Do Latinas and African American Girls Have Better Body Image?
Dr. Robyn Silverman
A new localized study caught my eye this morning because it talked about a discrepancy in the way Latinas viewed their bodies in comparison to the way that mainstream American women view their bodies. In particular, the researchers suggested that the Latinas they followed wanted to lose weight due to health reasons rather than for looks. So do Latinas have a more positive body image? What about African American girls and women?
While it’s been suggested for quite some time that Latinas and African American women have a more positive body image than their Caucasian counterparts, the sample size of this study was quite small (35 Mexican American immigrants) so more research to add more confidence to the researchers conclusion are necessary. The fact that these women were born and raised in another country certainly makes it much more likely that they would have a better body image than girls and women in American who are constantly exposed to media that makes them feel inferior and “less than.”
Studies don’t always agree on the topic. Of course, while middle to upper class European-American families tend to be the focus of most empirical research on body image, all social classes and ethnic groups are becoming increasingly affected as shown in the research produced in the last 20 years.
What if the Latinas were born in the United States? Body image plummets. The American Association of University Women found that Latinas between the ages of nine and fifteen actually maintained a negative body image and those who were “happy” with themselves dropped by 38% as they increased in age. More recent studies explain that Latinas born in the United States, and thus exposed to American culture, are more likely to prefer a smaller size and express the same concerns about their body shape and weight as European-American females. These girls believe that they are too fat and should strive for a thinner body. In fact, Latinas were recently reported to have the lowest levels of body satisfaction than any other girls in the United States (Robinson). Even the youngest children are compromised.
While there have been hints of body image problems among Asian-American and African-American adolescent girls, lack of ethnically diverse research has caused such concerns to remain overlooked. In the recent past, studies have shown that the leanest 25% of Asian-American girls were significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies than European-American girls. In addition, although it has been shown in earlier studies that African-American girls are most secure with their bodies as a result of the cultural tolerance among African Americans for larger women, and lower incidence of weight-related discrimination than their European-American counterparts, African-American girls are not immune to American weight issues. It has been recently noted that there are no racial differences between black and white girls in their efforts to lose weight or to practice chronic dieting (i.e. Schreiber)
Not surprisingly, concerns have been voiced about young African-American girls’ recent exposure to very thin African American media models and actors and their possible negative influences on body perceptions and attitudes. Interestingly, in the last five years there have been a significant amount of weight loss concerns among prominent African American celebrities such as talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey, and others, found that Black female stars in the film, music and fashion industry are now just as thin as their European-American counterparts. Girls just don’t feel that they are “enough.”
Such unachievable ideals have been on the rise in European-American culture as illustrated by the models featured in many well-read magazines, on the internet, and on television during the last several decades and this trend has been blamed for America’s weight obsession. However, thinner, more diverse media personalities are fairly new to the African American population and culture and are likely raising weight awareness in more diverse communities.
We’ll talk more about this in my upcoming book which will be out in 2010. Would you like to conttribute a story to it? Please do!