By Shahzadi Adeena, Class of 2025
Figure 1 : Two women talking to each other in sign language
Body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors are causes for concern, as they are associated with psychological disturbances. Although research on body image concern has primarily focused on white women, the extent of such concerns varies among cultural groups. Factors such as cultural identity confusion, acculturation status (the degree to which one has assimilated into the dominant culture they are living in), and levels of acculturative stress may impact body image and eating disorders among minority groups. Researchers Aileen Aldalur and Deborah Schooler of Gallaudet University investigated the impact of these factors on body image for deaf individuals; they describe the Deaf community as a distinct cultural group, noting their unique language and values. The researchers hypothesized that acculturative stress—the pressure to maintain aspects of one’s minority culture while struggling to fit within their society’s dominant culture—would increase internalization of the Western thin ideal, predicting negative body image and disordered eating among deaf women.
A total of 175 anonymous responses were received from male and female college students through an online survey. Subsequent screening excluded hearing individuals and non-female respondents. Of the 96 female participants, 71% were white, 10% were Hispanic/Latino, 7% were Black/African American, and 12% were multiracial. Participants answered survey questions about background, deaf acculturation status, acculturative stress, body satisfaction, and eating behaviors. Acculturative stress was measured with a modified version of the 24-item Societal, Attitudinal, Familial, and Environmental Acculturative Stress Scale (SAFE). The researchers ran four hierarchical regressions: age, BMI, and ethnicity were covariates in the first step; Deaf acculturation, Hearing acculturation, and acculturative stress were predictors in the second step; and internalization was a predictor in the third step. The results support the sociocultural model, suggesting that higher rates of internalization correlate with disordered eating behaviors and negative body image. The study also found that stronger acculturation with Deaf or Hearing culture was related to more positive body image, while higher levels of acculturative stress were associated with negative body image and disordered eating behaviors, though found no association between internalization and Deaf or Hearing acculturation.
Aldalur and Schooler’s findings were limited by a small sample size, especially since a majority of participants identified as white. Future studies could examine the link between deaf acculturation status and ethnic/racial acculturation in relation to body image and disordered eating behaviors. This study expands the literature surrounding the harmful internalization of thin ideals within communities that have not been previously studied.
 A. Aldalur and D. Schooler. Culture and Deaf Women’s Body Image. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 24, (2019). doi: 10.1093/deafed/enyo28