MU doctoral student studies body image among black women

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 | 5:27 p.m. CDT; updated 10:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 27, 2010

COLUMBIA — Rashanta Bledman grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a mostly black and Latino neighborhood, where curves were prized.

When she moved to a largely white college in Orange County, she noticed she didn’t look like everyone else. Thinness was considered more important than shape, she discovered.


Related Media

Related Articles

Bledman had conversations about this with her friends, particularly her black, female friends.

“We didn’t want to be really thin, but we didn’t want to be heavy,” she said. “We wanted to have a small waist, but at the same time have curves.”

Despite this, Bledman said she believed that the topic was not something that was discussed in the open — instead limited to small circles of friends.

Today, talking about body image is part of Bledman’s academic work.

She is a doctoral student in MU’s department of educational, school and counseling psychology. Her studies have explored how black women feel about their bodies, because existing research had indicated a mixture of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the way they look.

Earlier this summer, her research won a graduate student award from the American Psychological Association's graduate student award. 

Bledman surveyed 79 black women, mostly MU students to find out how satisfied they were with their bodies. Using a set of images, she asked them to select their actual body shape and their ideal.

Most participants said generally, they were satisfied with their bodies, but given the chance to change something, they would.

“Many of the women said that they would have a smaller waist, a flatter stomach and a bigger butt,” Bledman said. “That’s a hard shape to really maintain, unless you’re, like, Kim Kardashian.”

Although she said her research cannot be generalized to the entire African-American population, she said she hopes her research will validate women’s experiences and let them know other women feel the same way.

 “There’s a societal idea that you should be thin, or you should look a certain way, and sometimes you can’t look that way,” she said. “It’s really hard for an African-American woman to look like a thin white woman.”

Columbia native Renella Ballinger, 45, identifies with Bledman’s findings. She said she is pretty satisfied with her figure but sometimes struggles to keep weight off.

“I’ve always been naturally thinner,” Ballinger said. “The weight that I’ve gained has mainly come with age. I’m not really dissatisfied; it’s just hard to maintain without being active.”

Most of her dissatisfaction centers upon her lower torso, she said.

“They call us thick,” she said. “We’re built that way.”

Ballinger’s sister, Twanda Thomas, 41, agreed with the findings.

She said her concerns about weight have less to do with body image and more to do with health.

“I think we get more worried about (weight) because of diabetes and hypertension,” Thomas said.


Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Ray Shapiro July 27, 2010 | 5:46 p.m.

(“There’s a societal idea that you should be thin, or you should look a certain way, and sometimes you can’t look that way,” she said. “It’s really hard for an African-American woman to look like a thin white woman.”)

Lady Obama blames this on the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Johnston July 28, 2010 | 6:27 a.m.

A STUDY? Using 79 MU folks? That's "junk science" and totally pointless. If she was paid anything for this "study", she should be prosecuted for theft and the person who gave her the money should be committeed to the loony bin.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.