Weighing In: A Study of Black Women's Online Weight Loss Narratives
Bullock, Christina LaReen
According to the United States Office of Minority Health, Black women are the most overweight demographic in the country (Health, 2009). The purpose of this study is to better understand the narratives of Black American women`s weight loss experiences as told through online narrative creation (blogging). Through the lens of participant observation, the researcher performs a thematic, narrative analysis on the weight loss stories of five (5) Black American women over a six month time period (March - August 2011). Research questions revolve around cultural and gender-related challenges to weight loss, cultural themes within the narratives, and the motivations and triumphs in overcoming these challenges.Key findings of culturally related challenges to weight loss were (a) negative,collective social attitudes toward health, (b) cultural expectations of Black women`s physical appearance, (c) poor generational health habits, and (d) a lack of resources.Black women`s narratives reveal cultural themes such as (a) the use of Black lexical trends, (b) references to Black pop culture, and (c) narrative spotlights on Black celebrities` health in the media. Black women`s stories disclose themes of gender-related challenges to weight loss. These include (a) gender relations with the opposite sex, (b) gendered expectations of women, and (d) challenges of womanhood. Women in the study find motivation to lose weight through achieving an idealized body; support from the blogosphere; impressing other women; and compliments from others in society. Research also shows that triumphs to overcome challenges include themes of physical accomplishments, seeking therapy and embracing feminism (taking back control of women`s lives).This study is the first of its kind--the thesis seeks to fill gaps in literature on online content creation by minority groups, as well as takes the narrative analysis approach to the study of health blogging. The study has implications for the work and research of several fields. In academia, the paper contributes to scholarship on the communicative power of narrative. Black Studies scholars may find interest in this paperas it discusses Black storytelling in a new media form. Findings in regard to both the cultural and gender related weight loss challenges in the narratives have implications for research by health professionals interested in Black women audiences. The participant-as-observer aspect of this study encourages future possibilities for members ofunderrepresented populations to continue to take ownership of communications research related to pertinent issues within their own cultural and gender communities.
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