Black Fathers With Body Image Issues Need More Support

Though self-esteem and body image issues affect everyone, men overwhelmingly lack the support they need to get past them—and it affects our children. It's time that changed.

Family poses for photo in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
Photo: Kimanzi Constable

The Hawaiian islands are beautiful and a dream destination for many people. Maui has some of the most breathtaking views I've ever seen, and I'm a full-time traveler who has been to 83 countries. However, a restaurant in Maui was the scene of one of my most embarrassing and frustrating moments.

My three children and I went out to dinner and were excited to eat at a restaurant on the beach. When we were taken to our table, I immediately noticed wooden chairs that looked like they'd been in use since the islands were formed.

I could feel my blood pressure rising and tension throughout my body as we walked to the table. At that time, I tipped the scales at 398 pounds. I was doubtful that those ancient wooden chairs would hold my frame.

When we sat down, it only took a minute for my fears to become a reality. The chair broke, and I tumbled to the ground in front of dozens of people.

Everyone in the restaurant stared at the big Black man lying in the sand, too embarrassed and angry to think. I looked at each of my children and saw so many emotions in their eyes. My daughter started to tear up.

I threw 40 dollars on the table and whisked my children away. Fleeing the scene felt like the only option to preserve my mental health.

Facing Self-Image Struggles

That incident was one of many in my life that marked my struggles with self-image issues. I could easily list everything I haven't liked about myself: my bulging belly, receding hairline, and the scar on my forehead. On the other hand, getting past those perceived flaws has been a lot harder. It's been difficult to find help that's catered to me as a Black father.

Shannol Grant is a motivational speaker and father of two. Growing up, he says he struggled with how he looked being a skinny kid with large glasses.

"As an adult, my body image issues have centered around my hairline, hence why I always wear hats," says Grant, echoing my own experiences.

For him, it has also been difficult to open up and talk to other Black fathers about what he was feeling. "There haven't been as readily available avenues to seek help or other Black fathers to talk to about my self-image struggles," says Grant.

Most of the conversations I've had about self-image with other Black fathers have stayed on the surface level because it feels as if we're conditioned to keep our struggles internal.

Dr. Samantha Madhosingh, PsyD, a professional coach, and certified psychologist, says that most of the time Black men are left out of conversations about body image.

"When we think about the burden of conforming to the social pressures of body image, the body positivity conversation is almost exclusively focused on the impact on women and the damage that's caused," says Dr. Madhosingh. "The media's representation of beauty is wildly unrealistic, but it isn't only impacting women."

"When Black men are being bombarded with impossible standards of physical attractiveness and masculinity and hearing messages that they are unattractive because of their body size, type, or height, it is virtually impossible for it not to negatively impact their psyche. Insecurity is seen as 'unmanly,'" says Dr. Madhosingh

Dr. Madhosingh says that Black men are taught anger is the only acceptable feeling to express, and to compartmentalize insecurities, hurt, shame, pain, and sadness. She says ignoring these feelings leads to depression, irritability, and violence.

Kimanzi Constable

I missed too many precious moments in my children's lives because of low self-esteem. 

— Kimanzi Constable

Dr. Madhosingh says that parenting raises these stakes. "Kids see themselves as an extension of their parents. When they hear or see their parents say negative things about their image, it plants seeds of self-criticism," she says. "If Black fathers see themselves as ugly, fat, or unattractive, their kids may think they are too because they are from them and often look like their parents."

She adds that parents may also be inadvertently giving children the language they use to criticize themselves.

I felt like a bad parent because I thought I didn't "represent" my children well because I didn't match up to the way other parents looked. At school functions and social events, I compared myself to them. It's hard to admit, but I let my anger and frustration about being heavy bleed into other parts of parenting. Minor issues were magnified because I didn't acknowledge my main frustration.

I wish I knew it then but, according to Dr. Madhosingh, solving this problem was as simple as opening up to my children about my body image struggles. We could have talked about healthy choices, and educated ourselves as a family. The openness would have made my children feel included in my journey.

I missed too many precious moments in my children's lives because of low self-esteem.

There were out-of-state sporting events I didn't attend because I couldn't comfortably fit into airplane seats and wanted to avoid the embarrassment of the airline not having a seatbelt extender.

I missed recitals, plays, and awards ceremonies because I didn't want other parents to see how my clothes showed every love handle, even though I was wearing XXL sizes. I rarely went on trips to the beach or public pools with my children because there was no way I felt comfortable taking off my shirt.

It broke my heart to miss those moments.

Today, I'm determined to not miss any more moments in their lives. Life is too short.

Family sits on a fallen tree in a park
Kimanzi Constable

Accepting Who We Are

I've gotten a lot of therapy since our family trip to Maui and have talked openly with my children about self-acceptance and the importance of addressing self-image struggles. They are learning from my lived experience.

I'm also working to build a circle of Black fathers who encourage each other and speak openly about self-image challenges. We currently have five Black fathers in our group.

I'm still a work in progress, but I don't hate my body anymore. I love Kimanzi for who he is and how he looks. In addition to mental health work, regular therapy, and reading, I'm exercising more and choosing nourishing food for my body.

Today, I weigh 280 pounds. I've released 118 pounds since the chair incident. But my mindset shift is more important than the number on the scale. I know I can and want to become the best version of myself, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I wish I had sought help while my children were still younger. I wish there had been more places to do so as a Black father. I wish there were more options available today for Black fathers to get help, too.

My children tell me the changes they've seen me make, and the support I've gotten motivates them to appreciate themselves for who they are. The hope is that they don't inherit my self-image struggles, but I'm ready to help them find the help I wish I had if they do.

If you're a Black father reading this, know that you're not alone in the struggle. The hope is that more options become available to Black fathers but there are some. Organizations such as Therapy for Black Men and Father's UpLift are doing their part to offer Black men and fathers outlets for their feelings.

Still, it starts with more authentic conversations about our struggles—even if those conversations start internally.

We have to embrace who we are.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles