Why Thick Thighs Save Lives
Gym culture has proliferated so quickly that you’d think a memo encouraging young people to prepare for battle was emailed to the world.
Twenty-somethings are pouring out their weight in sweat trying to deadlift twice their weight. Thirty-somethings are trying to run thirty miles per week and some forty-somethings seem to consider the gym a good place to ‘get their life back together’.
Gym culture is not always about gram-worthy pics. It sits pretty at the intersection between weight loss and health. The surface idea is that fitter you are, the less likely you’ll puff your soul out of your body after climbing a flight of steep stairs.
But the pillars that hold up that surface are sometimes problematic, especially for Black people.
Thick Thighs and The Anti-BMI Movement
Anyone who has ever tried defining ‘health’ in medical anthropology understands how frustrating it is to grasp tightly at a concept that’s skilled at elusion.
After getting stuck multiple times trying to go beyond seeing health as a negation of illness, the temptation of reductionism starts whispering sweet indicators in your exhausted ears. Indicators like the BMI.
Body Mass Index is a calculation that determines if a human body is at the right weight. By dividing a person’s weight in Kilograms by their height in metre-squared, a figure is arrived at which is interpreted in this way:
— below 18.5 (underweight range)
— between 18.5 and 24.9 (healthy weight)
— between 25 and 29.9 (overweight)
— between 30 and 39.9 (obesity)
— Over 40 (💀)
You can’t get any more objective than math. Or at least that’s what modern medicine thought/thinks.
Although BMI ranges might be very useful in many cases, there are loopholes — like black women. And that loophole can be so large that some people, interestingly, have come to consider BMI as inherently racist and sexist.
Allow me to elaborate:
When a regular person is considered overweight or obese based on BMI calculations alone, the only thing that can be done is for weight to be lost in a healthy way, which includes exercise (gym culture anyone?) and diet changes.
Consider, however, the stigma that a ‘weight’ diagnosis can carry is a lot. Just think about all the jabs and disapproval people typically get for being chubbier than those around them, and the disordered reactions they can generate. So, imagine how a person who goes through some of those reactions feels when they realize that the diagnosis could be wrong, because body weight is not determined by fat alone.
People of African descent or ‘Black’ people are more likely to fall into an unhealthy BMI range than Caucasians or Asians because they weigh more; Black people tend to have thicker hip and thigh muscles, and denser bones than other demographic groups. Accordingly, they are more likely to deal with and experience these disordered reactions from a weight diagnosis.
This is not just observation from general experience. This study by B. Ettinger and his scientific pals on skeletal density across racial groups show that “bone density at all skeletal sites was statistically significantly greater in black than in white subjects on average, adjustment for covariates reduced the percentage density differences by 42% for men and 34% for women.”
There’s a funny Benin adage that goes: one who has big teeth must come with lips to cover them. While there are some buck-tooth bennies out there with short lips, much of the logic behind the adage can be applied to the thick thighed people — one who has thick thighs must come with bones to carry them.
What Part of this Information is Life-saving?
‘Thick thighs save lives’ is a body positivity phrase created by and for black people, and first debuted on a health blog titled Black Doctor. It serves as a direct resistance to the idea that black bodies are less healthy because they weigh more or are thicker than the bodies of other demographics. The originator even went as far as to draw a correlation between thigh circumference and positive health indicators.
Considering the American sociopolitical context in which much of popular culture flows from, and its portrayal of the black body (have you seen this book????), this phrase is currently helping black people online consider the reality of their bodies in a more nuanced sense. Thus, deconstructing a belief system that has lead quite a few down the road of eating disorders, food-related anxiety, depression and self-harm.
Put differently, this is what the phrase has come to mean for black people (especially women) online:
- Your body is way it is, thicker, not because you are lackadaisical about your health, but because of genetics.
- Just because you weigh more doesn’t mean you’re fat and unhealthy. Body Mass Index should not be used as the sole indicator of wellbeing because while useful, it is imperfect and requires nuance.
- Without your body, you wouldn’t exactly be alive, so be proud and accepting of the vessel with which you exist in the physical world.
With this knowledge, hopefully, more health seeking behaviors like going to the gym, develop with more wholesome motivation. Research that maps the effect of a mindset shift in this regard would be interesting to read.
But no matter the brokenness, flabs, stretch or coloration, know that your body is beautiful and deserving of tender loving care for the right reasons.
Oh, and if you wanted a more literal answer to why thick thighs save lives? Well, you’re less likely to break a femur.
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If your struggle with body image has ever caused you depression, I think you should read this next.