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Race and Concepts of Women's Body Size

The following discussion of differing concepts of women's ideal
body size among women of different races took place on WMST-L in
November 2004.  For additional WMST-L files available on the Web,
see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 14:44:30 -0500
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Race and Body Size Research
Friends -

I have a student trying to find literature on the proposition that white
Americans and African Americans, and possibly members of other American
ethnic groups as well, have different cultural views about women's ideal
body size and shape.  Admittedly, she is not the strongest researcher among
my many students, but I also have not been able to help her find literature
that I am certain exists because I think I have seen it referenced.
Particularly, I am certain that I once saw a study that used a scale of ten
line-drawings of female figures, from emaciated to obese, and asked white
and black men to pick the figure closest to ideal.  The gist was that while
men of both races did not pick the extreme ends of the scale very
frequently, black men on average picked figures slightly larger than those
picked by white men.  If I had a reference to this study, however, I seem to
have misplaced it.  Can anyone help me with this or other references?

The student so far has the following:  Becky Thompson, "A Way Outa No Way";
Sheila Parker, et. al. "Body Image and Weight Concerns among
African-American and White Adolescent Females"; N. Sault, ed.  Many Mirrors:
Body Image and Social relations.  Also, several generalized works on size,
e.g. M. Millman Such a Pretty Face.

Further help will be greatly appreciated.  Please respond privately off the
list, unless others also want the references.  Thanks!

  -- Gina <roboler  AT  ursinus.edu>
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 01:48:47 +0530
From: Naomi Graetz <graetz AT BGUMAIL.BGU.AC.IL>
Subject: Re: Race and Body Size Research
Regina: I have this article in my computer from around 1997: "Racial
Differences in Women's Desires to Be Thin" by Andrea D. Powell and
Arnold S. Kahn. I don't know from what journal; perhaps it was an
on-line source. If your student cannot find the article, I can send
her an attachment. There is a bibiliography as well. I am interested
in the topic, so would appreciate other sources as well. Naomi

Naomi Graetz
Ben Gurion University of the Negev
graetz  AT  bgumail.bgu.ac.il
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 15:39:00 -0500
From: "Chrisler, Joan C." <jcchr AT CONNCOLL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Race and Body Size Research
There are a lot of studies that used that methodology, not only in the
US, but in other countries.  Your student should search the PsycInfo

Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 15:46:09 -0500
From: Arnie Kahn <kahnas AT JMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Race and Body Size Research
  The article referred to is

  Powell, A. D., & Kahn, A. S. (1995).  Racial
  differences in women's desires to be thin.  The
  International Journal of Eating Disorders, 17,

  There are lots of articles on this topic, as Joan


Arnie Kahn
Psychology MSC 7401
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 14:58:04 -1000
From: Nancie Caraway <nancie AT HAWAII.EDU>
Subject: Re: Race and Body Size Research
Race & Body Size:

Direct your student to a cutting-edge recent feminist cultural production
"The Good Body" by performance artist Eve Ensler.  Playing in New York now.

For a free copy of Ensler's audio recording & "Guide to Your Good Body" -
ctc Katherine Sungarian, Random House Publishing, NY, NY  email:
ksungarian  AT  randomhouse.com

Nancie Caraway, Ph.D
Director-Women's Human Rights Project
Globalization Research Center
University of Hawai'i-Manoa
1859 East-West Road, TP 1, Suite 121
Honolulu,  Hi. 96822
email: nancie  AT  hawaii.edu
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 09:39:19 -0500
From: Casey Keene <ck AT PCADV.ORG>
Subject: Re: Race and Body Size Research
Not sure if this resource has been shared yet:

"Racial Identity and the Development of Body Image Issues among
African American Adolescent Girls"
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2004 15:01:05 -0500
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Race and Body Size Research
Friends -

Here is what I got in response to my query on this subject:

I received a message, originally from you, requesting sources on ethnic
differences in body image. Since this is my area of research I thought I
would make a few suggestions.

There have been many studies (mostly published between the early 80's and
mid-90's) on this subject. There have also been numerous book chapters and a
meta-analysis. I am about to submit a meta- analysis on this topic as well.
It would be difficult to determine precisely which study you described in
your e-mail but my guess is it was Rosen et al ('91) published in Bulletin
of the Psychonomic Society.  At any rate, the meta-analysis by Wildes et al
2001(published in Clinical Psych Review) has a nearly complete list of the
studies published in this area. One of the more recent book chapters you
might want to consider is African-American body images (ch. 27) in Body
Image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice  Cash and
Pruzinsky 2002.

I hope this helps!

      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Some years ago--somewhere in the mid to late 90's--I read an excellent essay
in SIGNS--on this topic in relation to high school students at a given
school.  It was about differences revealed in interveiews of black and white
female students.  White girls were dieting extensively, attempting to fit a
certain thin stereotype and had poor self-images, whereas Black girls were
much more comfortable about themselves, their bodies, and heavier body
weight, and had stronger self-images. I can no longer remember the author or
the title, but the title was something about teacher's pets, I think.

      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I suggest Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight and a collection (not sure of the
author) called Shadow on a Tight Rope.  These are two critical looks at the
cultural politics of size, and they would probably fit into the more general
category for your student.  Both look at cultural difference and size, and
both take up terms like the medically charged "obese" and "emaciated."

      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Hi. This message is from Alison Stein of the younger women's task force
(National council of women's organizations). They have been active in
working on body image. You can also check out their website

(www.womensorganizations.org) for more info...

"she should try "A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: American Women Speak Out on
Eating Problems" which has essays by women of all different races and
ethnicities about body image and eating disorders."

      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

there might be some stuff (e.g., susan bordo's "reading the slender body" in
body/politics (jacobus, keler, shuttleworth, eds.).  also she might look at
brumberg's the body project.  elisa sobo has written about this topic as
well...and wiles' "i'm not fat, i'm pregnant..." in women and health:
feminist erspectives (wilkinson and itzinger, eds) might be helpful...these
are just a couple that i've used in classes and that pop off the top of my
head...i'll keep thinking though.

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