Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology
This study focuses on an under-researched segment of the burn-survivor community, Black-women burn survivors, who tend to go unrecognized beyond the initial observation of physical scarring or disfigurement. Recent data indicates that burn survivors of color, post-injury, report less satisfaction with their appearance and lower levels of community integration when compared to white burn survivors (Mata-Greve et al. 2022). Likewise, men burn survivors fare better than women during the post-injury recovery period when it comes to navigating romantic relationships, social interactions, and work and employment opportunities (Levi et al. 2018). This topic of burn survivors at the race-gender nexus is personal to me, as it is my own story; therefore, I adopt an emic or insider approach to this study. My goal is to fill a gap in the literature by centering the mutual race-gender narrative construction of the reality of Black-women as burn survivors. The beauty standards framed by Eurocentrism centers idealized depictions of white women’s physical features while invalidating Black women’s physiques and appearances (Strings, 2019). In addition, recent Black appearance standards combat the devaluing of Black women in society, compelling us to acknowledge the visibility of Black women’s bodies in definitions of beauty, desirability, brilliancy, and dignity. At the same time, critics rightly caution against using beauty as a pathway to power for Black women, which would exclude other types of Black faces and bodies, those that do not fit into “respectable” imagery (e.g., disabled bodies). They contend that doing using beauty as a vehicle to power would commodify Black women’s bodies and reduce them to commercial appeal (Hobson, 2016). Given these considerations, Black women with burn injuries get passed over in society more often than not, and must fend for themselves, as their appearance in some ways may fall short of both white and Black female beauty standards. This study investigates processes of exploration of the self as compared to societal beauty standards as they have been established by Eurocentrism, the media, and within-group standards. It explores how one reconciles one’s sense of identity and beauty following a traumatic experience, in particular an accident that leaves one with physical and mental scars from burns. Likewise, I consider how disability studies can be incorporated to interpret the experiences of Black women burn survivors, as well as the theme of major life disruption both during the wound healing phase that requires specialized medical care and when healing from trauma after a burn wound that leaves a new normal in its wake. To gather the primary data material for my thesis, I interviewed a sample of five Black women burn survivors recruited online, to better understand their experiences of life after surviving a fire. KEYWORDS: burn survivor, Black beauty, life disruption, intersectionality, burn trauma, inspiration porn, disability studies, Black feminism
McCall, Bree, "Burned Beauty: Stories of How Black Women Burn Survivors Manage Their Trauma & Recovery" (2023). Theses and Dissertations. 1687.