Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Psychology, Clinical-Community

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Miles L. Patterson, Ph.D.


Thompson, Vetta L. Sanders, Ph. D.


Gary Burger, Ph. D.

Susan Kashubeck-West, Ph. D.


Body image dissatisfaction is a pervasive problem, most notably among women, that is neither well understood nor well defined. Inconsistent and overly narrow definitions of body image make it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the degree and type of dissatisfaction across cultural and/or various ethnic groups. Thus far, research has largely focused on size, shape, and weight concerns, ignoring physical features that may be salient to women belonging to non-Caucasian ethnic groups. This study explored African-American (AA) preferences for weight, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and salient physical appearance attributes, as well as their identification with the ¿thin¿ ideal, racial identity salience, and physical racial identity.

Participants were 119 AA women and 39 Caucasian women recruited from the St. Louis metropolitan area. Participants¿ actual and ideal physical attributes, current perceived WHR and weight, ideal WHR and weight, and reactions to the WHR and weight assessment task were assessed and examined in relation to ethnic group membership, endorsement of racial identity, identification with the ¿thin¿ ideal, and identification with traditional African physical attributes.

Results indicate that AA women reported less discrepancy between their actual-own body image ideal and more ethnic specific features (ESF) as actual traits, but not as ideal traits. There was a negative relationship between internalization of the thin ideal and acceptance of African physical features, but acceptance of African physical features was not related to the number of ESF reported. The salience of race for self-identity was positively related to the number of ESF reported as representative of the cultural ideal only. Although a significant interaction between physical racial identity and internalization of the thin ideal was found, further analyses did not support the hypothesized moderation effect. Finally, AA participants reported less of a discrepancy between their perceived current and ideal weight, but not WHR, and reported more concerns with the WHR/FRS measure than the Caucasian participants.

The present study lends support to the differences in salient physical characteristics across ethnic groups. Strategies to increase understanding and completion of the measures, further examine relationships among racial identification and body image measures, and improve reliability of findings are discussed.

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