Queen Latifah appeared on the latest episode of the Red Table Talk and recalled the time a personal trainer referred to her as obese following a workout session.
The Newark native recently started her workout journey by hiring a new trainer to help with the process. She described the professional as “scientific and mathematic” while introducing Latifah to various health charts, including one on Body Mass Index (BMI).
“She’s showing me different body types, and she’s telling me, ‘This is what your BMI is, this is what your weight is, and you fall into this category of obesity,'” the 52-year-old entertainer said.
She continued, “I was mad at that. It pissed me off. I was like, ‘What? Me?’ I mean, I’m just thick. She said you are 30% over where you should be. And I’m like, ‘Obesity?'”
When physicians determine if someone is obese, they rarely consider other factors, such as gender, ethnicity, or medical history. While chatting with co-host Jada Pinkett Smith, Latifah shared how the racial and societal biases against Black Americans have increased in the medical field. She was seemingly bothered by the trainer’s comments since most “ideal” BMI measurements are unrealistic comparisons to a white European man in the mid-19th century.
BMI is calculated based on a person’s height and weight, and the number is used to separate the people into four categories: underweight, healthy, overweight, and obese. Web MD reported that physicians also use BMI to determine if someone is at risk of certain illnesses while providing resources to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Research shows people are classified as obese if their BMI is 30 or higher. However, the reading may not indicate that they’re necessarily unhealthy. A 2003 study found that Black people with higher BMIs are not considered harmful, especially Black women who are likely to reach a mortality rate if their BMI is 37 or higher. Still, physicians use BMI results and automatically diagnose Black men and women with obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes while assuming they’re “overweight.”
For years, Latifah has worked to change the stigma around obesity to help people realize that someone’s health and body size are not always mutually exclusive.
“We need to change the conversation. We need to change the culture, we need to change the stigma that’s involved in it,” she told People magazine in May. “Let’s just get real with it. And then let’s back it up with some information that can empower you to do something about it, or change your mentality about it.”
Latifah revealed that she had to turn down roles throughout her career after being told to lose weight.
“I practice my no’s,” she said. “I go in the mirror and I say, no, no, no, no, like 20 times. And that’s it. I need to be okay with me. If I’m okay then I feel like I can do anything. But if I’m not okay, I have to say something. Like, it’s time to take a break, stop, cut.”
Watch the full episode below.