Violence and Body Image among
South Asian American Women
V. G. JULIE RAJAN
Eating disorders are one of the least visible and thereby least examined forms of violence experienced by women in the South Asian American community. However, the invisibility of eating disorders does not indicate its absence among South Asians. As more women of the South Asian diaspora are willing to discuss openly their challenges with body images and food, they are helping to raise the community's consciousness about eating disorders and the ways in which these disorders reflect the exacerbation of existing and initiation of new forms of gender violence in the community. Through a cultural and theoretical framework, this chapter assesses the identity politics circumscribing South Asian women's relations to food and body image in America.
Whether they are members of the first- or second-generation immigrant groups, South Asians, male and female alike, are influenced by the traditions of their society.1 Primarily, the culture's impact is rooted in the principles of shame and honor, which demand the subjection of individual desires in favor of those of the family and the larger community. This framework affects myriad social constrictions in order to stabilize patriarchal moral norms, which consistently privilege the agency and value of men over women in all processes such as social, political, economic, and religion. For example, in cultural parameters of shame and honor, any attention to the self is likely to incur a stigma of shame and weakness, whereas those who sacrifice for the larger community are viewed as strong and proper, and therefore worthy of respect. Furthermore, shame visited upon an individual is inevitably reflected onto all members of the person's family. Consequently, individuals in South Asian societies are expected to resolve their personal problems without displaying any need for assistance from outside (Waters 1999). Additionally, psychiatric treatments, or “talking through one's issues,” are considered oddities that