Did The Slave Trade Cause Fatphobia?

body images for obesity
Emeka Ochiagha
July 2, 2021

Why is it that during the Renaissance era, there were so many depictions of curvaceous women – but since the 19th century, only slender figures have been glorified? 

Strangely enough, the answer is anti-Blackness and the Atlantic Slave Trade.

As Europeans began to colonize and enslave African people, they also began coming up with strange concepts about race to justify slavery. One of them was about body fat. 

They argued that Black people were fat, and that they were fat because they were inferior and white people needed to be as thin as possible to show how much better they were than Africans!

By the height of the slave trade, that body fat rationale became another standard in determining who was enslaved and who was not. Before it was just skin color, but after hundreds of years of intermixing, they needed an additional standard to keep as many people enslaved as possible.

And to this day, the medical field still frames body fat through this anti-Black framework. Not only does this ignore all the healthy ways a body can exist, it also contributes to a culture where fat people are considered less than.

We need to begin unlearning all the anti-Black messaging we have received about health, body fat, and body image, so we can unlock clearer pathways to Black well-being. 

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