Date of Award

2006-11-01

Degree Name

PhD Nursing

Dissertation Committee

Sharon McGuire, PhD, RN, Chair; Jane Georges, PhD, RN; Nancy Coffin-Romig, DNSc, RN

Keywords

African Americans, afrocentric-self, body image, eurocentrism, mass media, mental health, nursing, self-esteem, socialization, women

Abstract

Self-esteem and body image disturbances prominently figure into many physical and psychological health disorders such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and chemical dependency. In Euro-American culture, media images of femininity and physical attractiveness reinforce generally held perceptions of the idealized female beauty as tall, white, slender, and often blond and blue eyed. The physical morphology of African-American women does not genetically "fit" this westernized standard of beauty with implications for their mental health. The socialization of African-American women in a culture that embraces a different ethnic standard of beauty influences their perceptions of how physically attractive they see themselves. This may affect their self-esteem and produce body image disturbances that put them at risk for mental health problems. Many of these women seek emotional healing and a sense of empowerment from the mental health care system. Mental health professionals must consider that gender and racial influences, embedded in a Eurocentric aesthetic, play a significant role in providing culturally competent mental health care. Dimensional analysis was used in this grounded theory study to produce theoretical understandings of these societal and psychological issues. The Psychological Integration of the Afrocentric-Self is the central dimension that creates an understanding of how many African-American women resist a Eurocentric aesthetic and develop their own perceptions of physical attractiveness. Linked dimensions included the legacies of slavery and resistance that influenced the roles of the family, society and the media on the self-esteem and body images of African-American women. Conducting this research from a Black feminist perspective provided an avenue for these participants to share their experiences of racism, sexism, and classism in this society and to surface how they resist this oppression. The self-defined standpoint shared by each participant was deemed valid knowledge because it was "her truth" and a true expression of her experiences in the context of her life. A complex, multi-dimensional way of knowing was generated through the voices of these participants. The application of this new understanding to clinical practice in mental health settings is beneficial to the researcher, African-American women, the mental health community, and society.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access

Department

Nursing

Included in

Nursing Commons

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