Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black American Female Eating Dysfunctions and Body Image: A Bioecological Perspective

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Black American Female Eating Dysfunctions and Body Image: A Bioecological Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

Several sources suggest that Black American females experience health problems because of numerous interacting mechanisms. Genetic and biological factors (e.g., Cozier et al., 2014; Geronimus, Hicken, Keene, & Bound, 2006; Liu et al., 2013), behavioral and psychological influences (e.g., Boynton-Jarrett, Rosenberg, Palmer, Boggs, & Wise, 2012; Rosenberg, Kipping-Ruane, Boggs, & Palmer, 2013) and nutritional and diet quality (e.g., Boggs et al., 2011; Boggs, Rodriquez-Bernal, Rosenberg, & Palmer, 2013; Wise et al., 2011) represent risks for a host of negative outcomes (e.g., overweight and obesity, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, sarcoidosis)(Brewis, 2011; U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Given that several risk factors for poor health can be found at lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011), the finding that more than one-fourth of Black Americans (27.2%) live at the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013) elevates the likelihood of poverty-related health concerns for Black American women. However middle and upper class females do not go unscathed; racism, sexism and middle and upper social status coalesce to present particular problems. The internalization of the "Black Superwoman" image can promote achievement and success but foster social alienation and isolation (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2007; Harris-Lacewell, 2001; Romero, 2000; Woods-Giscombé, 2010). Demeaning messages transmitted from majority culture about appearance (e.g., skin tone, body size and shape), sexuality, and interpersonal styles heighten personal vulnerabilities (e.g., Donovan, 2011; Harrison, Reynolds-Dobbs, & Thomas, 2008; West, 2008). Consequently, Black American females across all economic levels experience correspondingly high rates of stress and stress-related symptoms (Wise, Palmer, & Rosenberg, 2013) which place them at risk for various diseases and disorders (e.g., Cozier, Wise, Palmer, & Rosenberg, 2009). These concerns and exposure to stereotypes are associated with susceptibility to body dissatisfaction; and body dissatisfaction is a central risk factor for clinical eating disorders. However research results are contradictory and inconsistent regarding the prevalence of eating disorders and factors identified as risks. Are eating disorders and body dissatisfaction rare among Black American females? If so, why? It seems quite important that researchers and theorists address these issues. An understanding of how race/ethnic self-identification relates to eating behavior can contribute generally to understanding how eating disorders are differentially acquired, and specifically to the knowledge base that can address eating dysfunctions and broadly consider interrelationships between Black females and their environments.

This paper discusses eating dysfunctions and body image for Black American females that have been published at different stages in the eating disorders literature. Initial empirical inquiries, publications at a second level and more recent research efforts are reviewed and new directions are presented. A discussion of conceptual and methodological issues specific to each level of previous research is provided. This paper is divided into three sections. The first section discusses the introduction of Black American females into the eating dysfunction and body image literature in an initial stratum of research. In the next section, an overview of research is provided that emerged from the first stratum and contributed to a second stratum that primarily examines race/ethnic differences in the relation between body image and disordered eating. In the third section, the status of more contemporary research is presented and discussed with an emphasis on a bioecological framework in the development of a systematic research process. A final section presents topics that deserve consideration in future research investigations. …

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