Culture and Weight Consciousness

Culture and Weight Consciousness

Culture and Weight Consciousness

Culture and Weight Consciousness


Issues of culture and thinness are usually considered in terms of the experience of the Western world, but there is a growing body of research suggesting that concern with weight is becoming more prevalent in non-western cultures.

Culture and Weight Consciousness brings together this research and looks at the recent emergence of eating disorders in cultures that were previously free of such problems. It relates the feminist theories that have been put forward to explain the phenomenon of eating disorders in the West to the condition of modern women in many non-Western cultures and concludes that their position is not at all that different from that of their western counterparts. It addresses the current limitations of the concept of culture and draws out the implications for future research.

-- Argues that the rapidly changing role of women in non-Western societies is contributing towards the spread of eating disorders world-wide

-- Relates feminist theories regarding eating disorders in the West to the condition of women in non-Western cultures, including the Middle East, the Far east, Africa and south America


As a medical student in Cairo university, I learnt about anorexia nervosa from the gynaecology textbook. All I knew then was that it was a rare syndrome caused by a hypothalamic disturbance and resulted in secondary amenorrhoea. I could not have envisaged, however, that one day I would be heavily involved with the subject to the extent of writing a book on it.

My limited knowledge then was not the result of any short-comings in my medical education; the condition of anorexia nervosa was considered in all medical literature at that time as a rare phenomenon. It is true to say that the expansion of our knowledge on this topic took place only in the past two decades.

The interesting thing, however, has been the shift in our understanding of this peculiar and enigmatic condition, from a rare syndrome caused by some sort of brain pathology to a product of forces within society. It is now generally accepted that the main contribution to the development of this disorder comes from the patient’s own sociocultural environment. This new insight was derived mainly from the bulk of epidemiological research that pointed to an increase in the incidence of these disorders in recent times and showed them to occur in varying degrees of severity in normal populations.

The phenomenon was linked to changes in aesthetic standards, with an increased tendency towards the idealization of thinness. These new ideals were promoted through the media and the fashion industry. Thinness became equated with beauty, achievement and success. The disorder also occurred overwhelmingly in women, which made feminist writers speculate on the possible relationship between the predicament of the modem woman, and this new syndrome. Thinness was seen as a metaphor combining desirable

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