Real men don’t eat salads! Apparently, this was an unwritten rule I must have missed while being asleep during toxic masculinity 101 in high school. That last part was not a real class, but the savvy reader that you are got the implied sarcasm right? A colleague expressed these ridiculous words to me years ago as she glared at me with judgment in her eyes and disgust in the tone of her voice. She was serious, and for a moment (years), I internalized that comment when all I wanted at the time was to eat better, work out more consistently, and have more energy during the day. To some, these would be valid reasons for subscribing to a healthy lifestyle but to my colleague, I was in direct violation of my black card and more importantly, my man card.
On a present, brisk Saturday afternoon in February, after getting my grocery shopping and workout out of the way, I nestled myself in my favorite corner of my sofa. Although it was not yet noon, I already felt accomplished by getting my weekend checklist completed. I was also unapologetically proud that I had no other plans for the remainder of the day except Netflix. I picked up my phone to checkout folks on Instagram that I assumed were still lying, thirst trapping, and exhibiting faux activism today. To my surprise I saw multiple posts of family and friends all gleaming from Marvel’s Black Panther release until I stumbled on the before and after photo of an Instagram follower of mine.
We have mutually followed each other for a couple of years and I knew and loved the fact that the majority of his photos were fitness related. What I didn’t know was that he was once a hundred plus pounds heavier hence the side-by-side comparison photo. I immediately wanted to engage with him and offered not only my congratulations, but also a thumbs up emoji for approval. I even threw in an #inspiration hashtag to boot.
You shouldn’t have to receive any stern warning from a doctor when the harsh realities of eating certain foods can be found online and in various digital media outlets.
Before I went on scrolling through my timeline, I wanted to read the other comments from his followers. Just like a snowstorm to be expected during winter in the northeast, there it was. A negative laced comment disguised as a half-assed compliment. It simply read, “Aint nothing was wrong with you when you were thick.” Now to be fair to the commenter, I’m sure his remarks were meant as an indication that he deemed our mutual IG pal attractive when he was heavier. My newly svelte friend confidently responded with “Other than the fact that I couldn’t breathe.”
What was clear to me now just as it was years ago with my colleague, is that many people, particularly in communities of color, view clean eating and exercising as either anti-black or as in my throwback experience, not manly enough. I’ve heard this sentiment several times in my life from family and friends. If you loose weight, oh you must be sick. You’re on a diet? It must be because you’ve received a stern warning from your primary physician in addition to a prescription to treat (not cure) your poor diet related illness.
The one thing that shouldn’t be ignored although many people do is that we are in the age of information. You shouldn’t have to receive any stern warning from a doctor when the harsh realities of eating certain foods can be found online and in various digital media outlets. In addition, the lack of physical activity can be detrimental not only to your health, but to one’s quality of life. We know this already though!
You better eat Grandma’s famous fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and world-class potato salad at Sunday dinner or you won’t hear the end of it.
Many of us grew up in households that when our parents knew better with new information, they did better. I remember when my family stopped eating white bread, sugary powdered drinks, and that loyal can of Crisco all but disappeared from the top of the stove. My mom stopped using fatback to flavor vegetables, margarine was disinvited to the cookout, and bottled water became a staple grocery item. I won’t say that most people like my former colleague and the Instagram commenter, don’t know about choosing better foods, but they also have (myself included in the past) been conditioned to believe that thick = healthy, soul food made by Grandma, Mom, Auntie, and Dad if made with love, is good for you.
Now don’t get all huffy and puffy. You better eat Grandma’s famous fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and world-class potato salad at Sunday dinner or you won’t hear the end of it. Don’t pass up your favorite Auntie’s sweet potato pie next Thanksgiving because you know she made a pie just for you to openly admit she can make them better than your momma. I will add however, that even as we stay close to the things that have become part of our American cultural identity, when we become informed, they do not have to be revered so highly if they are indeed harming us. There are a plethora of healthy and dare I say it, soulful alternatives.
There is nothing wrong with being thick but just because we are dressed to the nines, with a dope haircut and beard, doesn’t mean that it’s not masking the damage that is occurring internally. My IG buddy is right. It’s no fun not being able to breathe, or in my case be told that my cholesterol is so high that I need to be placed on medication for fear of having a heart attack. I would rather be on track with transforming the way I view food and treat it as fuel, with the occasional indulging of family favorites from time to time. As I think back to that day of being told real men don’t eat salads, I remember my response which I stated firmly and boldly, They do if they want to be around long enough to see their nephews grow up!