The Impact of Western Culture on Eating Disorders and Poor Body Image in Hispanic Americans While obesity stands as one of the leading causes of death in the United States, with the much of Latino community at risk of the disease, another potential health problem stemming from the association of food is the concept of body image, as well as its correlation to eating disorders. And while it is duly noted that many of the studies conducted have focused on the female Caucasian population, there has been an increase in the studying of the effects of Western culture on other ethnicities and other regions of the world, including Latin America, in recent years. What has resulted is the emergence of various postulations regarding body image and eating disorders – that both body image and eating disorders have a trans-cultural and –social presence in society. In closely examining the studies conducted, one can observe the qualities on which Latin Americans judge physical appearances, the degree of internalization and awareness of the thinness ideal, the conflict between cultures, the sentiments associated with eating disorders, as well as possible prevention. The strong connection between body image disturbance and eating disorders is often misconstrued. Negative opinions of body image are not always indicative of an eating disorder (Fox), but rather, are one of the key factors that may contribute to the development of one. Moreover, the definitions of body image and related terms are often confused or misunderstood; in which case it is better to brief these terms before beginning the analysis of such in the Latin and Hispanic American populations. I. Defining Terms
Body image is a relatively new concept in psychology, conceived and furthered in the 1920s by Austrian psychiatrist Paul Schilder. His interest in exploring the concept of body image as a reflection of social attitudes and interactions led to the formulation of a more concrete definition by Kevin Thompson and colleagues in 1999. The criterion in qualifying body image consists of sixteen dimensions, including weight satisfaction, appearance and evaluation, and body esteem. This complex view on body image, though, can be simplified to: “a person’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings about his or her body.” (Grogan 3) With this definition of body image, one can better understand, as well as distinguish, its association with eating disorders. And thus, it can be said that an eating disorder is the manifestation of extremely poor self-reflection of his or her body. Given that it is fair to say that cases of diagnosed eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified – are extreme manifestations of negative body image, one could better tie the concept of such extreme expressions with them being predictors of an eating disorder (i.e. behaviors that are symptomatic of a growing problem); extreme dieting or exercising, binge eating, purging, excessive laxative use, or cessation of eating. As of 2008, 1% of the US female population suffers from anorexia nervosa, 2% from bulimia nervosa, and 3% from binge eating disorder. In addition to the aforementioned, approximately 16% of adolescent girls find themselves engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and about 25% report high levels of body dissatisfaction (Rodriguez 618). Defining the attributes of Western culture is key before allowing for a comparison to it. The ideal body for women is slim, yet full breasted. Muscle tone has become important in recent years; however, visible muscles are not considered gender appropriate and are therefore seen as too masculine (Grogan 41). By not confirming to ideals, there are negative attributes associated with such behavior. For instance, to be overweight is to be seen as being lazy and having a lack of willpower. This “lack of willpower” relates to the lack of exercise and constant diet breaking in Sarah...
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