Mo'Nique's big idea: self-image


August 05, 2007|By Ericka Blount Danois | Ericka Blount Danois,Special to The Sun

For most of her career, Mo'Nique has championed the cause of big and voluptuous women.

The Baltimore native and host of VH1's Charm School and of Oxygen's Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance has waged a campaign to improve the image and gain acceptance for plus-size women, who are often shunned and made the objects of ridicule.

Here's how she's lived out her crusade:

As a stand-up comedian, the 39-year-old has manufactured plus-size humor that pokes fun at those who have a problem with her curves or skinny women, including:

Recently filmed episodes of Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance - a national talent contest for plus-size women .

Starred in Phat Girlz, a critically unacclaimed movie about an aspiring plus-size fashion designer.

And late last year, she came out with her cookbook, Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted.

But is her message - however well-intentioned - dangerous to the health of women, particularly African-American women who suffer disproportionately from diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol compared with women of other races?

Not necessarily, experts say.

Melissa Ohlson, a registered dietitian and nutrition projects coordinator for preventive cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says it is possible to be a big person and still be healthy.

It depends on where the fat is distributed.

"If you hold it more in your midsection, that tends to increase your risk for coronary disease, and high cholesterol and diabetes. But in your hips and thighs, that doesn't seem to be as metabolically active," she says.

Still, the statistics are sobering for anyone who is overweight.

According to a recent study by the Cleveland Clinic, more than 80 percent of black women older than 40 are overweight, and more than 53 percent are obese. Nearly 60 million adults in the U.S. can be characterized as obese. Someone who is 40 percent overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely as an average-weight person.

Ohlson suggests that people can find a healthier lifestyle if they change their eating habits in small steps, such as bringing breakfast and lunch to work, learning to use less salt and eating less packaged food.

She also suggests physical activity every day - an hour a day for weight loss or a half-hour a day to maintain health.

"As African-American women, we have a different aesthetic in terms of body image. We don't necessarily perceive a full figure as being a bad thing," says Erika Sheffield, a registered dietitian from Baltimore. "But if you maintain a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis and take care of yourself and are fuller-figured, you can still be healthy as long as you are aware of the risk factors.

"Not everyone is going to be model-thin - that may not be healthy, too. Even though we perceive people who are thinner as healthier, that's not always true," Sheffield says.

Mo'Nique says she dedicates an hour every day to exercise, and while she delights in traditional soul food, she eats it in moderation. She mountain-climbs, walks six miles a day and has a personal trainer.

"For me, I will never be a small girl, but I want to make sure that I am healthy because I love food and I make no apologies for enjoying food," she says.

Mo'Nique's attitude is an inspiration for plus-size women, say her fans.

"She has boosted my image," says Jennie Jefferson, 50. "She has let us big women know that we should get the respect and love that we deserve."

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