The 411 on Black Girls and Eating Disorders

The 411 on Black Girls and Eating Disorders

Recently on "VH1's Behind the Music," singer and star Brandy admitted that at the age of 19 she developed an eating disorder. While eating disorders are often seen as "white girl" problems, the reality is that Black girls can and do have eating disorders.

Published May 11, 2012

Recently on VH1's Behind the Music, singer and star of Moesha and BET's The Game Brandy admitted that at the age of 19 she developed an eating disorder. She stated:

"I just wanted to so thin, that was like my main thing and so I started not taking care of myself. Not eating properly, not eating at all. Diet pills, regurgitating … and all of these things that girls do. People don’t understand that being the hottest star or making the most money does not mean anything. I was making so much money, I was omnipresent and I was the unhappiest teenager, probably in the world."

It's important to note that Brandy is not alone.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder). Yet only one in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. Also, 50 percent of people with eating disorders are considered depressed and eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness.

And while we have been socialized to believe that eating disorders are "white girl" problems and that we, as Black women, just love our bodies as is, the reality is that black girls can and do have eating disorders.

How many, we just don't know.

Overall research about the connection between eating disorders and Black women and girls is very limited and at times contradictory. A 2009 study conducted found that not only were African-American girls 50 percent more likely than white girls to be bulimic, but that socioeconomic status was not a factor in developing these disorders. In fact, girls from families in the lowest income bracket were 153 percent more likely to be bulimic than girls from the highest income bracket.

On the other hand, other data finds that the disparities are not as steep and that eating disorder rates are pretty similar among racial and ethnic lines. Yet, the major problem lies in the fact that the majority of research only focuses on white women. Many eating disorder advocates have accused the medical community of consigning on the myths about Black women having higher self-esteem and healthier body image as well, which in turn have excluded women of color from studies.

National Eating Disorders Association Chief Executive Officer Lynn Grefe expressed her unhappiness about this to The Grio. She said, "I'm frustrated, because we know that minority populations have eating disorders, and we know that they basically have them at the same rate as the Caucasian population. However, they are under-reported and they are under-diagnosed. So why is it that we just can't get them to come forward?"

To learn more about eating disorders and their warning signs go to the National Eating Disorders Association.



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(Photo: EP/PictureGroup/Discovery Communications)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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