Black History Month: Eating Disorders and Body Image

Orri’s Consultant Family Therapist, Karen Carberry, is the Co-Editor of The International Handbook of Black Community Mental Health. Today, she shares her thoughts for Black History Month.

During Black History Month, we are reminded that eating disorders occur across race, cultures and genders, and therefore when treating Black people in this field –  who are an underrepresented  group in our services – inclusivity of body images and representation across client, staff groups, and educational literature is key to enhance self-worth. 

Wellbeing through developing self-esteem is generated from an early age, and therefore it is imperative that normalised images of children of colour are accessible.  Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy, is a new Children’s magazine, birthed during the pandemic by publisher, mother and wife, Serlina Boyd – who could not find children’s magazines in the shops to purchase, with images of black children for her young daughter to read. What a lovely resource for children to share and learn about each other in a simply normal way.

Positive images we know promote wellbeing, and therefore protects against comparative beauty standards, and the so-called ‘perfect white thin body imagery’, and the represented inner child (who is not white), which in itself is an impossible standard for any child. Services addressing the impact of racism, unconscious bias in service delivery and conversations in therapy groups/meetings strive to provide cultural safety, and underpins the inclusivity of the message of Black History Month, that black lives, and black minds matter, every day. 

There is a plethora of new literature in this area, including body positivity, and my current read is Treating Black Women with Eating Disorders. A Clinicians Guide, edited by colleagues Dr Charlynn Small and Dr Mazella Fuller, whose publication provides scholarly contributions to ameliorate stigma and aid recovery.

In my recent conversation with co-editor Dr Small, she shared that their ground-breaking book encourages us, as clinicians, to be prepared to ask the hard questions, to show that we can hear and contain difficult and troublesome conversations around underlying causes which affect body image, mindset and disturbed eating habits in all our black clients and potential clients looking for a safe harbour, from which to find recovery, and plan a happier future.

Working across the cycle of secure attachments, these conversations and resources for black people, and clinicians who work alongside clients is so very timely.

Karen Carberry is Orri’s Consultant Family Therapist with over twenty years’ experience. Her job is deeply complex and involves leafing through layers of family history, going back at least three generations to identify events and behaviours that may hold the key to understanding how the eating disorder started. Karen is the Co-Editor of The International Handbook of Black Community Mental Health.

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