An Inclusive Approach to Exploring Perceptions of Body Image, Self-Esteem, and Physical Activity among Black and African-American Girls: Smart Fit Girls Melanin Magic


  • Christine A. Chard
  • Devin S. Nelson
  • Kellie A. Walters
  • Nyla Pollard
  • Nyrema Pollard
  • Nia Pollard
  • Kendal Gomez
  • De'Neen Smith
  • Nielli Jenkins
  • Saabirah Muwwakkil
  • Caroline Garland
  • Aminah Fard
  • Maisha J. Fields



recreation, inclusive evaluation, physical activity, self-esteem, body image, adolescence


Adolescent girls experience high rates of body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem (SE), as well as low levels of participation in physical activity (PA). Outside of traditional sports, few recreation opportunities exist to promote physical, emotional and mental well-being in adolescent girls, particularly among Black and African-American (AA) girls. In order for parks and recreation organizations to provide programming in a culturally relevant way, it is critical to more deeply understand the lived experiences of Black and AA girls, specifically related to SE, body image (BI) and PA. Doing so will enable leisure professionals to better co-create opportunities to engage Black and AA adolescent girls in programming aimed to promote PA and positive BI and SE. In order to examine girls’ lived experiences with an inclusive lens, Black and AA adolescent girls are considered the experts and should be included in all stages of the process. The purpose of this project was to engage in an inclusive formative evaluation in order to explore perceptions and experiences of PA, SE and BI among a group of Black and AA adolescent girls. Ten adolescent girls formed a leadership council (Smart Fit Girls Melanin Magic) and took the lead on culturally adapting the existing Smart Fit Girls (SFG) curriculum using Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). A first step, and the focus of this paper, was to explore unique experiences with SE, BI, and participation in PA. Principles of YPAR were utilized to empower the leadership council to participate in thematically coding the group discussion. Girls reported that PA provides positive mental health benefits to girls, and that they experience significant barriers, both internal and external, to being active. While girls self-reported experiencing depressive symptoms related to poor SE, and that being in predominantly white spaces leads to poor SE, they also noted the benefit of engaging in positive affirmations. Girls also reported that social comparison negatively affects their BI, and that hair is a salient factor in BI. Finally, results showed general negative BI among participants, which is compounded by girls’ interactions with others. Results from this inclusive qualitative data analysis will inform the design of new programming within parks and recreation to uniquely support Black and AA girls’ experiences with PA, SE and BI. Authors encourage reflection as a field on evaluation practices and suggest inclusive approaches to better facilitate programming and achieve the social justice and equity goals of parks and recreation. 

Subscribe to JPRA





Special Issue: Social Justice Issues in Park and Recreation