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Little Girls are Precious too! Not if they’re Fat…

Calling all little girls to come out and play, Spring is Coming! That’s what I would want to put on next month’s outreach flyer. Instead, I sigh because I know that it will not get young women to come into any program in the South Bronx. So, the new flyer reads “Are you a young woman that is feeling embarrassed, not loved, or safe? Do you have issues of self esteem, don’t think you’re beautiful and have questions about relationships?

Honoring the earth traditions of our Indigenous ancestors, every spring, young and adult women get to give birth to themselves all over again. Women of all ages gather at the monthly healing circle to let go of trauma from child sexual abuse, abandonment, abortions in their youth, regrets, and self blame from a child hood they had no control over. Together, they create sisterhood and reclaim self love & inner beauty lost to broken hearts during infancy.

Trauma in early childhood has such a profound impact on young women that it follows her well into adulthood without her knowing. With no safe spaces for healing and education in life skills young women become drug addicts, self mutilate, have unsafe sex, are in unhealthy relationships and turn to food for emotional support. A once loving and happy little girl is now fighting to save her life.

Most recently, the movie “Precious” screened nationwide to tell the story of a young black women Clairece “Precious” Jones, a 16 year old, obese illiterate black girl in Harlem. At 350 pounds, Precious has become the face for the obesity issue amongst young women in inner city communities. Having worked with young women in the South Bronx for over 13 years, I was excited to see obesity contextualized within the social and economic conditions of their lives.

In March, an article by the New York Times, The Obesity-Hunger Paradox, states that the Bronx, the unhealthiest of 62 counties in the U.S.A has the highest rate of obesity. According to the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group, nearly 37% of residents said they lacked money to buy food at some point in the past 12 months. Furthermore, on their way to school children buy cheap foods high in saturated fat, food coloring, & sugar also available to them in their school cafeteria vending machines.

Moreover, research shows that obesity is the new way that hunger is showing up in our communities, being poor and hungry, doesn’t mean that you look anorexic or bulimic. What happens to your body when it is not sure if it will be fed again? It goes into starvation mode and stores it as fat, hence obesity.

With a Masters Degree in Public Health from Columbia University, I know that obesity is not just an “individual” problem related to lack of food; instead, it is an institutional, public health and human rights issue exacerbated by poverty. Additionally, obesity goes deeper than a young women’s physical look, it also affects her self esteem whose breakdown manifests into fear, powerlessness and leads to unhealthy choices and behaviors. Consequently, creating communities filled with HIV/AIDS, mental health issues, hormone imbalances, menstruation problems, sexual assault and women dying of fibroids, thyroid issues, breast/ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes & asthma too young for their age.

I name this article “Little Girls are Precious Too” because I have struggled with my weight all my life. I also currently live in between two Precious women, my daughter and my wife, all of us weighing over 200 pounds each. It is from this personal place that I write this article. With my own eyes I have seen the role culture plays in our relationship to food; where eating becomes a way women finds or gives love and how obese young women become sexualized resulting in violence against women. I also see how our past continues to dictate our self worth, what we think we deserve and how we treat ourselves.

I invite all women reading this article to give your little girl voice this spring. Precious lives in all of us, we are all precious little girls…

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard from corners of the world.

Northern America
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