COLUMBIA, MO. -- Many women today are dissatisfied with their weight, body shape and size, and often strive to be unrealistically thin. A University of Missouri graduate student has found that black women actually differ from white women in their perceptions of the ideal body shape and size.
Rashanta Bledman, a doctoral student in the department of educational, school and counseling psychologyin MU’s College of Education, examined the cultural ideals of body type for black women, changing the focus from weight and thinness to shape in order to better understand black women’s perceptions of attractiveness. Previously, most research has focused primarily on middle to upper class white women and excludes African-American women.
“Historically, the ideal for women is to be thin,” Bledman said. “However, I noticed that within certain communities, thinness was not the most desired shape for women.”
Bledman surveyed 79 African-American women using a questionnaire designed to measure concerns about body image, weight, shape and satisfaction. Her goal was to find out how satisfied African-American women are with their bodies, what the ideal shape is for black women, and whether there is a discrepancy between the ideal and the actual shapes of these women.
The study found that black women are satisfied in general with their bodies but still have certain areas they would like to improve, specifically their mid and lower torsos. Additionally, Bledman found that shape is more important than weight in the African-American community, as most participants believed the most attractive body shape for them was slightly overweight compared to Body Mass Index (BMI) standards.
“Many women of color that I talked to wanted to look a certain way that is difficult to obtain,” Bledman said. “Within their communities, having a curvy body type is preferable to being really thin or really heavy.”
Bledman won the American Psychological Association Graduate Student Award for her research. The award, given to a black woman graduate student in psychology, is determined by the student’s creativity, innovation and the degree to which their research furthers understanding of the role of gender in black women’s lives.
“The award validates my passion for helping women of color,” Bledman said. “I’m happy that the APA feels that my research is important enough to share with others.”