Racial and Ethnic Identity

The concept of racial identity is related to the extent to which the person identifies with the racial group to which he or she supposedly belongs with the belief that commitment to one's racial group is necessary for healthy psychological functioning (Helms & Cook, 1999). Ethnic identity refers to the extent to which women accept, identify with, and affirm their ethnic heritage (Phinney, 1992). Researchers have suggested that high levels of ethnic and racial identity may assist ethnically diverse women in rejecting the societal beauty ideals of the dominant culture (S. M. Harris, 1994; Shuttlesworth & Zotter, 2011; Wood & Petrie, 2010). Only a few studies to date have examined the relationships between racial or ethnic identity and ED symptoms. A common finding using Helms's (1995) Black Racial Identity Model has

been that African American women who idealize Whiteness or use White- identified schemas (e.g., preencounter) tend to engage in restrictive forms of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors (e.g., dietary restraint, body dissatisfaction; Abrams et al., 1993; S. M. Harris, 1994). Simply put, African American womens internalization of dominant White standards appears to be linked to anorexia- or bulimia-type symptoms. In studies of ethnic identity and ED symptoms, lower levels of ethnic identity among women of color have predicted higher rates of ED attitudes and behaviors among African American women (Shuttlesworth & Zotter, 2011; Wood & Petrie, 2010). Not surprisingly, high levels of ethnic identity among White women have been found to be related to high rates of both binge eating and global eating pathology (Shuttlesworth & Zotter, 2011).

Results from these studies have suggested that assessing racial or ethnic identity among clients of color may provide valuable information regarding the manner in which they may manifest ED symptoms (Talleyrand, 2006; Wood & Petrie, 2010). I should note that what is lacking in the ED and identity literature are measures that assess the identity process among individuals who identify with multiple racial or ethnic groups. Identifying with multiple racial or ethnic groups could cause additional stressors for clients of color, particularly if the cultural values of each group conflict.

 
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