“I’m Supposed To Be Thick”: Managing Body Image Anxieties Among Black American Women

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17 Scopus citations


Prior literature on Black women’s body image heavily relies on comparative studies to confirm Black women’s greater body satisfaction relative to white women. Collectively, these studies argue that “cultural buffers” exempt Black women from the thin ideal and instead, encourage women to embrace thickness as a mark of racial pride. And while the literature largely establishes Black women’s preference for a curvaceous figure, I take a different approach by examining women who describe failing to embody thickness and how they reconcile this conflict. Thus, this article asks how women negotiate body dissatisfaction when violating racialized bodily ideals. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 31 Black American women of diverse body sizes and shapes, I demonstrate how women rely on discursive frameworks such as healthism and the “strong Black woman” ideology to reconcile their self-image. While these discourses enable women to defend criticisms of violating thickness, they also participate in stigmatizing other forms of embodiment in their attempts to assuage body dissatisfaction. Overall, these findings reveal Black women’s agency to challenge idealized–and essentialized–notions of thickness that weighed heavily on their body image. Lastly, I discuss the broader implications of my findings within the literature of body politics and offer suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-330
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Black Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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