Originally posted on BLACKOLOGY101:
Black women face numerous challenges in U.S. society that cause distress and have been linked to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and body image issues. Beyond the universal stressors of everyday functioning, distress caused by insidious social forces such as racism, sexism, and economic injustice make the preservation of mental health a difficult if not impossible task for many Black women. Despite this grim reality, there are several areas in which Black women demonstrate positive mental health outcomes in comparison to women of other races or ethnic groups. Why do we rarely hear about the positive mental health outcomes of Black women in the United States?
A recent poll by the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation (2011), which included interviews with more than 800 Black women, resulted in a complex portrait of Black women’s lived experiences. Nearly three quarters of participants in the study worried about having enough money to pay their bills, half identified racism as a big problem in the United States, nearly half worried about being discriminated against, and one fifth reported often being treated with less respect than other people. At the same time, nearly three quarters of respondents stated that now is a good time to be a Black woman in America, 67% described themselves as having high self-esteem (compared with 43% of White women), and 85% reported being satisfied with their own lives.
A recent focus on the obesity epidemic in the U.S. has highlighted Black women’s disproportionate rates of overweight and obesity. Although a legitimate health concern, media coverage often uses this statistic to further reinforce the notion of Black women as falling short of the European-based thin ideal. Yet despite the fact that Black women are typically heavier than their white counterparts, according to the WP poll they reported having appreciably higher levels of self-esteem. In fact, 66% of Black women considered by government standards to be overweight or obese reported having high self-esteem as compared to just 41 percent of average-sized or thin White women. This finding is in concert with previous studies in which Black women reported being more satisfied with their bodies even though they tended to be heavier than the White women. Such findings make a powerful statement about the resilience of Black women even when bombarded with messages about themselves as undesirable or less feminine. It also perhaps suggests that Black women adaptively tend not to internalize mainstream beauty and body weight ideals that will elude them.