249662 Weathering framework re-visited: How stress and "strength" influence the health experiences of black women across the lifespan

Monday, October 31, 2011

Angela Rose Black, PhD , Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
Cheryl Woods Giscombé, PhD, RN , School of Nursing, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background. Common health trajectories for Black women reveal increased incidences of illness, greater complications from illness, and resultant death as a function of illness in comparison to white women. Arline Geronimus' weathering framework suggests that cumulative and “repeated experience(s) with social, economic, or political exclusion” compromises black women's health. Missing from this analysis are details on how black women's unique experience of “strength”- the obligation to respond to life stressors, demands, and exclusions with resilience, self-reliance, and psychological hardiness - may also be a salient factor. Purpose. The study purpose is to supplement the weathering hypothesis with a discussion of “strength” in the lives of black women. Two emergent women's health models, the S.O.S. Model for Daily Life Management and the Superwoman Schema, explain how specific “strength” behaviors (e.g., foregoing task assistance and negotiation, suppressing emotional distress, and prioritizing other-referent care over self-care ) are linked to maladaptive health behaviors that increase black women's vulnerability to chronic illness over the lifespan. Methods. Women's perceptions and experiences of strength in black women's magazines, blogs, and focus group discussions were analyzed to locate specific “strength” behaviors, resultant maladaptive health behaviors, and reports of compromised health. Results. Analyses revealed that hypervigilant role management, emotional suppression, and postponed self-care were linked to emotional eating, sedentary lifestyles, and delayed preventive care. Resultant health experiences included depression, anxiety, heart disease, among others. Conclusions. Understanding “strength” in response to daily stressors, life demands, and exclusions provides an additional evidence for the accelerated disease process among black women.

Learning Areas:
Chronic disease management and prevention
Diversity and culture
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe three strength behaviors. Articulate how strength behaviors supplement our understanding of the weathering hypothesis. Assess how strength behaviors and weathering together contribute to compromised health of black women.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I focus on the gendered experience of strength in black women as it relates to mental health and wellness.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.