The Post’s “Black Women in America” series has offered a look at black women’s attitudes on everything from family to First Lady Michelle Obama. On Tuesday, the series explored body image among black women.
But throughout the series, readers have wondered why The Post chose to focus on black women. We asked Post Local’s Monica Norton, one of the editors involved with the series. Here’s what she had to say:
From “Black Women in America” series editor Monica Norton:
“A number of people have asked why the Post is doing a series of stories on black women. No one asked that question more than me.
“I’ve always believed that if a newspaper is doing its job well, there’s no need to have a special series on a particular group. But the reality is we’re not able to do it all, and in an increasingly diverse region we’re not always able to be as inclusive as we should be.
“Still, I don’t like singling out any group as if they are an ‘other’ that needs to be explained, probed or analyzed.
“There were three things that helped ease, but not eliminate my discomfort.”
“First, I thought back to a 2004 debate in which then Vice President Dick Cheney was asked what the government’s role should be in helping to treat AIDS in the U.S.,where black women between 25 and 44 were then 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts. Mr. Cheney’s response dealt with the pandemic around the world. He said he was unaware of the numbers with respect to black women. To me it spoke volumes about how black women are seen and not seen by the culture at large.
“Secondly, it was the election of the first black president. The lens turned on President Obama and his family sparked a variety of reactions. I was neither surprised nor taken aback that many were negative. The level of vitriol based on stereotypes was, however, demoralizing.
“Finally, it was simply the data compiled by the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Never before has such a large sampling of black women had the opportunity to speak for themselves about themselves. For that reason alone, the stories -- all based upon statistical data -- are worth doing.”
— Monica Norton
Want to know more about the series? You can follow a panel discussion Wednesday on Twitter, using the hash tag #PostBTH . (You can find tweets from the event at the bottom of this post). And three panelists from that event will host a live Q&A on the site at noon ET on Thursday — click here for the link.
Lonnae O’Neal Parker, author of the article about black women and body image, also addressed reader questions in the comments of her story and in a live Q&A Tuesday. She teamed up with fitness instructor Michelle Gibson, who was featured in her article. We’ve included some questions (edited for typos and space) and responses from Parker and Gibson below.
Q: Why does this article portray all black women as being obese and not worried about it? It just perpetuates a stereotype.
The article doesn't say we are not worried about it. The point we are trying to make is, yes, we have health issues and, yes ,every hour on the hour is a struggle to live a healthy lifestyle , but I am not killing myself trying to fit into what society says I should be. I'm a fitness professional living outside the box, embracing all that I am and all that I am not. I invite you to attend any session with me to obtain a better sense of my purpose.
— Michelle Gibson
Q: How do you reconcile the report that Black women are now seeking treatment (at higher rates) for "once-hidden" eating disorders with the claim of their greater acceptance of their heavier weights?
It's both/and, not either/or. We're not talking about a monolith, there are a range of black women's sizes and a range of feelings about them. The Post Kaiser Family Foundation poll simply cites higher self esteem when it comes to even obese black women and body image. This said, some black women, many in fact, suffer in silence from bulimia and other eating disorders as do white women. Especially for younger black women who see Jennifer Hudson and other stars touting their weight loss, and who might be trying to fit into a video chick model, weight can be a devastating issue. In general, though, historically and culturally, black women are better insulated from the sharpest parts of media judgements about weight, and do less internalizing of those images.
— Lonnae O'Neal Parker
More from and about the series: