What Family Taught Me About Embracing My Blackness and Loving My Body

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The days that I feel fat, the days that I feel fly, the days that I feel fine, the days that I feel fit? Those days, these days, have so little do with my size.

I have been a size 4 and wished to be a size 2. Wished I had thigh gap and hipbones. Wished I had ribs to see and a jaw fit for cutting glass. I have been thick thick, bigger than I am now, and had a man I loved tell me he couldn’t wait to be near me, couldn’t wait to put his hands on my body, and I believed him.

Growing up, the majority of my peers and playmates where white. When you are little, I think the desire to do and be like your friends is a natural one. For me, with my raging tumble of curls and my brown, solid legs, that was always going to be a project of diminishing returns.

But the women in my family told me a different story about my body. I come from big, beautiful black women. On both sides. From Georgia. From Alabama. From Detroit and Louisiana. From Tennessee and Harlem. I have geographies in my body that refuse to let me feel small just because my body’s not. That is a tremendous gift, the gift of knowing the richness of thickness from my first days on earth.

The author, Caroline Randall Williams: “I have geographies in my body that refuse to let me feel small just because my body’s not.” (Photo courtesy of Caroline Williams)

So many of my friends did not, and do not, have this luxury. As I get older, that becomes more and more clear. The conversations around the beauty in and of blackness are exploding around us. Kerry Washington getting so real with Olivia’s curls in the shower. Viola Davis drawing back the curtain on the Annalise behind the lashes and the wig. Taraji P. Henson giving us all life in Cookie’s trench coat and garters. Gabourey Sidibe’s Becky absolutely owning her love scene with Derek Luke. Serena — well, Serena just being. Every one of these a firework. Every one of these a bright spray of color in the dark, a game-changing call to Formation.

I have never felt more welcomed to celebrate my body. I have never felt more excited to challenge my own self when I hear any little voice noting something it thinks is “out of order.” “Time to lose weight.” Why? “Arms too thick. Says who? “Tummy used to be flat.” Yes. And?

My mother and I did not write our healthy soul food cookbook, Soul Food Love, to help us get thin. We wrote it to tell the story of the women who have come before us, and we wrote it to reclaim, proclaim, and acclaim our commitment to our health. My great grandmother Alberta lived large and she lived long. I want to be like her. I want adventures and babies and, God knows, I’m wishing for all kinds of success, and I want a body that can get me there and a body that can last as long as all that good joy does.

I’m living in the real cold again for the first time in a long time — since college, actually. And I am not the same size that I was when I bought all my lovely winter things, my wool coats and long pants, my sweaters and warm leggings. At first, pulling these items out, I despaired. I couldn’t believe the work I had ahead of me, to get back into these things that used to fit. And then I took a long, hard beat. I said, Wait a minute. I said, Look at yourself. I said, You are healthy, and you are good at what you do. Buy some new damn clothes.

Some days I fail myself. I work out wishing wishes that belie self-love. I think about (and sometimes do) eat things that defeat me, whether that means something unhealthy because I feel like giving up, or something that is not enough because I think my body is too much. But more often, lately, I am winning this fight. My baked sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts, my steamed chicken and broccoli, my visits to the gym — they are acts of celebrating what I’m working with now, and they are acts of hope for my future. They are not wishes for something else, for some other body I am hoping will emerge from the one I’ve got. Inhabiting the truth of this is an act of will. Choose not to blame yourself or shame yourself.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals. I’m saying set them in the right spirit. Start from a place of love for the body you’re in. Start from a place of admiration for the will you wield in power. I am working hard on loving my body and feeding it well. My body, black like it is, and thick like it is, curly-headed and strong like it is. I am excited about the things it will be and places it will take me. It is honest, tough work. It is also good, and right, and I invite you to do it with me.

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