Do Body Image Ideals Affect Black Women and White Women Similarly?

Young women sometimes compare themselves to female ideals displayed in the media. With the oversaturation of thin models and actresses, it is not hard to see why many young women associate their sense of self-worth with their bodies. Body image can contribute to many positive and negative psychological outcomes for young women. Those who are comfortable with their bodies tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and care less about others’ opinions of them. Women who are dissatisfied with their body images may find themselves trying to achieve an unrealistic ideal and consider themselves less than acceptable if they fall short. There have been numerous studies examining the impact on body image, body satisfaction, female ideals, and self-esteem among young women. However, few studies have looked at how black women’s identification with female role models affects their body satisfaction levels compared to white women’s body satisfaction.

To compare these subjective perceptions, Dara N. Greenwood of the Department of Psychology at Vassar College in New York recently led a study that evaluated 141 young women’s body consciousnesses. The women were black and white and were asked what female media personalities’ bodies they admired. They were then assessed for levels of body surveillance, body satisfaction, and self-esteem. Greenwood found that the white women chose thin female personalities more often than average over heavy women and tended to engage in higher levels of body surveillance than the black women. Greenwood also observed that the more extreme the difference between the women’s body types and their favorite personalities’ body types, the higher the level of body dissatisfaction and body surveillance, regardless of race. “This suggests that the perceived discrepancy is not driven by ‘objective’ body size but rather a subjective positioning of the self, relative to media ideals,” Greenwood said. Although this research was limited by sample size, the results demonstrate that young women’s self-worth, body shame, and body satisfaction are significantly influenced by social ideals, and this relationship should be explored further to help identify those at risk for negative body-image problems such as eating and food issues.

Greenwood, D. N., Dal Cin, S. (2012). Ethnicity and body consciousness: Black and white American women’s negotiation of media ideals and others’ approval. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029411

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Racine

    September 17th, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Maybe it’s just me, but I have always thought that black women have a much better and easier time with body image issues than white women do. I think that the black community tends to embrace women with curvier bodies a little more than the whote community in our country tends to, and therefore they have an easier time accepting the fact that they are real women with real bodies than white women do. I don’t mean to paint these women into one little box, but as a white female I have just noticed that my black friends do not have half the negative body image thoughts that us white women do. And we do all of this to ourselves! Whereas black women accept their imperfections a little more gracefully than we do, we tend to focus on everything that we perceive to be wrong and never focus on the things that we get right. It makes me sad when I think about just how many things I have probably missed out on for that very reason.

  • michael

    September 17th, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    I would think so..Black or White women are equally influenced by what they see in the media and tbh they are not being fair to themselves by comparing their body to someone they see on a billboard and feel bad about it and have lower self esteem.I mean that is just hurting yourself for no are not made what you are due to your body but due to your abilities and all the things in life.when did body type become so important?are they going to look at your body type or your resume for a job or something productive?

  • Anne

    September 17th, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    I think its all down to the individual.There’s no written rules to this.I know people both Black women and White women who are almost obsessive about their bodies and also those that are happy just the way they are.Maybe what does influence these things a bit and can tilt the scales is friends and family, especially mothers, because little girls grow up seeing their mothers and more often than not replicate what they see.

  • Vickie L

    September 18th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    When it all boils down, this is the fact that women are women no matter the color of their skin and we all feel the same kinds of societal pressures, even though this may vary a little from community to community.
    Women in general are bombarded every day with visual proof that we aren’t supermodels, and we are lambased for either having a few too many curves or not being willing to conform to the ideal body type.
    Personally I am tired of even spending so much of my time worrying about it, but deep down I am too afraid of what other people would say about me if I just let it all go and never once cared about how I looked again.

  • Lucy

    September 18th, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    While body image issues can haunt any woman now I feel it is just a wee bit more in White women.Nothing to do with the race but the reason is a majority of women that are idolized, be it celebrities,models or those in the showbiz are White.

    Racine makes a good point in the comment here.Black women have things a little easier than their White counterparts in my view too.Not to discount the issues they face with body issues but its a tiny little bit better than what White women have.

  • pete

    September 18th, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    “With the oversaturation of thin models and actresses, it is not hard to see why many young women associate their sense of self-worth with their bodies.”

    Recipe for disaster! If you do not value your own self for things beyond your body how do you expect others to? All of this body image and the negative thoughts due to comparison with models is not only giving young women issues with their body and self image but is also affecting men. They expect their woman to look like that slim model they saw in the magazine but perfection is only something that can be achieved in a controlled environment.

    I think this is nothing short of victimizing oneself and the sooner young women realize this the better it is for them.

  • Augusta

    September 18th, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Everyone out there, male or female, black or white, has their own set of body issues to deal with. Mine may be different than yours but that makes them no less important than what others could be experiencing. While I think that in many ways bla ck women do have very different issues, I see that as more of an issue that affects individuals differently and is really not experienced in the exact same way by anyone regardless of whether they come from the same cultural or ethnic background. There could of course be things within each group that differs in importance level, but that does not change the fact that all of us have worries and most of us at some point in time have been concerned with something regarding the way we look and how we appear to others in society.

  • Frances

    September 18th, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    I sure do hope that my girls will not choose their favorite public personality based on their looks but upon their intelligence.

    Sadly I think that this has somehow gotten lost.

  • Samantha Douglas

    September 19th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    Oh, I find this so disheartening that in today’s world, where women are supposedly on an equal playing field, that we still have these problems with judging ourselves against one another.

    When will we ever find the strength to just say, you know what? This is me, I like me, I am proud of my accomplishments and intelligence and those are the things that really matter.

  • kenny

    September 19th, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    body image ideals depend on a lot of things – like exposure to media, what the parents practice themselves and also peer pressure.but I do not think race would be a factor to this.

  • gregory

    September 19th, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    Most common reason why people in general and women in particular tend to give so much importance to their body and compare themselves to what they see is vanity.They want the attention and seek it through unhealthy means.I’m not saying wanting attention is bad in itself but the way you do it needs to be positive.

    Like if you try and build something or achieve something in whatever field you are then that is a positive way of going about it.But this is just a fad, a dangerous one at that and it is just destroying the young people today.

  • Megan

    September 20th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    I have noticed that black women seem to be far more confident about themselves and their looks and weight than white women are. Maybe they have something that we don’t when it comes to self acceptance and being able to see that reality is a whole lot prettier than just something that is always fake or airbrushed.

  • l0vely

    September 21st, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    as a black woman, i feel like black women have far more problems with body image. All black women are not curvy. the ones who arent sometimes feel insecure that they dont live up to the expectations that all women havecurvy bodies. also black women are expected to live up to the european standard of beauty. i.e small noses and straight hair.

  • Lady A

    December 8th, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    Sometimes I have to ponder do they purposely find so called “confident” women of color specifically black women when doing these studies? I am online and apart of a lot of groups, and being a black woman these groups are largely catered to black women. I see black women from large, medium, small and in between talking how they don’t like their bodies. I’ve seen a lot of large black women saying how they don’t like their bodies and how big they are, not talk about health but how they hate looking big. I’ve seen medium curvy black women talk about having too much hips and butt and wanting to give some of it away or get rid of it and look like singer “Ciara” who is very looked up to amongst black women, her Jada Pinkett,Mel B, Nicole Murphy, and Pilar Sanders Dion Sanders ex-wife. I see thinner black women complain about not having enough curves because they want to look like Kim Kardashian who isn’t even black and the eye candy models in music videos. The boat load of black celebrity women changing their features you all don’t see it? Blonde hair, slimmer noses etc? Come on? It’s so annoying about the misconception involving eating disorders and body image issues amongst black women because it’s an entirely different story of what the media is selling. It’s annoys me to the core, it’s like people ignore their eyes and reality and just go off whatever Dick Tom and Harry tells them. I’m a black woman, around black women most of the time I know what goes on.

  • Ada

    May 13th, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    cool blog

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.