They come in vibrant shades of blues, reds and yellows. Brightly colored ornate beads placed intimately around a woman’s waist for style, status, femininity – and weight loss. African waist beads are nothing new; they have been around since the 15th century and are very prolific among West Africans, but they are making a resurgence amongst black American women looking to measure their weight loss.
Olayami Dabls, founder of Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum in Detroit, says the traditional use of waist beads were to control a woman’s weight and waist. Meant to be worn under the clothes, waist beads were not supposed to be seen by men who were not the wearer’s spouse.
“If you are gaining weight, the beads will feel kind of snug on the waist. They help you not consume so much food,” Dabls says, adding that the beads complement the hips. Also here in the West, women have shown an interest in wearing them as of late because they are on the rise in the entertainment industry. “We had a spike in the selling of beads this year after a movie portrayed someone wearing the beads,” he says.
Native Detroiter Espy Thomas, also a waist bead wearer, says she was heavier as a kid. She joined WW (formerly Weight Watchers) over a decade ago and lost about 90 pounds, but she gained it back. Thomas eventually broke the yo-yo dieting cycle and got a trainer, joined a gym and lost weight to get healthier and look good in her flamboyant clothes that complement the larger-than-life multihyphenate’s personality. Google her.
“My trainer helped me accomplish that,” Thomas says, adding that she had to figure out how to “keep going.” Thomas says that her fitness path has other travelers on it. “I definitely encourage other women. I’m still on the journey and weight loss is a lifelong journey. You feel like you’ve arrived but you have to keep going.”
Jhordan Wynne, director of recruitment and intervention for Black Women’s Wellness Project at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, knows what it takes to keep black women going with weight loss.
Through the Black Women’s Wellness Project, which ran between 2016 to 2018, Wynne says that black women, 20-59 years old – from places like Detroit, Lansing, Saginaw, Jackson, and Ypsilanti – were selected to study their overall wellness, because they are the most vulnerable population when it comes to obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
“Black women we carry the bulk of the burden in the country. We’re the most at risk and when you’re able to find a strategy that improves the lives of the most vulnerable, that strategy is a win for everyone,” Wynne says. The project delved into four dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, social and spiritual.
Goal-setting was crucial to the women’s success. Some women chose to be more physically active with their family, while others focused on stress management, with many women seeing positive outcomes. Results were published in research journals.
“The program is successful,” Wynne says. “We trained women who went through the program to train others so our graduates are able to share what they learned and pay it forward.” The goal was to impact generational eating habits in hopes that the women would pass down better food options to their children. Women who had strong physical, emotional, social and spiritual ties excelled.
Founded in 2009, Black Girls RUN! was created to tackle the growing obesity epidemic in the black community and to encourage and provide resources to new and veteran runners. The “MOVEment” pushes women – particularly black women – to take their health more seriously.
One of two Detroit ambassadors for Black Girls RUN! Maria B. Stanfield says, “It started as a blog and then developed into a nationwide movement.” BGR has thousands of members in 80 different chapters throughout the country; the Detroit chapter alone has 5,000 members.
“We are proud of each and every member. Not only do our members participate, but many of them place and win races,” she says. The sisterhood organizes runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. “I feel amazing after a run. We take care of each other and welcome all women.”