Cross cultural comparison of black women's body image highlighting Saartjie Baartman and motivations to engage in body modification

Ashley, Rokeshia Renne
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University of Delaware
An expanding volume of research on body image sheds light on the impact that familial influence, social pressures and cultural portrayals of beauty have on black women's physical and mental well-being. Variations in physical features among women of color are embraced and promoted in mass media, including fashion magazines and music videos. However, the contexts, products and personalities used to represent black women in the media vary to the extent of contributing to dueling images that have resulted in a lack of clarity of how a black woman should look. From this perspective, there is a need to assess Black women's attitudes and perceptions of the representative body images presented in popular media sources and to determine whether motivations exist for them to engage in body modification to attain an ideal image. Saartjie/ Sarah/ Sara Baartman, a black South African woman, served as the stimulus for this project. Baartman was taken from the Cape of South Africa in the 1800s by a white South African because of her body's unusual shape and size. She was exploited and displayed in person and in various photos throughout Europe. The widespread use of her image expanded to have a major impact on how black women of African lineage would be presented and represented in the media, not only in Europe but also, throughout Africa and America. A cross-cultural study of black South African and African-American women in their respective countries was conducted using questionnaires and in-depth interviews.