Black Women Struggle with Body Image Too

March 14, 2012


By: Constance Collins ( In the black consciousness, there seems to be some behaviors or illnesses that are designated for white people. Though we know those are only stereotypes, they are often the brunt of jokes and comedic performances. Even though we may gloss over these things, and we may not take them too seriously, they can have some detrimental effects for black men and women especially those who don’t seek professional help when dealing with mental health woes because of the stigma attached to mental illness.  Unbeknownst to many, eating disorders stem from mental illness and they are a concern amongst black women, along with body dysmorphic disorder (which is defined as a type of mental illness wherein the affected person is concerned with body image, manifested as excessive concern about and preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical features). Nevertheless, in the media, the face of eating disorders and body insecurities belong to white women. Every other day there is another celebrity in the news who has been accused of getting plastic surgery, being anorexic, or starving herself to be thin. However, when black women are very thin, rarely does the term “eating disorder” come to mind. Maybe because there have been studies that suggest black women are more comfortable with their bodies, and do not strive to satisfy the European standards of what a perfect body looks like. But this information comes as a double edged sword. What about the black women who take desperate measures to become thin? Is there a space for those women to speak about their struggles without being judged for succumbing to “the white girl’s illness”? What about the thin black women who look in the mirror unhappy with themselves because they are not the voluptuous “ideal” of the black woman? What about the black women who do not have the round butts that we’re “supposed” to have and resort to butt implants or pads to enhance their figure? Or the black women and girls who hear the jokes that they need to eat more or are on drugs because they are so skinny? It’s time for us to have a conversation about black women and body acceptance. The false notions that all black women are totally comfortable with their body size whether they are overweight, average, or thin is too dismissive and it gives us the freedom to remain silent about the real issues some black women may face with maintaining a healthy body image and the self-destructive behaviors (whether it is eating unhealthily to gain weight or exercising excessively to lose weight) some may participate in to achieve their goals. By accepting that these are not just “white things”, we can make it easier for black women (and men!) to actually come to a realization that they have a problem and actually seek help. Let’s remove those stigmas and actually encourage those in our community to see therapists, doctors, and psychologists when necessary. We can still talk to our pastors and church leaders, but just remember, there is no shame in seeking a professional, because we are striving for healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy spirits. And shame should not be attached to that.

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