ESSENCE Study Reveals Insights On Media Portrayals Of Black Women


From primetime television to cable news, African-American women consume more media than any other comparison groups, and today, there is more mass and targeted content featuring African-American women than ever before. Still, in a 2010 ESSENCE-commissioned study on the State of African American Women, it was revealed that 93 percent of media does only an ‘okay’ to ‘poor’ job of reflecting the audience the way they see themselves.

This year, Essence commissioned New York-based research firm Added Value Cheskin to bring more attention and definition to these findings with the proprietary study, Understanding Images of African-American Women in Society. Has much changed since the study was done in 2013?

After dedicating ten days to recording the images they viewed on the Internet, television and other media, participants in the independent survey revealed a range of responses, including feeling ‘saddened’ and ‘disrespected’. During the first phase, the research firm conducted interviews with experts on the subject matter from academia, finance, and entertainment. Digital ethnographies were central to the second phase in which online communities were created based on life stage and gender. Through innovative visual diaries, participants shared their unrestricted reactions to wide-ranging images of African-American women across all media types. In a moderated forum, community members also had the opportunity to respond to visual images curated by fellow members. The final phase was a quantitative study that included 900 Black women, ages 18-54.

Consistently, Black women see and acknowledge many inspiring images of celebrities, from Oprah to Beyonce. However, the study establishes there is a dearth of imagery that reflects relatable images of everyday Black women. The key findings were more pronounced among younger Black women who are at once more culturally open and more culturally affiliated. Additionally, a new lens on beauty led a set of emerging typologies that the audience would like to see more often in media.

“The study offers a path forward for marketers and content companies to create more authentic images of real women,” says Essence President Michelle Ebanks. “By elevating the inspiring ‘images of me’, Essence stands as that bridge to engage and connect with Black women. All women should be more visible and powerful in media.”

“Our mission is to tell multi-generational Black women’s stories as no one else can,” added Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. Bush. “Essence is the space for Black women to be heard, seen, and affirmed.”

Leave a Reply