Eating disorders within african american sororities

Tamika C. Zapolski, Gregory T. Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Based on the literature we have reviewed here, we offer the following conclusions concerning African American women and their risk for eating disorders. Eating disorders have become increasingly more prevalent due in part to societal pressure on women to be thin in order to be viewed as attractive. However, African American women appear to experience some cultural protection against the pressure for thinness and hence against eating disorders that emphasize weight control (anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa). Within African American culture, one attains beauty through one's personal style, one's personality, and one's pride and self-confidence. Thinness thus plays a far less important role for African American women. Moreover, there is less pressure by the community to fit into a narrow definition of what others consider beautiful. The African American community embraces greater acceptance of the female body, no matter the size, with the result that African American women tend to view their own bodies with greater acceptance and satisfaction. Furthermore, for those women who become members of black Greek sororities, an additional layer of protection is provided. The Greek community encourages its members to develop strong ethnic identities, so members may be less influenced by the pressures of mainstream society. In addition, black Greek sororities encourage their members to be proud of being strong African American women. We believe that this sense of strength in one's identity as a woman reduces one's vulnerability to external definitions of what is ideal or what is attractive. In sum, based on the research on eating disorders within the black Greek community, it appears that this group advocates a healthier outlook toward weight and dieting and a positive outlook toward ethnic identity. Thus, membership in black sororities can only aid in the quest for positive examples of ethnicity, body size, and shape, in turn reducing the risk for eating disorders within the African American community. Black Greek-letter organizations appear to be quite relevant with respect to this important health issue, and one can only hope that they will remain a viable source of support for the next generation of African American college women. Although many researchers have found that disordered eating is generally less prevalent among African American women, this should not be taken to mean that African American women are immune to eating disorders. African American women may be at increased risk for eating disorders that do not emphasize thinness, such as binge eating and obesity. It is an important service to African American women to emphasize these disorders and to point out the lower rates of health-promoting behaviors and exercise among them. At present, we know nothing about African American sororities' impact on the risk for these disorders. Finally, it is essential to recognize that there are some African American women with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Studies have shown that such women are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed late because these disorders are less frequent in African American women. This could have a strong adverse effect on these women, because the longer treatment is delayed, the more severe the eating problem becomes due to the extended process of starvation.64 Therefore, it is crucial to encourage African American women who are experiencing eating disorder symptoms to seek help and be treated.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBlack Greek-letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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