Date of Award
Campus Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Michelle K. Williams
Black American women are exposed to mainstream beauty standards, which are communicated through various mediums including but not limited to friends, family, peers, intimate relationships, and media outlets such as television, magazines, and movies. This exposure may have implications for Black women's body image and attractiveness ideals, given the history of slavery, racism and colorism in the U.S. American beauty standards are based on idealized depictions of White women's physical features (e.g., fair skin, long straight hair, thin lips, small nose) which can be difficult and almost impossible to attain for many Black women. Scholars have highlighted the need for attention to these aspects of beauty that extend beyond body type and shape in research pertaining to Black women's body image. Anecdotal evidence and qualitative research has documented that mainstream beauty standards have implications for Black women's attractiveness ideals and personal body image, but with limited systematic research. Mainstream beauty standards are represented through White models, as well as the majority of Black women portrayed in the media who most often possess Eurocentric features. Theoretical approaches recognizing intersections of racism and sexism in Black women's experiences are needed to better understand impacts of mainstream beauty standards and potential protective factors.
The current research is guided by an integration of ideas from ecological and situated cognition models viewed through the interdisciplinary lens of Black feminist theory. The study proposes this theoretical framework in attempt to more fully understand Black American women's body image experiences at the intersection of race and gender. Using an online survey methodology, with a quantitative experimental component, the study examined whether higher levels of Black feminist consciousness was associated with: (a) higher self-esteem, (b) higher body satisfaction, (c) and lower discrepancy between ideal body versus actual body among a sample of Black American women (N=211). The study also examined whether Black feminist consciousness protected self-perceived attractiveness, mood, and mental performance ability in the face of exposure to attractive "Eurocentric appearing" Black models. Findings indicate that Black feminist consciousness significantly predicted body satisfaction and self-ideal discrepancy above and beyond ethnic identity for women in the current sample. Additionally, lighter skin was associated with higher self-attractiveness ratings, while frequency of wearing hair weaves was associated with lower body satisfaction. Exposure to "Eurocentric appearing" Black models did not however impact outcomes of interest and Black feminist consciousness did not moderate the relationship between study condition and outcomes.
Walker, Speshal T., "Black Beauty, White Standards: Impacts on Black Women and Resources for Resistance and Resilience" (2014). Graduate Doctoral Dissertations. 147.