Mass Media Damaging African-American Women’s Body Esteem, MU Journalism Studies Find

Columbia, Mo. (Sept. 8, 2003) — Media images of stereotypically thin, attractive women confront women of all colors. While previous research says these images cause Caucasian women to practice unhealthy behaviors and become extremely dissatisfied with their body image, African-American women supposedly are less concerned with weight. However, two new studies by a Missouri School of Journalism researcher found that although African-American women are not affected by images of Caucasian women, they experience body dissatisfaction when viewing media images of African-American women.

Cynthia M. Frisby
Cynthia M. Frisby

“It appears that black women who are low in body esteem suffer when exposed to idealized images of beautiful black women, yet seem to be somewhat impervious to images of Caucasian women,” said Cynthia Frisby, assistant professor of journalism in the advertising sequence at MU, who conducted the studies.

In the research, Frisby used a specialized body self-esteem scale to measure how the participants viewed their bodies. The first study consisted of 48 women, ages 18 to 22, observing 18 ads, featuring Caucasian models for 20 seconds each. Participants were asked to list their thoughts and reactions to the images. Frisby found that the African-American participants were not affected by exposure to the advertising images featuring Caucasian women.

One hundred ten African-American women participated in the second study and were exposed to ads in one of two experimental conditions: images of African-American women or images of Caucasian women who exemplified societal ideals of thinness and attractiveness were shown to them. Frisby found that the women who measured low self-esteem reported a reduction in body satisfaction.

The results, Frisby said, indicated that body comparisons made with women of different color did not have a significant effect on the participants’ body esteem. Frisby believes data from these studies can be used by advertisers.

“Studies such as these should be undertaken in order to help advertisers develop and create effective and accountable advertising messages as well as advance the field of mass communication by providing theoretical insights and explanations for issues related to the media and racial and ethnic concerns,” Frisby said.

Frisby’s study will be published in the March 2004 edition of the Journal of Black Studies.

Updated: March 6, 2020

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