Strong, female and Black: Stereotypes of African Caribbean women’s body shape and their effects on clinical encounters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Colleges, School and Institutes


The aim of this article is to explore how tendencies to stereotype minority ethnic groups intersect with lay discourses about them in ways that can reproduce cultural prejudices and reinforce inequalities in access to services and health outcomes. Drawing upon Black feminist and cultural studies literature, we present a theoretical examination, the stereotypes of the Black woman as ‘mammy’ and ‘matriarch’. We suggest that the influence of these two images is central to understanding the normalisation of the larger Black female body within African Caribbean communities. This representation of excess weight contradicts mainstream negative discourses of large bodies that view it as a form of moral weakness. Seeking to stimulate reflection on how unacknowledged stereotypes may shape clinical encounters, we propose that for Black women, it is the perception of strength, tied into these racial images of ‘mammy’ and ‘matriarch’ which may influence when or how health services or advice are both sought by them and offered to them. This has particular significance in relation to how body weight and weight management are/are not talked about in primary care-based interactions and what support Black women are/are not offered. We argue that unintentional bias can have tangible impacts and health outcomes for Black women and possibly other minority ethnic groups.


Original languageEnglish
Early online date27 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2015


  • overweight and obesity, stereotypes, Ethnicity, health inequalities, patient–healthcare professional interaction