Beauty Images Do Affect Black Women

Images of 'Ideal' Black Women Can Shatter Body Image

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 26, 2003 -- Black women may be more affected by the portrayal of beauty in the media than previously thought. A new study shows that while black women may shrug off beautiful images of white women, seeing "ideal" images of other black women may deal a serious blow to their body image.

The study, which will appear in the March 2004 issue of the Journal of Black Studies, takes an in-depth look at how idealized images in the media affect Black women's body image.

Researchers divided their research into two studies. Since white models dominate health and beauty ads in America, researchers first examined how those images affect black women's self-esteem.

Forty-eight black women, ages 18 to 22, participated in the study. They answered questions relating to body image, and about what their mood was before (and again after) the study. Researchers also asked volunteers to read and evaluate five articles for an upcoming popular women's magazine and critique 18 advertisements typically seen in mainstream media.

The second study showed 110 black, female college students ads with beautiful black women and beautiful white women. Researchers compared the women's body esteem before and after the study.

The Big Myth -- Dismissed

Two big findings surfaced. The first study showed that most of the volunteers didn't identify with the "idealized" beauty of the white models.

And the second showed that while black women do not judge their self-worth on beautiful images of white women in ads, seeing images of black models made those who were dissatisfied with their bodies even more so -- dismissing the idea that black women are not affected by thin images of any beautiful women in media.

"My research shows that in the midst of exposure to images of 'idealized' Caucasian women, black women are not affected by ideals of thin bodies," researcher Cynthia Frisby, assistant professor of journalism at University of Missouri-Columbia, tells WebMD.

"However, perhaps when the image or model hits closer to home and meets us where [black women] are most insecure, that image impacts our self-esteem, or at least affects low self-esteem women. So the major point is, race matters. The ethnicity of the model makes a difference."


Previous research shows that images of stereotypically thin, attractive women can cause white women to practice unhealthy behaviors and become extremely unhappy with the way they look. On the other hand, black women are supposedly less concerned with weight; however, this study shows this may not be completely true.

Frisby says more research should be done on the topic. "Studies such as these should be undertaken in order to help advertisers develop and create effective and accountable advertising messages as well as advance the field of mass communication by providing theoretical insights and explanations for issues related to the media and racial and ethnic concerns."

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on August 26, 2003


SOURCES: Journal of Black Studies, March 2004. News Release, University of Missouri-Columbia.
© 2003 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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