It’s Not Just a White Disease: Black Women and Eating Disorders

The deadly game of gender body image comparison wreaks havoc on our social, emotional and psychological health.  When coupled with sadistic messages of thinness from commercial media and pharmaceutical companies that push diet and supplemental pills, it ultimately becomes a whirlwind of frustration, destruction and loss.

Eating disorders are often generally depicted as stories only associated with Caucasian women.  When topics of anorexia nervosa and or bulimia arise, faces of skinny, depressed looking white teens plaster the cover pages of magazines, websites, and pamphlets used to educate society.  Blocked out are the faces of the other women of color who too suffer from these same toxic illnesses.

Dying to be pretty or to control or to escape through some form of extreme food regulation is not just a white, middle-class, unhealthy, social, behavior.  In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “eating disorders do not discriminate. [T]he prevalence of eating disorders is similar among Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States.”  In other words, these diseases affect all women equally across ethnicities.  What is not so common, however, is the more in-depth discussion in cultures that might not readily believe that these practices exist and how to go about being properly treated once acknowledged.

Specifically among African American women, (and the population as a whole), eating disorders are generally less spoken of and rarely dealt with in a timely or efficient manner.  Ideas and images that show Black women as being characteristically overweight and consuming twice as much as their equals help to generate particular attitudes within the community that foster a sense of disbelief in these harmful actions. Together with perceptions of what constitute a real fine sista—curvy hips and plenty of booty to match, also play a major role.

Yet despite these factors, Black women, as they continue to cope through their internal struggles, enter geographical spaces that have been prescribed with certain fixed aesthetic features, and remain targets of socially instituted and culturally derisive discrimination, remain susceptible to eating disorders…

“…women from racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States face substantially more stress...eating disorders were frequently a response to environmental stress (i.e. abuse, racism, poverty, and [acculturation]). Therefore, given the multiple traumas that women of color are exposed to, they may, in fact, be more vulnerable...” (NEDA)

Eating Disorders are harmful in every way imaginable and do not destroy the lives of only a few, but of many.  It is important that we as Black women begin speaking more extensively on issues such as these and seeking the treatment we need and deserve.  We do not have to suffer in isolation.  We deserve to be equally nurtured and recognized as victims of this illness as our white counterparts.

For more resources check out:
Eating Disorders Anonymous
Overeaters Anonymous
Families Empowered and Supporting of Eating Disorders (FEAST)
Finding Balance

Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University.  Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.
She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at:

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