Body image preferences among urban African Americans and whites from low income communities

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Ethnicity & Disease

Publication Date


Date Added



OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine (1) how African-American and white men and women from similar low income communities perceive their body mass relative to others in the population; and (2) whether ethnic and gender differences exist in the selection of ideal body image sizes for the same and opposite sex. DESIGN: A street survey of African-American and white men and women was conducted using a census tract sampling schema. Participants (N = 927) were interviewed and asked to provide their height and weight and to select body size images from a standardized ethnic-specific Figure Rating Scale to represent their current self, ideal self, and their estimation of ideals for the opposite sex. Sociodemographics and co-morbidity were assessed by self-report. RESULTS: All ethnic and gender groups showed a significant correlation between their body mass index and selected body image size, r = .63 to .74, all P<.001. Average ideal body image size for self was the same for African-American and white men, while African-American women had a significantly greater ideal image size compared with white women (P = .004). Ideal body image size preferences for members of the opposite sex were greater for African-Americans. White women had a notable preference for the smallest body image sizes. Multiple linear regression analyses showed that, independent of sociodemographic variables and co-morbidity, body image sizes for current self, ideal self, and ideal for the opposite sex were all significantly greater in African-Americans. CONCLUSION: Strategies to ameliorate overweight and its attendant diseases may require a shift in social norms, particularly among African-American women in low socioeconomic communities. This has implications for the design of community-based interventions and suggests a need for ethnic-specific interventions.




Public Health