A Columbia Heights resident and Kenya native, whose research addressed how Western media have contributed to negative body image for Kenyans, has been selected a Metropolitan State University outstanding student. Fanice Thomas was chosen spring semester outstanding undergraduate student in the university’s College of Health, Community and Professional Studies. She was one of 986 bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate students receiving degrees at Metropolitan State’s 96th commencement exercises on May 4 in Saint Paul.
Thomas has presented her findings to national, regional and Minnesota professional psychology associations, including the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Midwestern Psychological Association.
“Her work as an undergraduate in this area is absolutely unprecedented,” says Kerry Kleyman, a Metropolitan State assistant professor in psychology and Thomas’ advisor.
Thomas conducted three studies involving about 200 Kenyan females and males still living in Kenya and those who immigrated to the United States both recently and years ago. In her first two quantitative studies involving online questionnaires with Kenyans and Kenyan American females and males, Thomas said that a “significant majority” indicated exposure to “thin-ideal Western images” contributed to body-image dissatisfaction. In a third, qualitative study involving interviews with 10 Kenyan-American women, Thomas said the older participants reported general body-image satisfaction, while the younger participants generally reported less satisfaction.
“Overall, I can say that there is a large negative impact of Western media on Kenyans’ body image, both those living in the United States and in Kenya,” said Thomas. While she didn’t survey or interview non-Kenyans, she believes Western media also negatively impacts the body image of others in Third World countries and immigrants to Western countries.
Thomas’ research comes at a time when more global attention is focused on body image. In early April, the French parliament passed a measure making it illegal for modeling agencies and fashion brands to employ models deemed too skinny. Spain, Italy and Israel have already passed legislation requiring models to have a body-mass index of at least 18.
Thomas, 30, a native of Suneka, Kenya, arrived in the United States in 2002. She joins an estimated 10,000 other Kenyan natives who live in Minnesota. She works full-time as a conference center coordinator for Oppenheimer, Wolff and Donnelly, a Minneapolis law firm.
The Metropolitan State psychology major was active in university and other professional activities, including secretary of the student Psychology Club and member of the Behavioral Science Student Association, the Psi Chi International Honor Society, Society for Personality and Social Psychology and American Psychological Association.
Active in community service, the 2011 Normandale Community College graduate has served dinners at the Salvation Army and packed meals at Feed My Starving Children. She is a member of the Kenyan Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, Brooklyn Center.
Future plans for Thomas include pursuing graduate school in psychology. She hopes to continue her body-image research in graduate school.
Metropolitan State University, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, is America’s premier university for lifelong learning, providing unsurpassed, competitive academic and professional degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels while maintaining affordability.