The phenomenological experience of obese strong Black women

Joy Deloris Mutinda, Fordham University


The present study was a qualitative exploration of the role of strength in the lives of obese Black women. The purpose of the study was to uncover the etiology and maintaining factors in Black women's eating patterns related to the performance of strength (strong Black woman myth), and the parallel experiences of racism, sexism, classism, and trauma. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 women between the ages of 30 and 60. The interviews were individually transcribed verbatim for analysis. Each participant described her experience with being an obese Black woman who identifies as strong. A phenomenological methodology was employed to uncover the lived experiences of these women. The data analysis procedure involved a systematic process of open, axial, and selective coding. The descriptions emerged inductively, in that details shared in the interviews lead to general themes that informed the process by which eating problems developed for these women. Five major themes highlighted by the participants included strength, beauty, life as a Black woman, coping, and weight. Subthemes within each of the five major themes helped to fully describe the nuanced experience of living as an obese strong Black woman. Although the women were diverse in terms of age, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status, the universal desire and mandate to be and be perceived as strong held true for each participant. The women shared the feeling that the performance of strength is obligatory and struggled to explore how being unable to handle every hardship with ease did not have to be seen as weak or as failing. One of the ways the women coped with the obligatory perpetual performance of strength was to turn to food for comfort. Emergent themes informed significant clinical implications to consider when working with Black women and areas to be considered for future research. The necessity of culturally competent clinicians to be informed about the role of strength in the lives of many Black women was highlighted as obligatory. The study also challenges the false assumption that race is a protective factor from eating disorders for women of color. Additionally, this research will help clinicians better recognize when a Black woman may be presenting with disordered eating behavior even though she may not fit into the accepted DSM-IV diagnostic categories. The findings from this research expanded upon the sparse extant literature on obese Black women.

Subject Area

Black studies|Womens studies|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Mutinda, Joy Deloris, "The phenomenological experience of obese strong Black women" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3361360.