Jenna Petersen, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

February 26, 2021

February is Black History Month.

During February 2021, we are living in pivotal time of change. My prayer in writing this post on affirming body image of People of Color (POC) is that caring for others, no matter how we look, would happen among readers in such a way that people would stop in their tracks and wonder why we choose to go the extra steps to love them so much. Especially if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, there’s no reason not to dive into the truth contained in this post!

First, let’s define some terms.

People of Color (POC) refers to anyone with a skin color other than white. A person of color might have a mixed racial identity, or might be all one racial identity. They might like to be called Black, Asian, Indonesian, Taiwanese, Chinese, Black American, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian American, Chinese American, Indian American, or another term that they find appropriate. POC is a broader term than Black, African American, or Black American. I am choosing to use POC in writing this post because it is more inclusive of the variety of racial identities, even among those of African descent who are likely celebrating Black History Month in America.

The idea of having different racial identities may be unfamiliar to you. A social identity describes a group to which someone belongs in a society. Some common social identities today in America include: gender, race/ethnicity, sexual identities, ability level, socioeconomic status, and one’s religious affiliation. Some of my social identities are that I am: (1) a Christian, (2) a white person, and (3) a female.

Some of these social identities are more marginalized than others. For example, I am in the majority of the racial identity group in America because I am white, but POC are in the minority of racial identities. Some racial and ethnic groups within the scope of People of Color are more marginalized than others. Being Black in America can mean something very different than being Hispanic in America. It depends on where you’re from, and how people treat one another in that area.

Different identities are stereotyped in different ways. Stereotyping can happen when we believe that a person is either: (1) a representative of the ENTIRE social identity group, or (2) lives in a way that matches YOUR overall impression of that social group. Spoiler alert: stereotypes are almost never true, so hopefully you can leave them at the door. I’m not going to dive deeply into stereotypes, but I do not want to fall prey to stereotyping anyone through this post. Please let me know if you feel that way.

Intersectionality is another term that often comes up in these types of discussions. Intersectionality is the recognition that no single social identity stands alone when we interact with others. They all matter. Someone who is in the minority for many social identities may feel much more threatened in certain work, school, or church environments if the majority of that population is unlike them. For example, I could see many POC being wary to come to certain churches because the majority of people there are white and don’t know how to talk to a black person. I will also use myself as an example for intersectionality. Being a woman who is heterosexual, Christian, and white means that I have certain privileges and opportunities based on my unique social identities. Maybe being female will hold me back from a certain income or work-related promotions. I’m not sure, but I also didn’t pick a really high-paying professional field. However, likely my “whiteness” will not hold me back from getting a certain job because white is the majority race where I’m currently living.

So there you have it: people of color, social identities, majorities, minorities, stereotypes, and intersectionality.

Now that we’ve got a good basis of what these terms mean, I am excited to share my reflections on POC and body image.

First, let me clarify a few values of Women Eat Well relating to racial and ethnic diversity:

  1. WEW is a place where you are welcome no matter your skin color. You are welcome here. I want to do my best to serve you and support you, no matter what your racial background may be.
  2. WEW partners with business owners and hires employees of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. We are not exclusive in who we partner with or hire. Obviously Jenna cannot change her ethnic background, but she is conscious of her white privilege in founding WEW. She keeps the door open to bringing in other folks when the time is right.
  3. WEW celebrates all ethnic food choices. Food is good. Asian food is great. Mediterranean food is superb. Jamaican food is delicious. African food is wonderful. American food is yummy. We could go on and ON. All food is welcomed and celebrated at WEW. Maybe you’re an international struggling with the ‘typical’ American diet. Maybe your parents didn’t know how to cook. Maybe you eat out every day. Food is comfort, love, upbringing, and so much more. You and your food experiences are celebrated here.

Beyond these reflections, I want to share a few important ways that we can care for our black sisters specifically in the area of body image. Here is a concise list of ways that I find effective for affirming the body image of POC.

How to Affirm Body Image for People of Color

  1. Adopt the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach. Health At Every Size means that you do not treat someone differently because of her body size. It also means you don’t make assumptions about someone’s health or health behaviors because of their weight. That smaller lady over there might have cancer. That larger gal might be stronger and more muscular than the average Jane. Similarly, people of different racial backgrounds tend to have different body shapes and sizes. What is normal for her family isn’t normal for yours. Adopt the HAES approach to help you recognize that someone in a different sized body of a different skin color might be perfectly healthy, and allow that to fuel your conversations by assuming the best of others.
  2. Learn about black hair and skincare products. Google it. Read a book. Find a magazine. Don’t take your black friend’s word for it. She doesn’t speak for every black woman (i.e. beware of stereotyping). Just because she’s your friend does not mean she should have to be your sole source of information. Then, when you’re together, you can ask her about how she does her hair and have a better perspective on how she does it. You can affirm how long it might take to do her hair or ask about whatever she’s into.
  3. Be her friend. Maybe she talks differently than you. Maybe she walks differently than you. Maybe she dresses differently than you. Slow down, and get to know her for her. If it’s important, your racial and ethnic differences will come up later. Then, you can have appropriate conversations about how you look, and have the opportunity to complement her beautiful skin tone without being weird.

My WHY for embracing POC is not the same as everyone’s. It is uniquely influenced by the Bible. I challenge you to consider my WHY, even if you want to flip back to Instagram right now.

These are the three most compelling passages from the Bible that I believe support the practical steps I’ve outlined above:

  1. In Genesis 2, God created people. If God created POC, they are exactly how he wanted them. Every person is created in God’s image. I want to see the nuances of God through POC that I would not otherwise experience.
  2. In Matthew 22, God commands me to love my neighbor. Why take these extra steps to care for my sisters of color? God is love, and I want to reflect the beauty of knowing God through my life.
  3. In Psalm 139, God says, “You are remarkably and wonderfully made”. This passage is not just true of me. It’s true of every woman of color on the planet. You are remarkably, wonderfully, beautifully made by God. Why would I not value every woman individually, the way that God has made her?

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40 (English Standard Version)

What are your compelling reasons for embracing POC as the sweet humans that they are?

What would you add to this conversation?

What did you enjoy most about what I’ve written?

Feel free to drop a comment. 🖤

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