After the abolition of slavery and independence from British imperialism, many Jamaicans proudly embraced their African heritage by reaffirming their identity as Black people1. This birthed a deeper love and appreciation for their skin colour1 and the embrace of the curvy and voluptuous Black female physique2. Positive Black identity seemed to have been the antidote for the derogatory messages used by plantocracy to denigrate the enslaved3. Further, Black people’s love for their bodies, may have allowed them to withstand the pressures of Western beauty ideals when compared to other ethnic groups. Blacks were also more likely to report higher levels of body satisfaction 4 and little to no report of eating pathologies especially in countries such as the Caribbean.
These trends however, changed when researchers such as Anderson-Fye (2004) found evidence of body dissatisfaction in the Caribbean which seemed to have coincided with the advent of tourism, globalization and the media5. It seems that the more Caribbean people became exposed to Western beauty ideals, the more there was a desire for females to attain the thin ideal and males, the muscular ideal. In a 2005 Youth Risk and Resiliency survey conducted in Jamaica, evidence of diuretics and laxatives use among Jamaican adolescents was found6, this was the first known survey in this context to record disordered eating behaviours. This was however not enough as there were no known surveys in Jamaica designed to detect body dissatisfaction and eating pathology. We were able to address this in 2014 when a team of researchers including myself designed and carried out a survey that explored body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among 521 Jamaican adolescents7.
This study was published in November 2019 and the findings were enlightening. Despite my desire to share in its entirety, this forum does not allow me to do so, therefore I implore you to read the full article**, its citation is captioned below. I will however share some key findings. We found that on a measure used to screen adolescents who are at risk for eating pathology (EAT-26), one fifth of Jamaican adolescents scored within the clinically significant range. Even though females reported a higher prevalence of 28.7%, when compared to males (17%), we were surprised to learn that the prevalence rates for males superseded that of other males in developed countries. Unfortunately, adolescents with high EAT-26 scores were also more likely to engage in skin bleaching. These findings suggest, that in the Jamaican context, body dissatisfaction goes beyond weight and shape and extends to skin complexion. Further, as is consistent with international findings, adolescents who are at risk for these conditions also reported a history of sexual abuse, low self-esteem and high negative affective scores.
As healthcare professionals we are concerned by these findings but also feel encouraged as we are now better able to identify at-risk adolescents, allowing early intervention and management.
Caryl James Bateman, PhD
iaedp™ International Chapter Chair of Jamaica
Member of iaedp™ AAEDP-BIPOC Subcommittee
Department of Sociology Psychology and Social Work
Faculty of Social Sciences