Black Women’s Bodies Are Not a Sin: Disordered Eating & How We Heal

Girls for Gender Equity
12 min readFeb 29, 2024

By: Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift

Trigger Warning: mentions of body dysmorphia, disordered eating, body shaming

When you hear the term, “disordered eating” or “eating disorders,” what’s the first image that comes to your mind? For most, it’s not people who look like me; in fact, it’s not Black girls and women at all. Growing up as a fat Black girl during the super skinny era of the early 2000s left me with an immensely confusing and overwhelming relationship with food. I was receiving all kinds of messages about what my body should look like and what I should and shouldn’t be consuming from television, magazines, music, my peers, and even my family. I remember eating a meal and going to throw it up within 20–30 minutes after eating it. I remember starving myself and going days without eating or eating just enough in front of people’s purview so they wouldn’t question whether or not I’d eaten. I eventually stopped vomiting after eating simply because I heard it messed up your teeth (from an episode of Degrassi), and I’ve always been a pretty vain person, so I wasn’t going to sacrifice having unattractive teeth just to lose a few pounds.

The Family Dinner Project

It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s, when I was doing research on disordered eating for my Women and Media class in college, that I realized I had been living with undiagnosed disordered eating since I was 8 years old. I was later referred to a psychiatrist and HAES nutritionist by my endocrinologist, who diagnosed me and informed me of the specifics regarding the particular eating disorder I had had for so many years. Here was this specialist with all of this wealth of knowledge confirming for me that I indeed had an eating disorder — but it wasn’t me having an eating disorder that shocked me. It was that I never believed that someone like me, a fat Black girl could even have an eating disorder, and that a medical professional would even care enough to see my humanity and diagnose me as such.

Bodies Are Not Trends

Bodies have often been looked at in the media as coming in waves, meaning they change with whatever and whoever is most popular at that time. Not too long ago, the New York Post published an article triumphantly declaring that “heroin chic” was back. Not only is it offensive to refer to thin folks and their bodies in this way, but it reminds me that even in recent body trends which tend to admire being curvy on the surface, while still ignoring the aesthetic beauty of Black women. The acceptance of the bodies of famous (and therefore desirable) white and white-passing women, such as Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, as the article above highlights, shows that this admiration is centered around having a big butt and a petite frame, or a tiny waist-hip proportion.

The US Sun

We live in a society that treats bodies — women’s bodies in particular — as trends: things that are popularized or villainized, and which name body parts and types of bodies as more or less deserving of attention. The idea that “heroin chic” is back also means skinny is in, and since curvy bodies are no longer the standard, then Black women with curves or larger bodies are no longer desirable.

Though binge eating is the most common eating disorder among Black women and girls, Black girls are 50% more likely to become bulimic than their white counterparts. And still, white women are 5x more likely to receive treatment for disordered eating than Black women. White women and girls have become the poster and default image of what it means to battle bulimia and anorexia nervosa. According to the DSM5, bulimia is the act of eating a lot of food (binging) only to purge it (throw it up) shortly after and an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight while having an intense fear of gaining weight and distorted perception of weight. This stereotypical image of bulimia, in both media and research, is white women therefore leaving Black girls invisible from care and from studies that support treating them. Black women live in a world where they are consistently trying to measure themselves up to what feels like an unattainable standard of beauty, a standard that places whiteness at the top and everything else as an “othered” beauty. Battling disordered eating is not just a physical issue, but it’s also a mental health issue, and unfortunately, in the Black community, we’re taught that to question your mental health is taboo and unacceptable. Black women are supposed to be strong, as depicted over generations in media and society, and to question your own willpower to control how and when you eat leaves you vulnerable — something Black women and girls are told they can not be.


We’ve seen celebrities such as Brandy, Tami Roman, and Kerry Washington, who all have eating disorders stemming from their teenage years, publicly discuss how eating disorders shaped their self image, impacts their adulthood, and their struggles to receive equitable care even as people with the means and resources to seek treatment. The media’s hyper-fixation on the size, weight, and appearance of Black girls and women carries very real consequences. You can also view this in how the media has vilified pop superstar Lizzo over the past few years. Lizzo could be hospitalized tomorrow for anything ranging from a seizure to a broken ankle, and the media, without hesitation, would find a way to blame it on her weight. The media has consistently made her weight a topic of conversation so much so that in 2022 Lizzo emotionally took to Instagram Live to share with her fans just how exacerbated she was from the constant cycles of fat shaming. We still live in an age where bigger girls, dark skinned girls, and most marginalized people are seen as less deserving of care and nurturing, so when we look at television, movies, or any form of mass media, it’s easy to understand why Black girls are struggling with body image at such high rates.

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Fatphobia and Desirability Politics

Fatphobia is the institutionalized societal and medical size and weight discrimination against people with fat bodies, and it is inherently anti-Black. In Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia, Sabrina Strings shares that since the 18th and 19th centuries, white supremacy has been convincing society that the “proper” form for women is to be like the white woman: the Anglo-Saxon woman. It was important for women to show their Christian and racial superiority by how much they ate and how thin they were able to remain. Fatphobia dates back to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. When colonizers invaded Africa, they found that Black people were “too big, too curvy, too sensuous.” Even though, at that time, white women were also curvy, they were still seen as the ideal. This dissonant perspective posed a problem for colonizers in Africa who quickly deemed African women’s larger bodies as “masculine,” and therefore, able to endure more physical labor and violence. This unfounded belief allowed them to argue that larger white women were still more feminine. In this way, colonizers could maintain their chosen “otherness” of African women.

Fearing the Black Body

When skin color could no longer solely identify enslaved people, you could still be identified by your weight, size, and what you ate. It was used as an indicator of how much freedom you deserved and if and how you were valued. Desirability politics continues to be at play in our lives everyday, determining what the world, systems, and people in it believe we’re worth and what we aren’t. Desirability politics creates a hierarchy of visual existence and determines who deserves love, care, benefits, and basic human rights based on systemic preferences rooted in bigotry and bias. Black girls and women, like most people, tend to move through the world believing they created their own ideas of beauty and oftentimes this just isn’t true. There are so many ideologies at play that reinforce our body image and self-esteem every day, whether it be colorism, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, etc; socialization shapes our desires, who desires us, and our safety.

Fatphobia and the desire for thinness are so dominant that it makes those who are powerful and have the most access also susceptible to it. Recently, I watched an interview with Oprah who was discussing being in the best shape of her life due to her use of Ozempic, a drug used to manage Type 2 Diabetes. She described having access to the medicine to aid in her weight loss as a “redemption,” which by itself plainly means to be redeemed from sin or evil error. It then dawned on me that a Black woman, one of the richest and most powerful women in the world, is still held hostage by fatphobia. For my whole life, I’ve watched Oprah succumb to diet culture — whether it was living on a fat farm, hauling a wagon of lard onto the set of her daytime talk show representing her weight loss, or endorsing everything from Weight Watchers to Slim Fast. She’s one of the most prominent, revered, and resourced Black women in the world, and yet, even she can’t escape the grips of fatphobia and daunting body image issues. All of these tactics have been aimed to make herself smaller in size and are all fundamental symptoms of disordered eating. However, because we all know a Black woman who’s been on a diet their whole lives and there’s a constant push from society to be skinny, the sentiment is readily ignored. If I could tell Oprah anything, I would tell her that she never needed redemption from her body. Black women’s bodies are not a sin.


Impacts of Social Media

Black women and girls are most likely to fall target to disordered eating and body dysmorphia, but we are the least represented. Disordered eating is everywhere for Black women, especially on social media. The early 2010s and popularization of Instagram left Black women susceptible to constant in-your-face ads and methods on how to “lose weight fast.” At one time, you could log into Instagram and find over a dozen celebrities and brand influencers marketing you Flat Tummy Tea or a waist trainer; all products predominantly marketed to Black women. Through social media and music, society has created an obsession with “snatching” your waist with known sayings such as, “What waist!?!,” being used to express how good someone looks and that their waist is so tiny, you can barely see it. This especially is a phrase you can hear often in hip hop music created by women, men, and LGBTQ rappers all alike.

In early January of this year, a viral TikTok video showed two Black girls opening Christmas gifts together; one sister was skinny and the other was chubby. The older sister helped her younger sister open her gift, and she found that it was slim tea; a tealike laxative that is said to be used to make your stomach flatter. Her older sister stood in shock asking her parents why they would get her that kind of gift, while their older brother shook his head in disappointment. At first confused, the little Black girl who received the slim tea for Christmas processed and then exclaimed, “Oh! I know what this is. I really need this!” As a person who has been doing this work for a long time and understands the complex history and nuanced connections between racism, fatphobia, and misogynoir deeply, I know how this kind of trauma rooted in diet culture and desirability politics will continue to be something fat Black little girls will have the burden of bearing. The video has since been reported and taken down but that gift will continue to be a foundational memory for her as a 10-year-old girl and will unfortunately impact the decisions she later makes for her body and how she lives in it. What does it say about us as a society that we believe it is innately okay to deny fat Black children, especially Black girls, gentleness and care simply because they are bigger?


We live in a world filled with incessant diet culture — so much so that we don’t see the major issues and dangers that lie with consistent liposuction, flat tummy teas, extreme dieting, binge eating on vacations but taking several laxatives before going, cheat days, documenting everything you eat, excessive waist training, and intense pursuit of medicines like Ozempic as symptoms of disordered eating and body dysmorphia. Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat with built-in filters, My Fitness Pal, Facetune, and others apps have a direct impact on how Black girls feel about themselves and their positionality in the world. We must push against these apps as much as we can to create a reality where Black girls are not solely reliant on social media as a measure of their worth nor as a marker for how much capital they have in the world.

What Can Healing Look Like

While celebrating Black History and Futures Month this February, it’s so crucial for us to bring awareness to something Black women and girls are suffering from silently: disordered eating. February is also Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and as a race and gender of people who have been historically and systemically ignored by medical institutions and forced to manipulate our bodies to fit white supremacist standards of beauty, I earnestly encourage Black girls, women, and gender expansive young people to show up for themselves in love, to build strong relationships with their body, and to learn and believe that they are not to blame. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Disordered eating is a mental illness and it’s okay to seek the support you need in order to manage the illness. The best treatment for Black girls and women and gender-expansive young people healing from and living with disordered eating is to seek therapy from a clinical therapist or psychiatrist as well as a registered nutritionist with a focus on HAES, Health At Every Size.

My hope is for Black girls to feel beautiful. Period.Try to capture the moments you feel most beautiful. What were you wearing? Where were you? Who were you with? Replicate those moments for yourselves as much as you can. Take deeper breaths, wear clothes you feel the best in, and move your body because you want to be physically stronger, not just for weight loss. Tape small post-it notes to your mirrors and all over your space, to help recenter you and ground you when you’re not feeling your best, and create a playlist of songs that filll you with dopamine to help you reject negative self thoughts. You deserve confidence and a sense of self-worth.

Affirmations for Black Girls Podcast

You can even begin transforming how you feel about yourself by filling your social media with images that remind you of your beauty and value too. One way that I do this is by unfollowing people who make me question my worth or physical value, and instead, following people who look most like me. I recommend yoga guru and author of Every Body Yoga, Jessamyn, author and radical self love enthusiast and founder of The Body is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor, and fitness instructor and founder of Power Plus Wellness, Jessie Diaz-Herrera. There are also so many HAES specialists and nutritionists who are more accessible to us now than ever before and who are working alongside Black women and girls — just like you and me — to create new outcomes for us, where our mental and physical wellness are centered. Some of my favorite nutritionists who urge us to prioritize listening to our bodies over scales include Shana Minei Spence of The Nutrition Tea, Dr. Kera Nyemb-Diop, also known as the Black Nutritionist, and Carlie, the Mindful Eating Dietician. If you are in crisis and seeking immediate treatment for disordered eating, please visit Eating Disorder Hope.

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As Toni Morrison once said, “You are your best thing.” I hope you feel and believe that every day because it’s true. And may we all find wellness in our journeys.



Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.