When Black Girls Don't Eat: Examining the Silence Surrounding Our Eating Disorders

When someone mentions ‘eating disorder’, what comes to mind? Stick-thin, hollow-cheeked white girls...


When someone mentions ‘eating disorder’, what comes to mind? Stick-thin, hollow-cheeked white girls with purple bags under their eyes is the typical image people conjure in their minds. It dominates the media: images of Hollywood starlets wearing their clothes large and baggy in an attempt to hide their bodies.

In this dominant image is the erasure of the black and brown women who also face various eating disorders, erasure of the pain these women face, and erasure of the reality that eating disorders are not just a white woman’s disease.

Let us deconstruct this image by first examining the dominant Western beauty standard. White women are largely seen as elegant, dainty, and feminine while black women have been stereotyped into being gauche, masculine, and strong. Because of the “strong, independent black woman” trope, many people, including professionals, find it difficult to believe that black women experience vulnerability and insecurity. Instead of inquiring about our pain – physical, emotional, or a combination of the two – we are praised for our “strength” and our issues go untold, or even worse, ignored.



My own battle with anorexia began the summer after my freshman year of college. I had gained twelve pounds in the span between high school graduation and the end of freshman year. Suddenly people were pointing out that my stomach poked out a little, that my jeans were looking a bit stressed. I was suddenly self-conscious of how my thighs rubbed together when I walked. Comments turned into jokes and teasing from the people closest to me. Family members felt it was their responsibility to inform me of the dangers of gaining weight. I had always been small, but this change coupled with unwanted comments left me feeling unattractive. Tired of the negativity, I made a decision: I wasn’t going to eat. I wanted a flat stomach and thighs that didn’t rub together. I knew my behavior was unhealthy, but I didn’t care.

Through my interactions with countless black women on social media, the prevalence of eating disorders is astounding. One woman who confided in me anonymously summed up the struggle of black women with eating disorders perfectly, “I am in this weird state as a woman of color where being thick is cute, but I hate my body.” Indeed, this woman captures the dichotomy of the impact of black culture valuing thicker women as long as they aren’t too thick, and the opposing clash of Western beauty standards dictating that “thin is in.” This dichotomy often finds black women unable to fit into either of these socially constructed molds. The evidence is overwhelming: the black women featured on mainstream magazines are often thin or just slender enough to not draw attention to their assets.

Black women with eating disorders exist, and we need to create safe spaces where they can share and heal from their experiences without judgment. I was lucky enough to have people who supported me during and after my ordeal as I navigated though what it meant to love my body, but many women suffer through their experiences in silence as victims of their perceived strength. In order to protect our girls and young women, body positivity and an emphasis on how vulnerability is not weakness is needed.


Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here (@tiny_kinsey)

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