Forbidden Fruit: Black Women and Eating Disorders

(“Black Ana on Scale-1969” by Tiffany Gholar, Flickr, Creative Commons)
(“Black Ana on Scale-1969” by Tiffany Gholar, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Typically, when we think about those that suffer from eating disorders the image of young, privileged, white females clouds our minds. This stereotype prevails due to the vast amount of literature and media that reflects Western mainstream thin ideals that are often portrayed by White women. Narratives of how young women of color are supposedly not affected by White beauty ideals and the lack of diversity on informational resources and eating disorder treatment facility web pages help paint the picture that eating disorders for black and brown women simply do not exist.

Many assume that women of color, specifically Black women are immune to developing eating disorders which can lead to these women being overlooked by friends and family and/or misdiagnosed by physicians. Ultimately, this means not getting the help they need, which increases their mortality and morbidity rates.

Biases within the Black community also contribute to the lack of awareness. With the high rate of obesity in the Black community, worried Black parents often communicate with their daughters about the importance of watching their weight, which unfortunately can lead to an obsession with weight for a young Black girl. However, a common assumption is that black women are more accepting of having a larger body type, especially with the rise of hit songs like Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda.

But what happens when a young Black woman does not fit this voluptuous mold?

Body dissatisfaction and using eating as a coping mechanism can develop in response to not fitting into this mold. Women of color that are highly acculturated, or have adopted the beliefs and values of Western culture, have been found to have a greater risk of developing an eating disorder.

For Black women on a predominately White campus, identifying with White standards of beauty may lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.

Black women are often underrepresented in eating disorder research and often times the signs and symptoms of eating disorders are unknown within the Black community. So, it may seem like Black women affected by the disease aren’t a significant problem when compared to White women. However, Black women have been found to suffer just as much from Binge Eating Disorder as White and Latina women.

Eating disorders are so often suffered in secrecy, so this February while observing National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, let’s keep in mind that one of the biggest kept secrets of this disease is that it does not discriminate against anyone.

If you or someone you know struggles with food and/or body image concerns be sure to check out Nutrition Services, Campus Health and/or CAPS.

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