon. Instead I will continue to make choices for myself that embrace my culture, honor my sacred body, praise the vision of choice that I cherish and celebrates the bumps and clumps that lie under my skin.
And this leads me to think about my spirituality, being a Pagan and honoring myself as a part of the landscape. Coming into the Pagan community supported that sense of “coming home” for me too, in more ways than one. We celebrate around the table as well as the circle. Pagans honor the essence of your being and your absence is noted, just like in the small churches of the South. Honoring each other extends to being on a camp ground and sharing a meal with someone’s family. There are many similarities that mirror my own family’s culture of love.
In my continued quest to align my present with my beliefs, values, history, goals and spiritual mind, I have found that my body is a part of that same equation. I feel more in my spiritual realm when my body feels healthy and I am honoring the Gods (as well as my ancestors and culture) when I put food into my mouth. I feel more in sync with myself when I am active in the gym; my body works differently and my mind is more balanced.
I am still a big girl. I think I will always be a big girl in one respect or another. Big is a state of mind in many ways. So instead of adding a perception of negative content onto years of social pressures around weight, I have decided to honor the Big Girl inside of me. I plan to be big in culture, big in faith, big in my Goddess power, big in my sense of self, big in my goals of overall health, big in my energy when I need to, big in my Mama Power for my children, big in my counselor abilities and big in my heart. I will not shy away from the big girl parts of me, regardless of how my body may look. Big is a part of my history; how do you think we got this far?