By Tequila Cheatham McCray
With Juneteenth in June, and Independence Day in July, it’s a great time to free ourselves of certain things and have dialogue about issues that are happening secretly.
This year, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing women in business. One of them by the name of Carleeka Basnight-Menendez who is the founder of an organization called INSO Inc., who made me realize something about myself when I was a teenager, and even once I became an adult. It’s difficult to admit but, it’s time to release.
Let’s just say it how it is… I had an eating disorder. Now, there are different types of eating disorders but, we normally associate it with one type. I, on the other hand, had a binge eating disorder. You see, I had been slim my entire life. There was nothing I could do to gain weight. I had a high metabolism, and I was very active. I became self-conscious when people started making certain remarks about my body size. Up until that point, I had no idea that something was “wrong” with me. First, they would call me names. Second, they’d tell me to eat more. as if I was starving mself. Third, I would sometimes eat until my belly ached. I would “eat a whole pizza and three plates of food knowing I was already full” (line taken from my poem called, Flaca) simply to not be looked upon as “too thin.” It was as if they were saying I was unacceptable, unwanted. Me? Unacceptable? Has anyone ever made you feel like that?
Well, I’ve partnered with the fabulous Carleeka to talk about our personal journeys with this issue of “eating disorders” and how it plays a role specifically in the African American communities because it’s not viewed upon as a “black thing.” It’s time to change the trajectory of these perspectives because it’s toxic and it doesn’t help us grow as individuals, a community, society, nor as a world. Check out the interview!
Tequila: Hey Carleeka! How are you?
Carleeka: Hey Tequila! I am doing great, and you?
Tequila: Great, thanks. I want to talk about things that are taboo, and that people are afraid to discuss.
Carleeka: That is awesome! Yes, we need to stop being silent. This year, I plan on going to diferent cities to do an empowerment session on eating disorders.
Tequila: That’s awesome man. I’ve never had that issue or know anyone who did except you. I don’t think people are knowledgeable about it. I think most of us assume people just want to starve themselves. Obviously, there’s more to it.
Carleeka: It is a journey girl. Even statistically, there is not enough reported data for African American women. There is way more [to it] and other forms such as binge eating.
Tequila: Wow. I’m really in awe about this subject because we really don’t think about African American women with eating disorders.
Carleeka: It’s that part right there girl. For so long in our communities, it’s been said that’s not a “black thing” not realizing that many binge due to the lack thereof, emotions, etc. which leads to health problems we can’t afford.
Tequila: Whew! GIRL. School me…The main thing I’d like to know is: How does it impact you being an entrepreneur, if at all?
Carleeka: As an entrepreneur, it impacts everything I do because it’s all about perception. The image we see, and realizing everything we say or do is a result of what we think and perceive. I had to change my perception in order to change my life. It wasn’t easy…the mental battle of being fat…
Tequila: Right. What’s even more taboo is whether AA[African American] men do the same. We NEVER talk about that….I’m actually working on a novel that deals with physical body image. It’s a very touchy subject for me and I think you’re making me realize something about myself Carleeka…Growing up thin, I would sometimes binge eat to gain weight, to not be called names…wow…I forget about it because I had to have a mental talk with myself to never think like that again and to just be happy with who I was…
Carleeka: Wow…I could not get skinny enough. It began in 10th grade until I was 28. I weighed in at age 22, pregnant with my daughter at 85lbs, and I thought I was fat. The thing is I was always small but, I could control my weight. I became an ADDICT to losing weight.
Tequila: Wow. This is interesting and really deep. After I had my son, I hurried up and lost the weight because I thought I was fat. Not only that, the weight wasn’t doing well on my knees.
Carleeka: Some people don’t realize that every thin person is not happy being skinny. They want some meat!
Tequila: Right. I think I wanted meat for all of the wrong reasons though…To be more attractive, to appear more “womanly,” to be more wanted…That self -love is serious man..
Carleeka: Girl, you are so right about self -love…I am INTENTIONAL on not going back there. Now I had some moments after I was on steroids for medical reasons but I quickly dismissed those thoughts. It was about control and the fact that a lot of my family members were obese, so I vowed to myselfthat I would never be fat. I had “Fear of Fat.”
Tequila: Man, I definitely get it.
Carleeka: So that’s why I felt led this year to go to different cities and bring more awareness and share my story to AAs[African Americans].
Tequila: Wow, that’s great hun. Thank you for this conversation. If you could tell anyone out there who has experienced, or going through any type of eating disorder, what would you say?
Carleeka: I would tell them: Don’t be ashamed, and you will overcome!
For more information on Carleeka’s organization, INSO, Inc. visit, www.insoinc.org.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorder Association, or NEDA hotline at 1-800-931-2237.