The Strong Black Woman: How Stereotypes Can Affect Our Health

by Amanda Ng (’18)

strong black woman.jpg

Fig. 1: Though the “strong black woman” stereotype can be a motivator for some, it can also create extreme pressures and cause harm to one’s health.

The way people are stereotyped can not only affect how others view us, but also how we view ourselves. This internalization of stereotypes and altered self-perception can lead to both mental and physical health problems for many individuals.

In this study, conducted by Dr. Lindsey West of New England University, data was collected from 113 Black female college students aged 18 to 47, and it focused on defining the “strong black woman” stereotype as well as its relevance to today’s women. The participants were given a questionnaire about their background, family, student status, and other social information. The study also conducted an open-ended interview dealing with the participant’s ideas of the “strong black woman” stereotype, to what degree they identified with it, and whether they viewed it as a positive or negative image.

The results showed that the majority of participants saw the “strong black woman” as independent, caring, strong, feminine, religious, and educated. A few participants even named their own mothers or Oprah Winfrey as examples. The majority of participants identified to some degree with the image, appeared to have internalized it, and understood its potential to deteriorate their mental and physical health due to stress and pressure to live up to the stereotype.

The “strong black woman” stereotype can give females something to aspire to and work toward. However, women who work too hard to meet the expectations of the stereotype can experience health complications due to extreme pressure and stress. It was also found that this pressure can not only cause stress-related mental and physical health problems, but it also decrease the chances of a woman seeking treatment because of her supposed “strength”. However, many of the participants also noted that while the “strong black woman” stereotype can be a lot to live up to in some aspects, it is also an image that causes them to have pride in their culture and strive to be successful.

In the future, treatments tailored to stresses due to stereotypes such as the “strong black woman” will be the focus of research.

 

References:

  1. West et al., The Price of Strength: Black College Women’s Perspectives on the Strong Black Woman Stereotype. Women & Therapy 39, 390-412 (2016). doi: 10.1080/02703149.2016.1116871
  2. Image retrieved from: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/Wild_hair.jpg

 

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