West Indian Immigrant Women, Body Politics, and Cultural Citizenship

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



In: Bodies Without Borders, pp.25-43.


As a woman from the English-speaking Caribbean, now residing in the United States, I can attest to the fact that surveillance and regulation of women’s bodies occurs in the West Indies as in the global North. West Indian women thus come to the United States already habituated to monitoring their bodies, and being surveyed by men and women in their communities, a practice that persists in the diaspora. In addition, migration places them in dialogue with the Western beauty ideals of the United States, and necessitates engagement with beauty discourses cultivated outside of their cultural and political spheres. In this chapter, I examine how West Indian women negotiate and contend with the beauty ideologies from both their homelands and the United States. I explore the racial and sociocultural discourses that shape the body politics that they embrace, and the extent to which the women claim cultural citizenship (discussed later in this chapter) through these processes. Using black West Indian immigrant women as its subject, this chapter addresses the little discussed body discourses of a black diasporic population in the United States, and thus explores the intersection of race, ethnicity, body image, and diaspora.