It’s Okay Oxygen Magazine, We Get It and We’re Used to It

latorya watts, candice lewis-cater, cydne gillon, olmpia figure 2016
Photo credit - Chris Nicoll

As fitness enthusiasts, we loved witnessing this year’s Olympia. In the women’s figure division, Latorya Watts, Candice Lewis-Carter and Cydney Gillon, drippin’ melanin across the stage, took the top three spots in what is considered the “Superbowl of Bodybuilding.” There for the world to see, were three Black women draped up and dripped out in gold, silver and bronze. Standing on each side of them, Nicole Wilkins, the four-time champ (4th place) and Swann Delarosa (5th place). There are no medals for fourth and fifth place. However, there appears to be magazine covers for fourth place finishers. On magazine stands October 18th you will find Nicole Wilkins on the cover of Oxygen Magazine – not Latorya Watts, Candice Lewis Carter nor Cydney Gillon. We don’t care what Oxygen’s editorial process is like, the timing of it all is just a bit odd and another reminder of what sells, and what doesn’t. Your first place finish still may not be good enough. Even Ms. Bikini Olympia, Ashley Kaltwasser, has been featured repeatedly on Oxygen’s cover.

In the issue, Wilkins is featured as being “Fit + Fierce,” where she teaches the reader to “Sculpt A Strong Upper Body.” A Google search for “Oxygen Magazine,” shows the magazine’s tagline: “The woman’s ultimate source for the best workouts, fat loss, health, nutrition and muscle-building information.” However, the world’s best judges critiqued 29 women figure competitors – the best in the world – and agreed that Wilkins had the fourth best physique. Maybe you already know the point that we’re about to make. If not, here it is: genetics aside – one can deduce that three women had better workouts and better conditioning, hence Wilkins’ fourth place finish, but yet she’s featured on the cover of Oxygen Magazine — a magazine that purports to be the “ultimate source for the best workouts” — the issue following the Olympia completion.

Kara Brown, a staff writer for Jezebel, recently penned an article on Solange’s A Seat at the Table, where she aligns the album with “black pain, black surrender, black resilience, black splendor and the constant state of rage that is the black American existence.”

One of our favorite tracks on A Seat at the Table is “Mad,” featuring Lil Wayne. In the song Solange sings:

“You got the light count it all joy
You got the right to be mad
But when you carry it alone
you find only getting in the way
They say you gotta let it go”

Further into the song, Solange recalls a conversation she had with a “girl,” who asks:

“Why you always blaming?

Why you can’t just face it?

Why you always gotta be so mad?

Why you always talk ****, always be complaining;

why you always gotta be, why you always gotta be so mad?”

Solange, speaks for the vast majority of Black people in America in her response, “I got a lot to be mad about.”

Black bodies have and are only considered valuable when white America can make a profit – from slavery, to inmates, to entertainers. That is why three of the best figure competitors in the world were and will continue to be overlooked when it comes to the image of fitness in America, ignoring their responsibility to provide readers with accurate and fair representations. Nicole Wilkins, still one of the best in the world, lost fair and square, but she was privileged with a cover on one of the most adored and respected women’s fitness magazines today.

Oxygen Magazine’s clear disregard sends a strong and powerful message, “it does not matter how hard a Black man or woman works in their profession, white is superior and black is inferior and there is nothing you can do about it.”

In Black homes across the country our parents have taught us “you have to work twice as hard to get half the credit,” much like lectures on what to do if we get pulled over by the police – these truths are ingrained in our minds and passed down to the next generation. And a fitness magazine reminds us why we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are not created equal.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t buy Oxygen Magazine – they have great content; but their target reader is specific.

But herein lies another problem, Black Fitness Today, was created to fulfill the need to provide quality health and fitness audience to our community. Recently, we featured Latorya Watts on our first cover. We spent an entire day with Latorya, who is as professional, honest and down-to-earth as a person can be. She invited us into her home, we went to the gym and watched the world’s top figure competitor fresh off her first Figure Olympia title, Ms. Figure International and Ms. Figure Australia titles, kill it in the gym. She told us her story of quitting so many things in life to finding something she was truly passionate about, bodybuilding. You have to wonder, and maybe she does too “why work so hard, if you’re not going to be recognized?” But see as the title of the article reads, we’re used to it; we’re used to having to dig down deep and press on despite the challenges and clear disregard for our talents, gifts and passions.

Our magazine launched in September with much excitement. Latorya had never been contacted for a cover and was ecstatic. But just like we know we have to work twice as hard to get half the credit, and do say police tell us to do, if we get pulled over, we also know that we don’t support one another the way we should. Our magazine, despite our pride in a one-of-a-kind product, was met with hesitation, from advertisers, to the very audience that can benefit the most. Every production dollar was our own and though we’re here to stay and the vision continues (like Steve Harvey says, you’ll never know if you’re parachute will open unless you jump), we may have to re-think future print and remain solely digital moving forward. What we’ve noticed – in the quest for inclusion, sometimes we fail realize that we don’t need a seat at the table, when we can create and pull seats up to our own.

latorya watts

So there are two sides to the problem of under-representation and misrepresentation of Black women and men. Publications that cater to white audiences do not owe the Black community anything; they have businesses to run and will always cater to their audience but Black publications that jump to fulfill the need could fall flat, in front of a Black audience with their arms crossed, displeased because we would rather sit with them than have our own.

A photo posted by LATORYA WATTS👑 (@latoryawatts)


Ilen & Lauren Bell are the husband and wife team behind Black Fitness Today, born, in 2011, out of their motivation to change culture, build a platform and lead the charge. Their purpose is to help change the culture towards health and fitness in the African-American community, showcase those who are making an impact, and promote healthier living. They also aim to serve as a platform for African-American fitness and health professionals and enthusiasts who are otherwise overlooked in traditional fitness media.

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