Academic journal article College Student Journal

Black Undergraduate and White Undergraduate Eating Disorders and Related Attitudes

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Black Undergraduate and White Undergraduate Eating Disorders and Related Attitudes

Article excerpt

The author reviews the most recent literature on the differences between white and black females in regard to eating disorders, dieting, and physical self-confidence. The racial differences and similarities from a questionnaire given to almost 400 female undergraduates are then discussed in terms of: their eating disorders, satisfaction with weight, dieting, pressure to lose weight, and receiving therapy for anorexia. The connections between these women's behaviors, their parents, marital status, and the quality of their relationships with parents, roommates and boyfriends are also discussed.

The author is grateful to Ms. Joy Pearson, B.A. Wake Forest University, 1999, for collecting and calculating the data for this article.

Racial Differences in Eating Disorders and Body Attitudes

When it comes to eating disorders and attitudes about their weight, black females in the United States are in many ways more fortunate than white females. In part this is because black males and females have less restrictive, less narrow definitions of what makes a woman beautiful - especially when it comes to how much a woman weighs. That is, black Americans are more likely than white Americans to appreciate the beauty of a woman's naturally full body. Unlike most whites, most blacks do not consider extremely skinny, underweight women to be more beautiful and more desirable than women who are of average or slightly above average weight. Consequently, most black females are less obsessed than most white females are about how much they weigh and about dieting. Knowing that most black males do not find excessively thin or anorexic looking women attractive, black women are usually more satisfied and more self-confident than white women when it comes to their weight. This isn't to say that black women and girls do not care how they look or that they do not judge and get judged on the basis of appearance. Regardless of race, people who are considered attractive generally have more self-confidence, are more popular socially, and receive better treatment at school and at work in terms of such things as being given a teacher's or supervisor's help, being promoted faster, or being given the benefit of the doubt in grading or evaluations (Bordo. 1993; Friday. 1996; Halprin. 1995; Wolf. 1992). Still, black females are judged less often than whites on the basis of how much they weigh and more often on the basis of factors such as skin shade, the "right" kind of nose or lips, and "good" hair (Abrams, Allen, & Gray. 1993; Akan & Greilo. 1995; Allan, Mayo, & Michel. 1993; Boyd. 1995; Dacosta & Wilson. 1999; Erdman. 1995; Greenberg & Laporte. 1996; Grogan. 1999; Halprin. 1995; Harris. 1994; Heywood. 1996; Kumanyika, Wilson, & Guilford. 1993; LeGrange, Telch, & Agras. 1997; Maine. 1993; Molloy & Herzberger. 1998; Parker & and others. 1995; Powell & Kahn. 1995; Randolph. 1996; Root. 1990; Rosen & others. 1991; Rucker & Cash. 1992; Silverstein & Perlick. 1995; Thone. 1998; Villarosa. 1995; Wade. 1991; Walsh & Devlin. 1998; Wilfley & others. 1996; Wolf. 1992).

Sadly though, a growing number of black females seem to be adopting many whites' unhealthy attitudes about being too thin, are becoming more dissatisfied with their bodies, and are developing more eating disorders. What seems to be happening is that the more a black female identifies with or interacts with white upper class culture, the more likely she is to adopt whites' attitudes about being extremely thin and dieting excessively. As a result, these black females may end up as dissatisfied with their weight and as obsessed with dieting and being thin as their white counterparts. Worse yet, more black females may be becoming anorexic. For example, among many upwardly mobile black Americans, a woman with a heavy body and large hips is considered more "lower class" looking than a skinny woman (Edut & Walker. …

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