From the New York Times opinion page:
Why a Black Girl Might Want to Shrink
We have to live in a world that tells us our bodies are all wrong.
With the deluge of imagery that associates beauty with whiteness, girls of color are primed not only to developing eating disorders, but also to see these disorders go untreated.
By Mikki Kendall
Ms. Kendall is the author of “Hood Feminism”
Feb. 21, 2020
When I was in high school, I had an eating disorder, and nobody noticed.
Sure, I’d always been skinny, so perhaps my weight loss was undetectable at first.
I just wanted to mention upfront that I’m naturally skinny.
… But moreover: I was black. The societal narratives that position the curviness of black girls’ bodies as a warning sign of future obesity mean that as young women, we’re often congratulated for watching our weight when our food restriction might actually be the symptom of a real mental health problem.
That’s why the lingering cultural myth that eating disorders are the province of white women isn’t just misleading: It also keeps us from addressing the uniquely insidious factors that can cause black women to hate their bodies.
For women who are developing bodies that will most likely never assimilate into the mythical monochrome of Middle America, there’s very little validation available in the media or anywhere else.
Reading all these NYT opeds by black women about how there’s very little validation available in the media for black women, I’m reminded of anorexia, a psychological disorder where women stare in the mirror at their 80 pound bodies and see only fatness. Similarly, a lot of black women are convinced that the media are out to promote whiteness.
Add the deluge of imagery that associates beauty with whiteness, and girls of color are primed not only to developing eating disorders, but also to see these disorders go untreated.
Although conventional wisdom says most eating disorders develop at the onset of puberty, for black girls I think the seeds are actually laid much earlier.
By the time I was 8 years old, I remember noticing that television shows rarely included girls that looked like me — and if they did, they were never the ones who were heroes or love interests. Those roles were largely reserved for white girls. Even the black actresses who were depicted as happy, successful and loved tended to be lighter-skinned with straighter hair and narrow noses — something that’s still largely true today.
Like many other black girls, I learned early that when it comes to white-centric, unreasonable standards of beauty, I didn’t measure up. …
When you are constantly bombarded with messages that tell you again and again that your body is simply wrong, it can make you desperate to control and change it.
… We live in a country that loves the trappings of black culture on white bodies but not on the bodies of those who created these looks. When the singer Ciara’s faux locs are criticized, but the same hairstyle is received as edgy and inventive when one of the Kardashians sports it, what message is being sent to young girls of color?
Similarly, fatphobia is an issue for everyone, but race impacts who is most likely to be supported by the general public when rightly challenging it. Black women notice when the white main character in the Hulu series “Shrill” is celebrated as an icon of body positivity, while every appearance by the artist Lizzo is accompanied by relentless attacks that focus on her size and shape.
It’s easy to understand why any black woman might think — as I once did — that the problem could be solved by disappearing.
There are no statistics in this oped. The only ones I’ve found are in line with what the world looks like:
Findings from this study are consistent with previous research that shows that AN [anorexia nervosa] is uncommon among African Americans.
Bulimia is less uncommon in black women and binge-eating is common.
Basically, anorexia is most common among upper middle class white girls.