This research paper examines the implications behind the relationship of body image (BI) and young African American/Black adolescent (AAA) females. In a series of ten published peer reviewed research articles, the nuances of BI, such as the definition of the term, and what influences this demographics’ perception of BI is investigated. Topics and themes ranging from the effects of certain factors contributing to BI, for example, the cultural context, comparisons to other races, relationships with maternal caregivers, body mass index (BMI) idealism, and even the inclusion of hair, skin tone, and social media influences, is explored in the paper.
What each article has highlighted is the pertinence of producing research on the correlation between BI and AAA due to its understudied value. It would behoove this demographic greatly if more psychological research was conducted to cater to this covert community.
Keywords: African- American adolescents, body image, body mass index
The paper presented was written to gain insight on the topic of BI, which fits under the umbrella of psychological studies, in AAA females.
There have been a myriad of psychological studies conducted in the past centering on various demographics. However, not much research has been focused primarily on the African American or Black diaspora subset. Historically, psychological research on Euro centric beauty and body image standards (Grabe & Hyde, 2006; Hall, 1995). To combat the prevalence of narrow, non- diversified studies and to simply gain insight into these understudied areas of science, there has been an initiative for inclusion of ethnic minority samples in body image studies (Germine H.
Awad, Carolette Norwood, Desire S. Taylor, Mercedes Martinez, Shannon McClain, Bianca Jones, Andrea Holman, and Collette Chapman-Hilliard, 2016).
Nielsen, Haun, Kärtner, & Legare (2017) discuss how psychology, and the research field in general, must oppose the bias in its expansive literature toward the study of participants developing in environments unrepresentative of the vast majority of the world’s population. The majority of published studies has its data extracted from participants that are categorized as what research analysts describe as WEIRD populations; this acronym is abbreviated for Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic populations (Nielsen et al., 2017). As one can imagine, this presents a challenge to overlooked and obscure cultural group settings, such as the aggregate being researched in this literature review, as it signifies misrepresentation. In the presented study by Nielsen et al., results displayed the percentages of participant representation in all articles published in the Child Development, Developmental Psychology, and Developmental Science database between 2006 and 2010. Statistics reveal that 57.65 percent of participants derived from the United States, approximately 18% were English speaking, and Europeans accounted for 14.92 percent of the majority; these staggering values show that a total of almost 90 percent of those study participants were WEIRD (Nielsen et al., 2017). As the authors of this article stressed, the inability to confront the possibility that culturally specific findings are being misattributed as universal traits has broad implications for the construction of scientifically defensible theories and for the reliable public dissemination of study findings (Nielsen et al., 2017).
The inclusion of study participants, such as young females of African American descent, is imperative for other reasons besides statistical inclusion. Body image and beauty among African American females has a historical context that is deeply rooted in discrimination and self hatred. Awad et al. (2016) explains how BI in the African American/ Black women’s experience is full of complexities due to the discriminative historical context surrounding the phenomena. There has been a long lasting continuity of devaluation and rejection of Black women’s bodies and beauty by mainstream culture, which ostensibly over values the European aesthetic and undervalues the esthetic of other racial and ethnic groups, aside from when they are being “exoticized” (Awad et al). For centuries dating back to pre-colonial slavery, Black women’s bodies were routinely violated for others’ profit and pleasure without recourse or protection (Awad et al., 2014). The images that encapsulated media labeled black women as hypersexual “Jezebels” deserving of sexual exploitation or as breeder women. Today, we can see the presence of such negative, misogynist perspectives of Black females in social media and literature.
Little of today’s published scientific studies have been designated to explore the specific issues regarding beauty and body image for the young African American female. According to Grogan (2008), the term “body image” is associated with a variety of definitions, including evaluation, which is defined as the degree to which one is satisfied with their body and investment, a term that describes the level of psychological importance associated with appearance (Grogan, 2008). As the term BI relates to the African American woman consciousness, it entails specifics that will be explored through the study and will encompass not only body size and silhouettes, but hair, and skin tone.
The framing of this paper is based on Callista Roy’s adaptation model. Roy’s model consists of various modes including the self-concept mode; it is defined as the individual’s mixture of beliefs and feelings about himself or others at a certain time. The self-concept mode includes the physical self and personal identity (Ursavas, Karayurt & Iseri, 2014). One’s physical self contains body image and body sense, whereas the personal identity is formed by their thoughts, morals/ ethics and spirituality. Roy identifies body image as how one sees himself as a physical being.
In Morris & Szabo’s (2013) study, the individualized meanings for thinness and demands to achieve it were studied in a group of young girls of traditional sub-Saharan African upbringing. Topics that were discussed with these young South African girls centered on three main concepts, which were widely reported, regarding perceptions of thinness, pressures towards thinness, and dysfunctional eating behaviors (Morris & Szabo 2013). As with many relevant research based on AAA, western socialization with white counterparts and overall comparisons to this ethnic group was taken into consideration for evaluation. The purpose of the study presented by Robbins, Ling, & Resnicow (2017) was to understand the contributing factors such as weight status and physical activity affecting to the body image of young girls among different demographics.
The purpose of the study by Bodell, Wildes, Cheng, Goldschmidt, Keenan, Hipwell & Stepp, (2017) was to delve into the path of eating disorder symptoms from childhood to young adulthood among a selected study of both African American and White females (Bodell et al., 2017). It was also conducted to examine if race was associated with trajectory group involvement, according to the authors.
Burk (2013) states that prior research has noted significant cultural differences in how AAA girls define both health and their ideal body type. The young female participants in this study were asked to describe what health is to them and the ideal body type for girls their age (Burk, 2013). This study indicated that Black girls may have contrary views on these matters compared to other cultural groups. The presence of sociocultural factors and practices, such as peers and mothers who influence their definitions of the ideal body type, seemed to influence their social construction of what it means to be healthy (Burk, 2013).
The goal of Mitchell, Corona & Pope’s grounded theory study was to explore the facet of African American/Black, maternal caregiver-adolescent relationship dynamics and its influence on body image perceptions in young girls (Mitchell et al., 2014). The adolescent girls, whose mean age was thirteen years of age, were interviewed on aspects they admired and disliked about their bodies. According to Pope, Corona, Shaffer, Hood, Velazquez & Barinas (2014), interviews with the participants in their study were digitally recorded, transcribed, and coded for emergent themes using thematic analysis. Questions such as “Who is more likely to have sex, a girl who likes the way her body looks or a girl who doesn’t like the way her body looks?” and inquiries about sexual exploration, including contraceptive use was explored (Pope et al., 2014).