Body Image and African
November 19, 2013
Issue of Signiﬁcance
Body image affects all people of every race, age,
gender, sexuality etc. It is something that a lot of
people deal with and try to accept their body and
how they view themselves. Unfortunately, many
body image issue studies have been over white
women, from young girls to older women. Black
girls and women struggle with body image issues
as well. I plan to use this multimedia project to
showcase a few studies of Black women and body
image to show how they are affected by body
Body Image Issues
Women and girls of all ages
and races struggle with their
However, young white
women are usually seen as
the face of eating disorders.
Body image does not have a
race, it affects everyone.
This quote from one of the studies shows how black
women are stereotyped of having a positive body
image. Some people agree with this statement, but
other people have different opinions.
“African American (AA) women have traditionally been
thought to have a much greater satisfaction with their
bodies, less tendency to engage in disor- dered eating
or related practices, less likely to diet and an overall
more posi- tive body image (Fujioka, Ryan, Agle,
Legaspi, & Toohey, 2009; O’Neil, 2003; Parker et al.,
1995) (Reel 332).”
Some research has shown that when AA women
internalize the Western ideal of beauty and
thinness that they develop eating disorders and
patterns similar to white women (Watson 337).
Other research has shown that the
internalization does not cause AA women to
have these issues (Watson 337).
There are many stereotypes regarding African American
women and body image. These problems and questioning
of their bodies can begin in childhood and continue into
adulthood. There are a lot of factors that can influence
whether a person has a negative or positive body image.
African American culture has recently gained a high
status and has been adapted by many different groups of
people. This issue is conflicted between the African
American community. Some people are flattered by the
acceptance of their ideas, but others are upset at what
people are doing with their culture.
Some have said that culture and environment can
influence a person’s perception of their body
image. Where a person lives can have a big impact
on how they view themselves.
“AA women who grew up and went to school in
predominately AA communities report having a
more positive body image than AA women who
grew up in predominately Caucasian communities
(Thompson, 1994) (Sanderson 498).”
“AA women’s oppression causes many factors to
go into their experiences regarding body image.
Race, gender, and class relate to psychological
distress in AA women (Watson 335).”
This is a very important concept to understand
when talking about body image and African
American women. Compared to other groups in
the United States, Black women face more
oppression which can lead to other things.
Racial Identity and Body Image
One positive idea about racial identity is that it can help
buffer racism and sexism. This happens when Black women
are surrounded by other Black women who support their
body ideals and do not look at what the media is saying
(Watson 338-9). African American women usually do not
look to the media for beauty ideals as they are mostly White
When compared with White women, Black women had
lower numbers of anoxeria, binge eating, and bulimia
(Watson 338-9). If an ethnic group is accepting of their
identity and have a community supporting them they are
less likely to have body image issues.
White Women vs Black Women
Some studies have shown that White women are more
likely to want to be thin than their African American
This is because White men like thin, White women
Black women see that Black men prefer larger Black
Black women also tend to compare themselves to other
Black women instead of the majority of media images.
“The concept of panoptic gaze originated from Bentham’s designs for
the Panopticon, a prison structure that has a central guard tower,
allowing for each prisoner to be observed without observing the
guard. Feminist sociologist, Mary Duncan, related this to a woman’s
view of herself, as Weiss and Haber point out – ‘The point of
Bentham’s model prison, the Panopticon, is to train individuals to see
themselves as being seen’ (1999, p. 9). This type of surveillance is
symbolic of the experiences of our interview participants: a societal
gaze that enforces body ideals for women and may result in feelings of
guilt in those women subjected to it. (Reel 328-9)”
This gaze relates to how women see themselves as the ‘Other’. They
are always thinking of how other people view them and make sure to
live by society’s ideals. This gaze affects all women, but it impacts
African American women more.
“African-American women are in some cases operating
under the panoptic gaze with two conflicting body ideals.
While they are expected to maintain their femininity as a
societal member (thinness being equated to beauty), they
are expected by the opposite sex to meet another ideal of
femininity as a member of their ethnic group (larger is
better). (Reel 326)”
It is hard to choose what is right. In a society that praises
one thing and a culture that praises another many are
conflicted as to what to do. There is a definite separation
between larger Black women and smaller Black women, but
there shouldn’t be any stigma with any body types.
Black women reported exercise as hurting their
body image, as one women reported losing her
butt (Reel 327).
Also another woman reported that big is
beautiful, if her family saw her as skinny she
looked sick or unwell (Reel 328).
Skin Color and Self-Esteem
body image many
don’t even think of
color, because it is
white women and
that is not something
that is thought about.
A study of 328 women of
color gave interesting
satisfaction with their skin
color and self esteem.
4 types of women: African,
African American, African
Caribbean, and Biracial
were asked a series of
questions regarding their
Overall, 17% of participants preferred a darker skin
Overall, 86.9% of participants disagreed with
personal preference for lighter skin tone.
I found an interesting
podcast featuring 4 black
women discussing their
experiences with body
image and culture.
In order to make sure that all
African American girls and women
maintain a positive body image it
is crucial to show them how to love
their bodies. It is a difficult process
especially in a world where they
are so many beauty standards, but
accepting yourself is the best way
to have a positive body image.
Older women can help young
women and girls to do whatever
makes them feel good about
themselves. As long as they are
doing it for themselves and aren’t
harming anyone then it is good!
Mucherah, Winnie, and Andrea Dawn Frazier. "How Deep Is Skin-Deep? The Relationship Between Skin Color Satisfaction,
Estimation Of Body Image, And Self-Esteem Among Women Of African Descent." Journal Of Applied Social Psychology 43.6 (2013):
1177-1184. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
Reel, Justine J., et al. "Age Before Beauty: An Exploration Of Body Image In African-American And Caucasian Adult Women."
Journal Of Gender Studies 17.4 (2008): 321-330. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
Sanderson, Sonya, Kirsten Lupinski, and Peggy Moch. "Is Big Really Beautiful? Understanding Body Image Perceptions Of
African American Females." Journal Of Black Studies 44.5 (2013): 496-507. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
Watson, Laurel B., et al. "Racial Identity Buffers African American Women From Body Image Problems And Disordered
Eating." Psychology Of Women Quarterly 37.3 (2013): 337-350. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.