Racism and Oppression
Another risk factor for the development of EDs in clients of color is their simultaneous membership in two oppressed demographic identity groups (i.e., gender and race). This membership can heighten the possibility that women of color, in particular, will face unique challenges of racism and sexism, including feeling marginalized by and powerless in society (Greene, 1994; Kempa & Thomas, 2000; Myers, 1998; Thomas et al., 2004). That is, feelings of powerlessness and lack of control, which are common emotions in women who experience EDs, could drive women of color to use food (e.g., either restricting food or bingeing) as a mechanism to gain back control in their lives (Kempa & Thomas, 2000; B. Thompson, 1994, 1997). Given that women of color's eating and health concerns may be related to the double jeopardy of being a person of color and female, it is imperative that researchers assess levels of oppression and stress and coping behaviors when studying EDs and obesity among women of color. In addition, it is imperative that counselors understand how the interaction of racism and sexism may contribute to ED symptoms and obesity among women of color.
Women of color in the United States experience classism (e.g., disparate effects of social policy on low-status groups) because they have less access to positions of power and authority than White men and women. Because a disproportionate number of African American and Latina women identify as low income, they are at risk for experiencing health concerns because they lack access to economic resources (Dounchis, Hayden, & Wilfrey, 2001; Downing, 2004; Paul,
2003). Results from research examining race, socioeconomic status, and disordered eating behaviors have been contradictory (O'Neill, 2003). Some findings have suggested that the risk of developing EDs such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are higher among middle-class African American women who adopt White middle-class values (Polivy & Herman, 2002; Pumariega et al., 1994; Rucker & Cash, 1992; Smolak & Striegel-Moore, 2001). Yet, other researchers have found the link between socioeconomic status and ED symptoms to be nonsignificant (Besselieu, 1997; S. M. Harris, 1994; Reel, 2000).
With regard to poverty and obesity, there has been some agreement based on research that women of color of lower socioeconomic status seem to be at higher risk for becoming obese than those of higher socioeconomic status (O'Neill, 2003). For example, B. Thompson (1994) interviewed several women of color who struggled with eating problems and found that they used emotional overeating behaviors to cope with their experience of poverty-related stress. In addition, other researchers have argued that women who struggle with poverty may be malnourished or have diets high in fats and sugars (Dounchis et al., 2001; Paul, 2003). In fact, Kumanyika and Grier (2006) suggested that research has typically shown that low-income children typically live in areas that have a high concentration of unhealthy fast food restaurants than in predominately White and higher class neighborhoods. These low-income areas may present additional barriers, including unsafe and often dangerous streets and neighborhoods that provide inadequate area for children to play and exercise. Given the high rates of obesity among children and women of color, studying and understanding how poverty-related stress relates to eating behaviors and obesity in these groups continues to be important.