Black Women Ignore Many of Media's Beauty Ideals

Who's that girl? If she's black, she's got more curves, study shows


| June 17, 2004


White female college students at the University of Michigan are more likely than black female students to feel self-conscious about their bodies or exhibit signs of bulimia after watching a popular television show full of characters perceived as sexy, like Beverly Hills 90210, Frasier, Friends, Martin, or Sister, Sister. That's because our popular culture encourages white women to trim down and fit into that skimpy skirt, while applauding more voluptuous black women.

The study, 'Who's That Girl: Television's Role In The Body Image Development Of Young White And Black Women' -- conducted by the University of Michigan and published in the current issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly -- found that 'black women shrugged off the ideal of the thin, pretty white woman as 'unattainable for themselves and as unimportant to others in the black community.'' Granted, most female beauties gallivanting across the television screen are white, and why would blacks try to identify with them in the first place? 'Basically, black women just don't feel bad in the same way white women do by watching television,' says L. Monique Ward, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of four authors of the study.

But the difference also lies in how beauty is perceived by different racial groups. For instance, 77 percent of black women are overweight in America, compared to 57 percent of white women, according to a report released earlier this year by the American Heart Association. 'Black women are a lot more confident about their bodies, even if they are overweight,' says Cynthia Frisby, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, who conducted a similar study in March. 'Much of it is cultural, with black men preferring women with bigger hips and bigger butts.' The majority of black women in Frisby's study had more curvaceous bodies, like that of singer Beyonce Knowles.
-- Jacob Wheeler

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