Vanessa Geissler, Psy.D., is a 2016 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle.

Dissertation Committee:

  • Jude Bergkamp, Psy.D., Committee Chair
  • William Heusler, Psy.D., Committee Member
  • Carla Bradshaw, Ph.D., Committee Member


Multiracial women, Biracial, Black and White women, Phenomenology, Body image, Young adults, Biracial identity, Physical appearance, Pacific Northwest, Qualitative

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According to the 2010 United States Census 1.8 million people self-identified as multiracial Black, and of that 1.8 million, 45% self-identified as Black and White. Multiracial individuals are a growing population in the United States, and by year 2050 an estimated 21% of the entire population will be multiracial. Irrespective of these statistics, research among this population is limited. Further research is warranted because existing literature has identified an increased emphasis on multiracial individual’s physical appearance. Questions such as, “What are you?” or labels such as exotic, beautiful, fascinating, or other, are a few examples of how this population is positively and negatively objectified. However, the psychological impact these interactions may exert on the development of body esteem is not very well researched. An understanding of this phenomenon is useful to mental health professionals because it will increase their cultural competence. Increasing cultural competence is exceptionally important because it assists the professional in acknowledging and validating experiences unique to multiracial individuals, becoming aware of the descriptive labels used, and assumptions made about this population as a whole. Being aware of this information will provide them the foundation to engage in meaningful discussions about the socially constructed challenges that multiracial individuals face, and help them avoid perpetuating preconceptions and misconceptions about this population. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to assist in filling the knowledge gap of the unknown experience of body image among multiracial Black and White young adult women. This phenomenological study was conducted to provide an in-depth description of how six self-identified multiracial Black and White women between 18 and 30 years old living in the Pacific Northwest experienced their physical appearance. The researcher utilized a descriptive phenomenological method of data analysis. The findings of this study yielded three overarching themes: sociopolitical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal influences, with 12 constituents identified: am I exotic?, ambiguous hair texture, dealing with my hair, does a biracial beauty standard exist?, feeling marginal, love/hate relationship with physical features, physical features I want to change, race and physical appearance in America, racially categorized by others, unearned power and privilege, other vs. self-identification, and unique insights of Black/White biracial participants on societal beauty. Based on these findings, this researcher identified experiences of marginalization, isolation, disconnection from peers and family, and racial self-identity issues. The electronic version of this dissertation is at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, and OhioLINK ETD Center,


Vanessa Geissler, Psy.D., 2016.

ORCID Scholar #0000-0002-1939-7568