It's Always Been Ours Review: Jessica Wilson Wants Us To Re-imagine What We Think About Black Bodies

It's time to let go of what we know about our bodies.
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Diet culture, body health, and body liberation - when we think of these terms, we usually associate them with blonde white women. Who else is telling us how much weight we should lose or the quickest way to lose body fat in 30 days?

Women of colour aren’t part of the conversations about body health. Not only are they not in the conversations, but they’re also not even considered. As a result, dietician Jessica Wilson has published It’s Always Been Ours: Rewriting The Story Of Black Women’s Bodies.

Wilson wrote this book because she wants people to start reimagining the narratives around their bodies. “I don’t know of one person who’s having a great time with the body that they’ve got because of messages we’re taught,” Wilson tells HuffPost UK.

“So radically reimagining – to me – means resetting those ideas about bodies that we had to begin with.

“How can we think about black women’s bodies in a way where they are not a spectacle or something that’s put on display? And how would that literally change all the other conversations we’re having about bodies? So I think writing a new narrative as society as communities can really, hopefully, send us in that direction of creating a difference.”

When Wilson first became a dietician, she quickly started to notice how white the field was. “I was the only black person in my first internship. And I never knew a black dietician until 2020. So it took me 14 years for me to meet other black dieticians,” Wilson says.

Eventually, the lack of diversity started to affect her work.

“When we speak about medicine and dietetics we’re generally talking about risk factors and predisposed conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.

“And we’re constantly told over and over again that Black folks have higher rates of heart disease or diabetes, generally anything.

“But our bodies are always discussed like we are an inherent risk factor.”

Wilson was taught about Black people – but as a Black person she wasn’t allowed to bring her own experiences or even critique the field. She described it as “very quinoa and kale”.

In the first chapter titled ‘It Isn’t Diet Culture, It’s White Supremacy’, Wilson speaks about the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement. “The murder of Black people by police and a global pandemic did what no Black clinician has been able to do: bring our existence into conversations (albeit peripherally) about food and bodies. It took horrific events for Black lives to matter in my field,” she writes.

She goes on to speak about the relationship between fatness and Blackness in relation to the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American man who was put in a chokehold by a police officer. Garner kept repeating “I can’t breathe,” but unfortunately he passed away.

“He was Black and his death was not ruled a murder because his fatness was blamed as a ‘contributing factor’ for the reason he couldn’t breathe,” Wilson writes.

“I really see how black men and large Black folks generally are policed for existing,” Wilson tells HuffPost UK.

“These narratives lead to over-policing and pathologizing of big black folks generally. Eric Garner’s body would have been wrong for existing because he was a fat man. And the lack of people’s capacity to make those connections to fatphobia, just generally, was both surprising and frustrating,” she explains.

In the book, she also focuses in on the relationship between thinness and whiteness. Eating disorders are typically only thought to happen to white women. Wilson found that because of this, the framework to work with women of colour who suffered from eating disorders didn’t exist.

In the book, Wilson writes: “A year or two into that job I started working with two queer women, one of who was indigenous, the other Mexican, who were restricting food to shrink their bodies. Both weren’t ‘underweight’ and the medical team was flummoxed. The physiological impacts of starvation were clear from their lab results, heart rate, blood pressure, and mental health.”

Wilson believes women of colour are left out of the eating order discussion because eating disorders are associated with people who are ‘fragile.’

“Black women aren’t seen as fragile so it’s seen as something that’s not supposed to happen to us,” Wilson says.

“Research hasn’t even included us so we’re not even in the evidence because no one has thought that we have them.”

The book also looks at how Black women aren’t included in the body liberation discussions. “When dieting and the culture of dieting are oppressive and traumatic, ‘messages of liberation’ get to be: ’all food is guilt-free, ‘just eat the damn cake!’”

“Staying in a place where eating cake is liberation protects those who directly benefit from upholding whiteness and thinness from having to address the far greater and more complicated legacy of white supremacy and it’s a contribution to fatness,” she writes.

Wilson shares that the movement came out of second-wave feminism which was quite white. “I think body liberation as a whole really wasn’t open, we don’t have community ties anymore due to intersectionality which is great but it wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together to celebrate our bodies?”

When asked what she wants people to take away from the book, she said she wants people to know that their bodies are not a problem. “They don’t need to fix what society is telling them is broken. Their bodies aren’t a problem. We need to be solving. We need to be looking at systems and structures and radically reimagining like what this could look like instead.”

You can buy It’s Always Been Ours, here.