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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The current study examined body image concerns among African American women. In recent years, there has been an attempt to include ethnic minority samples in body image studies e.

A total of 31 African American women participated in one of five focus groups on the campus of a large Southwestern University to examine beauty and body image. Data were analyzed using a thematic approach and several themes were identified. The majority of themes pertained to issues related to hair, skin tone, body type, and message sources. Findings of the current study suggest a reconceptualization of body image for African American women where relevant characteristics such as hair and skin tone are given more priority over traditional body image concerns often associated with European American women.

According to Black feminist theory, the devaluation of US Black women is rooted the institution of American slavery. During the slave era negative, controlling images of Black women emerged hooks, ; Collins ; ; Mama, The U. Features more akin to the African esthetic are deemed ugly, undesirable and less feminine.

The notion that Black women are less attractive is a message that is transmitted daily and from multiple external forces or social institutions e. Furthermore, Falconer and Neville found that African American women with bigger body sizes were more likely to be satisfied with specific body areas.

Fewer studies report negative body satisfaction among African American women e. For example, Rogers, Wood, and Petrie found the more African American college women were exposed to social messages about thinness, the greater likelihood that they would internalize these ideas and experience body image concerns.

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Although beauty and body image are related, beauty is a broader term because it encompasses body image. Issues related to body image may arise because one is constantly striving towards a beauty ideal. It is often characterized by evaluation and investment. A majority of body image research centers on the evaluative aspect of body parts and is often referred to as body image dissatisfaction.

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For the purposes of this paper, we will discuss issues related to both evaluation and investment. Although most of the literature is dedicated to evaluations related to body shape, there has been less emphasis on other aspects of the body image such as skin and hair that may be more salient for African American women. Inconsistent findings within both comparative and within group research may be linked to the limited way that body image is defined and the types of measures used to assess body image.

There is evidence to support the idea that expression of body image satisfaction and beauty may manifest differently in African American women. Pumariega, Gustavson, Gustavson, Stone Motes and Ayers found that Black women were more likely to engage in skin bleaching, excessive hair care, and the willingness to endure financial debt related to beauty.

It is possible that issues related to body satisfaction and beauty for Black women are tied to how they feel about their hair.

They may have to contend with ideals of beauty that favor European ideals Craig, As a result, African American women spend a ificant amount time and finances on their hair. There also may be social costs for women who choose to wear their hair natural. The current study will set out to examine if and to what extent themes related to hair emerge when participants are asked generally about issues related to beauty for African American women.

Skin tone is another facet of beauty and body image that may have ificant implications for African American women. Skin tone may be an important factor to consider when discussing beauty and body image for African American women. In addition to skin color, other key factors related to the body image of Black women include hair, facial features and body size Hall, If the body image literature is to adequately assess this construct with African American women, our definitions of body image must be expanded to include hair and skin tone.

Because quantitative measures of body image tend to be normed on middle-class White women and therefore limited in their scope, Lovejoy called for an increase in qualitative studies as a means to tap into the social and cultural underpinnings of body image.

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Although Hall proposed that facial features, skin tone, body size, and hair may all be pertinent to the body image and beauty of African American women, we could not locate a psychological study that comprehensively and systematically documented the content, source, and frequency of messages related to body image and beauty. Thus the purpose of the current study is threefold. Second, we hoped to identify the frequency of specific beauty and body image themes. Third, we sought to identify the sources of the messages they receive and internalize in regards to their body image.

We employed focus group methodology to allow for the maximal flow of ideas among study participants. Specifically, we set out to answer the following research questions:. To what extent do African American women internalize messages about beauty and body image?

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A total of 31 female African-American students enrolled in a large Southwestern university Austin the United States participated in one of five focus groups to discuss issues pertaining to African American beauty and body image. Participant ages ranged from 19 to 25 years, with a mean dating Participants were composed of one first year student, three second year students, nine third year students, eleven fourth year students, and seven graduate students.

The seven graduate students participated in a separate group. In terms of socioeconomic status, nine individuals identified as working class, twelve as middle class, nine as upper middle class, and one as upper class. The focus group questions were developed with the goal of identifying the content and frequency of themes that naturally arise when asking African American women about beauty.

Specifically, we created the focus group questions to help answer our four research questions. Although we conducted a literature review of beauty and body image issues pertaining to Texas American women, we had no empirical data about the man to which different aspects of beauty and body image would emerge.

Therefore, woman wanted to create questions that would initially not be leading them to answer with any particular facet of beauty. Can you describe a few of your thoughts? For example, peers, ificant others or more broadly your community. The questions were vetted by one expert in the field of African American psychology and another expert in the field of beauty and body image.

Participants were recruited through snowball sampling and word of mouth. They were told that they would receive dinner for participating. Participants read and ed an white consent form and completed a demographics questionnaire. The reason for the use of focus groups was the goal of reaching saturation in the data. Specifically, we wanted to conduct an ample of focus groups to ensure that we exhaust the possible themes that may emerge from asking our focus group questions.

Thematic analysis provides a method for reporting patterns in data with rich detail and interpreting various aspects of the research topic. Four members of the research team, who had been instructed in thematic analysis, analyzed the transcripts. This analysis entailed a repeated reading of the transcripts and generating initial codes. These initial codes were then collated into potential themes, which were reviewed in relation to one another and the overall data set. For each domain, themes along with frequency data are presented in Table 1.

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The domains identified present answers to the first three research questions. The fourth research question pertaining to internalization of messages is addressed within the sources domain as well as throughout the subthemes presented in this section. The overall importance of hair to general body-image was highlighted repeatedly in the focus groups as being of great importance to Black women. And not like straight as in texture but just like right. Participants noted a tremendous amount of sacrifice related to their own hair.

Beauty and body image concerns among african american college women

The respondent quoted below describes her experience when a White secretary at her current job microaggressed against her. Are you wearing it down?

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And I had to explain the process of extensions. Does it curl up like that? A specific type of microaggression that often occurs is that women of color feel that their hair can express, or can be seen as expressing, their political ideals, particularly in terms of wearing their hair natural or not:.

While hair can be an expression of individual style, it can also be used as a way of stereotyping Black women into a few, very limited, roles. The respondent quoted above mentioned that she had not gone natural to express her political ideals, as was assumed by many, but rather so that she could have the money to eat. While African American women report great sacrifice and racial microagressions, many have developed a level of pride regarding Black hair.

The term versatility is used to refer to the joy that Black women find in being able to change their hair and experiment with different types of style. Like if you have a creative person, you know, like, you want to experiment do different stuff.

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The major theme that was identified related to this domain is that of validation or invalidation by others. One participant noted:. We had very pretty dark skinned girls at my school but the light skinned girls always won…it was just because they were pretty or just because they looked more like the White people. Black women reported that an overwhelming preference for light skin still persists and deeply affects the way that they think about themselves and others:.

I have aunts and uncles that referred to me as the little Black one or darkie and stuff like that because I was darker than others…I remember when I was younger I went to school and we played this game where we would get married during play time. This quote echoes the breadth and depth of the invalidation that and colorism experienced by some Black women and expressed in the focus groups. Most explained that colorism was present in both Black and White contexts and impacted different areas of their lives. Color consciousness within families, mate selection, desire for lighter skinned children, and perceived ability to achieve were all discussed as issues related to skin color preference.

It sucks, but you know we gotta be successful. The distinction between body types that are desired in a predominantly Black community, as opposed to primarily White context, provide insight into the need for a different operationalization of body image for research with Black women.

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Hypersexualization refers to the ways in which Black women feel that they are sexualized, regardless of their intentions, due to the way others perceive their body. Answering research question three, many participants discussed the sources of beauty and body image messages heard.

Messages from family tend to surround the importance of the way others see you. My mom always said people perceive you a certain way even…before you open your mouth, just by the way you look.

As can be seen in the above quote, the discussion of messages about appearance are a part of a conversation about what it means to be Black woman in a racist society. The women in our focus groups reported that their families concern for appearance was directly related to how important appearance is in terms of achievement. Feelings about messages about the media were generally ambivalent among our respondents.

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I never identified or even desired to be one of those video girls but what I did get from [them] was that guys like [them]. All women experience their own bodies the personal within a political context, and this may be particularly true for Black women, whose bodies are perceived in specific ways due to socially constructed ideas about the intersection of their race and gender.