Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 49-75

First online:

“Whatever Feels Good in My Soul”: Body Ethics and Aesthetics Among African American and Latina Women

  • Lisa R. RubinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Arizona State University
  • , Mako L. FittsAffiliated withSchool of Justice Studies, Arizona State University
  • , Anne E. BeckerAffiliated withAdult Eating and Weight Disorders Program, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

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Ethnicity-specific differences in body aesthetic ideals and body satisfaction have been cited as a potential explanation for interethnic differences in the prevalence and presentation of eating disorders. It has been widely hypothesized that such ethnically based differences in aesthetic body ideals mitigate cultural pressures that contribute to body disparagement and disordered eating among white women. However, mechanisms by which a cultural milieu may be protective against the development of disordered eating remain poorly understood. This study investigated relationships among ethnicity, self-representation, and body aesthetic ideals among 18 college-educated black and Latina women through analysis of focus group discussion data. Rather than confirming body aesthetic ideals different from those of white culture, study respondents reframed the discussion about body aesthetics to one of body ethics. That is, study subjects both contested ideologies defining thinness and whiteness as inherently beautiful and espoused a body ethic of self-acceptance and nurturance that rejects mainstream cultural pressures to reshape bodies to approximate aesthetic ideals promulgated in the media. We conclude that understanding body image concerns from the standpoint of body ethics, rather than body aesthetics, may be a more productive and inclusive approach to the study of ethnically diverse women's embodied experience. Ultimately it is anticipated that this will better illuminate the complex relationships among ethnicity, culture, and risk for body image and eating disorders.

aesthetics body image culture ethnicity