“Melanin – which determines skin color in our bodies – does not protect from an eating disorder” – Marisol Perez, Ph.D.
In my nutrition graduate school studies, I wanted to study eating disorders among BIPOC communities. Most of the research articles I found were among Caucasian women during their early adulthood and college years. I realized that it was an example of stereotypes that only Caucasian women develop eating disorders and a model minority myth that BIPOC women do not develop them.
Specifically among Asians, the model minority myth “highlights that Asian Americans’ higher level of achievement than any other racial and ethnic group, especially regarding their economic success, academic achievement, family values, law-abiding spirit, and low levels of criminal involvement.” This thinking is detrimental as it minimizes support like mental health services for this community.
However, more research indicates eating disorders are increasing among ethnic minority women, making it necessary to understand this trend’s factors.
A study examining the experiences of ethnic minority women was conducted with Korean college women, assessed the effects of self-esteem and depression on abnormal eating. For example, researchers found that abnormal eating behaviors could not be predicted by self-esteem and depression. Instead, abnormal eating behaviors were more prevalent when women exhibited low self-esteem and high depression with their bodies.
Other studies have indicated that Asian women who try to adopt the American ideal of thinner body culture and Caucasian image have also reported low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their facial features.
Low self-esteem is similar among the Hispanic women population trying to assimilate to the American culture. Hispanic women have stated receiving mixed messages on health, weight, appearance, and diet, resulting in higher incidences of disordered eating.
I am encouraged that more BIPOC research around eating disorders is occurring, but it’s not making it to mainstream media.
As it relates to BIPOC women and non-binary with an eating disorder, the more we can share about the colonizing effects in assimilating into a culture that is not of their origin can impact body image perceptions. Knowing that anyone can develop an eating disorder, the better families, friends, religious/spiritual, and services can support
If you know of someone who needs support, please seek support whether through our religious/spiritual communities, family, friends.
If not comfortable with those approaches, here are some other resources.
Academy of Eating Disorders (AED)
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
The Body Positive
Eating Disorders Anonymous
Eating Disorder Coalition for Research, Policy and Action
Eating Disorder Hope
International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
The National Eating Disorders Screening Program
Want to learn more about my personal journey with body image, check out the Body Shaming in the Filipinx Culture post.
Kransa, J. (2020). Eating disorders can be any color. F.E.A.S.T https://www.feast-ed.org/eating-disorders-can-be-any-color/
Kroon Van Diest, A. M., Tartakovsky, M., Stachon, C., Pettit, J. W., & Perez, M. (2014). The relationship between acculturative stress and eating disorder symptoms: Is it unique from general life stress? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(3), 445-457.
Lim, S. A., & You, S. (2017). Effects of self-esteem and depression on abnormal eating behavior among Korean female college students: Mediating role of body dissatisfaction. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(1), 176-182.
Quick, V. M., & Byrd-Bredbenner, C. (2014). Disordered eating, socio-cultural media influencers, body image, and psychological factors among a racially/ethnically diverse population of college women. Eating Behaviors, 15(1), 37-41.
Yi, S., & Hoston, W. T. (2020). Demystifying americanness: The model minority myth and the black-korean relationship. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 7(2), 68-89.