Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Socio-Cultural Context of Eating Disorders in Poland

Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Socio-Cultural Context of Eating Disorders in Poland

Article excerpt

Author(s): Maciej Wojciech Pilecki[sup.1], Kinga SaAapa[sup.2] and Barbara Jozefik[sup.3]

Background

Socio-cultural context is acknowledged as an important risk factor for the development and specificity of clinical eating disorders [EDs] [1, 2].

Although EDs are not exclusive to contemporary Western culture, process of Westernisation in Japan after the Second World War and in countries of the former Eastern Bloc after the lifting of the Iron Curtain is accompanied by the increase of EDs prevalence in this countries [3, 4]. The same applies for the process of acculturation and over-identification to the occurrence of EDs after immigration to countries of Western culture [5] or changes in race identity within the sphere of Western countries [6, 7]. In this context, EDs are sometimes referred to as culture-bound syndromes [8].

Over the years, the dominant view has been that the highest risk of EDs occurs among girls that attend private schools in large cities and that come from families who place a high value on achievement and adaptability [9, 10]. Currently, however, it is difficult to discern a clear relationship between the occurrence of EDs and the social class of patients, and studies of different populations (e.g. clinical, community) contradict each other [11]. This may be due to recent expansion of the disease across different social strata [12], or to erroneous conclusions in the initial stages of research that relied on the analysis of data collected from private clinics, which would have been attended by only rich patients [4, 13]. Social class may be significant not only as a risk factor, but also as a factor in the course of EDs [14].

More conclusive evidence of the importance of cultural context in EDs is provided by research that has looked for mechanisms linking general characteristics of Western culture with the risk of EDs occurring in specific individuals. Socio-cultural pressure to be thin is a relevant risk factor for EDs that acts on an individual level [15]. Experimental findings have confirmed that the perceived pressure to be thin and the internalisation of the thin ideal is a causal risk factor for body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative affect and eating pathology [16, 17]. Body preoccupation and the fear of weight gain correspond with the above phenomena and are also a significant risk factor for eating problems [17, 18].

Although the importance of thin ideal can be observed in different cultures, it is notably associated with Western culture values [19]. It may be responsible for dieting, even in the absence of body dissatisfaction, as the result of a desire to adapt to applicable standards [15]. Researchers suggest that the construction of an ideal body has become mandatory for modern women and cause a deep sense of imperfections of one's own body and a sense of guilt and shame [20-22]. From this perspective, thinness may be regarded as a body modification specific to Western culture [23, 24].

Mass media, family communication and the peer group all have an important impact on the construction of the sociocultural pressure to be thin [25-29]. Many studies have shown that mass media is an important element influencing body dissatisfaction [30], or at least awareness and attention to one's body [31, 32]. However, assigning a significant role to media exposure may provide too narrow a view of the problem. Mass media can exert influence through complementary stimuli, for example, the confrontation of one's own body with the bodies of models seen in advertisements, participation in the lives of celebrities through social media and celebrity gossip portals, coveting things advertised by models.

EDs have become a separate aspect of mass culture. They have gained independent, culture-forming significance as Internet phenomena such as Thinspiration, Pro-ana and Mia [33-35]. One may wonder about the importance of cultural factors as risk factors, or at the very least maintenance factors, in the development of AN and BN. …

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